Interstellar Space: Genesis is the latest turn-based space strategy game placing you in the emperor’s seat of a space-faring empire hoping to grow and establish a galactic presence. Developed and published by a new studio, Praxis Games, Interstellar Space: Genesis seeks to recapture some of the magic of bygone space strategy games such as Master of Orion while at the same time providing a more accessible, innovative experience. So, in the crowded marketplace of space strategy games, does Interstellar Space: Genesis go where no game has gone before or is it simply a stellar dud? Let’s take a closer look.
There is a chance you could get through this game without having to fire a single phasor or drop a bomb on a civilized planet, but more than likely, your space empire is going to take up arms at some point. Ship-to-ship combat can be auto-resolved, but even if you engage in it, it’s so benign that your ships typically disappear when they are destroyed. Ship-to-planet combat can be a little more disquieting, because you can choose to drop bombs, including “mass destruction” bombs, to wipe out the population of a planet. However, besides some basic bomb explosions on a planet’s surface, nothing is shown.
The research tree allows you to build a “cloning facility” to increase your population growth by 50% when it is constructed on a particular colony. Besides the maintenance cost and space (i.e. “construction slot”) required to build and upkeep this facility, the game presents cloning as something beneficial to your empire.
From the outset of this review, you should know that I am a relative novice when it comes to space strategy games. I’ve played a little Endless Space (the first one), and I’ve also played a fair bit of the massive Distant Worlds: Universe. Both are good games in their own right, but space just isn’t the frontier I typically like to explore in strategy games. However, when the opportunity came to review Interstellar Space: Genesis, and I noticed it had turn-based tactical combat, I was intrigued. I am a sucker for good turn-based combat (see Banner Saga 1, 2 & 3), and I’d never seen it done in a space before.
After the title screen, you are greeted with a brief video introducing you to the game’s setting. From what I can gather from the Yoda-like female narrator (see the featured video at the beginning of this review), the civilization of your choice is the latest to venture out among the stars, and perhaps the last. However, the universe is “no longer indifferent.” Honestly, I had no idea what was going on. I wasn’t sure who the narrator was speaking for or what she was referring to. Sadly, the gameplay doesn’t appear to flesh out this backstory much, so the world-building for Interstellar Space: Genesis leaves a bit to be desired.
Once past the forgettable opening video, you can dive right into a new game. Thankfully, there are plenty of neatly-arranged options awaiting you. The game allows you to play with four different galaxy sizes, six different standard difficulty settings, and up to seven players or species. In terms of species, the game allows you to choose between six different pre-created species. They range from charismatic humans to the feudal, amphibious Draguul, or the industrious Kaek (think ice ants). Each species comes with various strengths, weaknesses, special abilities, and ecological needs. For instance, in one game, I played as the Kaek. The Kaek have a hive-mind, so they are particularly good at sharing knowledge with each other, hence this species is better in research. However, the Kaek are also “uncreative” which means they take a very inflexible, structured approach to their research, so they’re less likely to discover a technology ahead of schedule. Additionally, the Kaek prefer Low-G worlds, so if I tried to settle on a Medium-G or Heavy-G world, there are various penalties that can cripple that colony’s development.
Overall, the standard game setup options for Interstellar Space: Genesis are adequate and easily decipherable. The game also allows for a fair bit of customization. For instance, you can toggle game-impacting options like allowing for in-game events, election victories, tech brokering, random culture perks and randomized tech trees. Also, the game allows you to create your own species. For instance, I created the diplomatic, peace-loving Space Elves. Their home system was Rivendell and their leader’s name was Elrond. (Hey, I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings lately, give me a break!).
Once you enter your first game of Interstellar Space: Genesis, you are greeted with a top-down view of the galaxy and an array of icons to click on. For newcomers to 4x strategy games, this can be a little overwhelming, but thankfully, Praxis took it upon themselves to add a host of helpful tooltips and a tutorial in each section of the game. Also, as you progress in the game, little reminders will pop up in the lower right-hand side of the main galactic screen to give you information or prompt you with different decisions. Overall, while the galactic map isn’t the prettiest in the genre, I found the user interface to be fairly easy to use—and only a couple of times did I have a hard time finding something I needed, such as ship retrofitting.
In terms of gameplay, Interstellar Space: Genesis starts you off with a single colony in your home system. Not only do you need to explore space sectors around you to discover new stars, species or space phenomena like black holes and space monsters; but you also need to develop your colonies, manage your treasury, conduct research, steer your space culture, navigate diplomatic relationships, design new ships and hire various ship or colony leaders to work for you. All in all, even though I found the first turns to be a little slow, Interstellar Space: Genesis gives you plenty of interesting decisions to make along the way. For instance, after colonizing a planet that is not quite suitable to your species, should you focus more on planetary engineering, colony infrastructure or straight-up production? Or another interesting set of decisions comes when leaders start approaching you looking for work. Each leader comes not only with a set of ratings and special abilities, but also an opinion of your empire which can fluctuate over time. Moreover, as time passes, your leaders will come to you with certain desires they want met such as wanting to command a battleship. Do you bend over backwards to meet the desire of your top-flight ship leader or do you risk his opinion of your empire dipping and another empire poaching him from you? Decisions, decisions, decisions! Eventually, as the game progresses, various galactic events appear that impact your empire. Even though I wish there were branching stories or even species-specific side quests, I think the galactic events are well-written and provide a nice change of pace.
In the realm of combat, Interstellar Space: Genesis allows both ship-to-ship combat and ship-to-planet combat. The ship-to-ship combat can either be auto-resolved or played out in a turn-based, 2d map of space. Initially, I was excited about the prospect of the turn-based tactical battles in space, but after a while, I found them to be monotonous. Perhaps I just need to give them more time or try different tactics, but the space battles aren’t what would keep me coming back to this game. However, ship-to-planet combat is surprisingly more interesting to me. Deciding whether to bombard, raid or invade a planet makes for some dicey decisions—and some unnecessary casualties on my part!
In the area of diplomacy, Interstellar Space: Genesis offers a nice array of interactions with the other empires. You can form various treaties (peace, trade, mining, research), coordinate efforts against another empire, demand tribute, or of course, declare war. While never enthralling, Interstellar’s diplomacy is functional and responsive based on what is happening in the galaxy. For instance, in my peace-loving Space Elves game, I worked hard to build up congenial relationships with all of the other empires, but then asked several of them to turn against my main rival. In the end, my peace-loving empire engaged in a proxy war with another empire without having to fire a single neutron beam! I haven’t finished the game, so I don’t know how it will all turn out, but it was neat to see Interstellar’s diplomacy system allowing for such political shenanigans.
As I begin to wrap up, I do want to express some disappointment with the current lack of victory conditions in the game. At present, there appear to be only two victory conditions in Interstellar: domination (my term) and election. Domination is obviously “last man standing” whereas election is about trying to garner enough electoral votes in the regularly organized “Galactic Council.” Both seem to favor production and expansion. However, in a game that prominently features research and culture, I am surprised there are only two ways to win. Hopefully, in future updates and expansions to the game, more will be added.
In the end, while there is so much more that could be said about the game, Interstellar Space: Genesis is, at its core, an accessible, streamlined 4x space strategy game that provides plenty of interesting decisions for fledgling space emperors to make. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards for graphics (though it did for its musical score!), lore, or turn-based combat. But when it’s all said and done, I enjoyed my time with Interstellar Space: Genesis, and I found myself clicking “End Turn” over and over. Coming from a new developer, I’d call this game a success and one well-worth your investment if you want to try out your strategy skills in space.
Review copy provided by Novy Unlimited
The Bottom Line
Interstellar Space: Genesis provides accessible, streamlined 4x space strategy gameplay that it is definitely worth a look—and just one more turn.