Quick Game Review | Interstellar Space: Genesis – 4X strategy in outer space
Master of Orion, Endless Space, Stellaris – the amount of outer space strategy games released in the last few years is impressive, and the hype among players even more so.
A good reason for indie game publisher Praxis Games to join in. With Adam Solo and MalRey, they have two developers that used to run the SpaceSector.com website that focused on news about and reviews of outer space strategy games. Interesting side note: Praxis Games’ name and logo closely resemble that of Firaxis, the studio behind popular 4X games such as Civilization 5 & 6 or the XCOM series reboot.
Interstellar Space: Genesis started its life as Project: Space Sector back in 2016, and has thus been in active development for the greater part of three years. It was released in July of 2019 and is available on Steam, ichi.io, and the Humble Bundle store.
Genre and Style
4X strategy games focus on the idea of leading people in a turn-based circle of “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate” events, hence the 4X moniker. The most famous games in this genre are Civilization and Master of Orion, and the second installation of the latter was the role model for Interstellar Space: Genesis.
You get to either choose between six different people on their way to dominating the galaxy or configure your own people from a selectable preset of pros and cons. Once selected you start on a populated planet in your home galaxy.
In each turn you get to choose what your colony is going to produce, whether you want to build new space ships to explore the galaxy or battleships to add to your fleet, what to research next, and whether or not to play the diplomacy card or the annexation and expansion one instead. 4X strategy can be fairly complicated and complex, and Interstellar Space: Genesis is certainly overwhelming at first.
Each new screen is explained by a friendly sounding robot voice. Languages other than English were not supported at the time of writing. Given the complexity of the embedded menus and screens the introduction can take quite a while, and the game can be very confusing for beginners. However, those of you familiar with other 4X games will be familiar with some of the screens and menus, and the game makes sure to remind you of selecting a research topic if necessary.
The first few rounds are somewhat boring to be honest. At first, you are unable to build new bases on newly settled planets, and are limited to building new ships for colonization and exploration in order to extend your reach via outposts. We can choose an area to research and receive perks for your people every few dozens of turns giving you free ships or extra research. In addition, exploration of surrounding sectors takes place in several steps which takes increasingly longer but also returns more information about the sector.
In other words: not much is happening in the beginning, and you are trapped in a comparatively empty space that you cannot even properly explore just yet before you expand your supply radius. In comparison, games such as Civilization allow you to explore the map with a scout that tends to be readily available from the very beginning.
However, as soon as you finish building your first ships, you can start colonizing new planets, and discover new resources along the way. Which in turn immediately allows you to unlock new technologies for using these resources, and you have to decide whether you prefer a peaceful or a military use of said resources. Once the game is going random events, new planets, and encounters with other civilizations quickly make it more and more interesting, appealing, and demanding.
Diplomacy is an inherent part of every 4X game, and the possibilities include gifts, threats, and treaties. That said other 4X games have more detailed diplomacy engines. We very much liked the idea of leaders that can be installed either as governors of your colonies or captains of your ships. These leaders quickly level up and gain new skills but also have their very own demands that you can either fulfill or ignore. The latter can have dire consequences, for example leaders abandoning ship and leaving you for good. These role-playing elements are a welcome addition to this game.
You can change a ship’s design and construct completely new ship types that you can then lead into battle. Battles are fought turn-based and include shields, overloading systems, overheating space ships, and positioning of your ships. In other words: they can get quite complex.
Combined with pirates, smugglers, and a planetary council that has the power to elect a leader for the galaxy with a two-thirds majority and that you can either participate in or, depending on your strength and power, throw your own hat in the ring this makes for a very complex and extensive game. And we were only able to scratch the surface of this inherent complexity during our 2-hour review period.
The biggest challenge for Interstellar Space: Genesis is this inherent complexity and richness, and the fact that many things must be discovered by simply trying out new stuff. Grand strategy players will love this game for this very reason, however it can be frustratingly challenging for beginners and even somewhat experienced strategy game players.
Hardware requirements are fairly low, and a 2.5 GHz Intel Core 2, 4 GB of RAM, and an integrated GPU are enough to play this game. Recommended hardware lists a Core i5 and a GeForce GTX 660 or better.
While we did not experience a single crash during our short review period, we did notice a few graphical glitches. For example, when changing perspective in the colony view the camera smoothly transitions from one perspective to the other. During this transition, we noticed flickering textures and edges, which was quite unnerving. Usability quirks include windows that sometimes don’t close when you attempt to click the top right corner because they fail to notice that they are not the top-most window that you are actually attempting to close.
Graphics are pretty modest for a modern game. Menus are divided into small sections and convoluted, and while the colony view is in 3D it would have been outdated even 10 years ago. Colonizing a new planet is announced with a cutscene showing the new environment and the landing space ship. Unfortunately, textures seem shabby and dull.
The battle screen is divided into many small sections as well, and it is only in 2D with poor effects. It looks like it was taken straight out of a browser game. We would have at least expected a visual difference in ships based on the installed weapons systems.
What we did like is the view of space with its galaxy nebulae, its glowing planets, and the matching menus.
Interstellar Space: Genesis is a nice 4X strategy game with undeniable and respectable ambitions. It is very obvious that the developers are big fans of this genre and put a lot of thought into improving it. Given that support for mods can be found on the to-do list we expect this game to expand and grow even more complex with future community support.
However, at the moment it seems like a conglomerate of various ideas and designs with a graphically disappointing battle screen and a very slow beginning due to the fact that you cannot really do much at the start of the game. Once random events start occurring and you have first contact with other civilizations, it starts to get more interesting. Many of the complex in-game mechanics and systems remain unexplained, which will most likely scare away beginners for whom the Civilization series is a much better introduction and first step into this genre. And even gamers familiar with other 4X games might lose the plot and overview over available resources. The abbreviations used in the descriptions do not really help, either.
New ways that you are not necessarily introduced to properly. Interstellar Space: Genesis is a game for 4X professionals.
The game’s comparatively high price is another nail in the coffin. Interstellar Space: Genesis currently sells for $29.99 on Steam, the same price as Civilization 5. Surely the developers know their audience and count on a small group of enthusiasts, but in our view the price is too high for what the game has to offer.
However, if you happen to be part of said small group of 4X strategy game enthusiasts, you will certainly enjoy the game, and even more so its potential for improvement based on future mods and patches. If you like 4X strategy games in space and do not consider graphics an integral part of the gaming experience, you will most likely feel right at home.