Imagine you’re rather happily and blissfully heading through the mysterious depths of outer space, all tucked up warm and cosy in your cryosleep pod, when a warp drive malfunction drops you out of warp into unknown space. The dutiful AI wakes up the crew and it’s now up to you to get the ship and its tired and probably fairly grumpy crew back home through ten unknown sectors of space. Well that’s the basic premise of Shortest Trip to Earth, a roguelike spaceship simulator featuring exploration, ship management, game-influencing decision-making and real-time tactical battles developed by Interactive Fate.
Shortest Trip to Earth is in Steam Early Access, which means that the game I played is still under development, and it’s also why there aren’t any scores in this preview.
I started the game and dutifully chose to do the tutorial, I figured that I’d need as much info as possible if my crew was going to survive this, and I would recommend everyone to do the same. It doesn’t handhold you through every possible thing in the game but it does show you the basics. You’re shown how to move your vessel, kit out your ship, and you’re taken through a ship battle. It would have been nice to also be shown space stations, as the first time you get to them, you are left to just figure things out. On the whole though, it’s a good tutorial, that doesn’t take long to get through and primes you for the rest of the game.
With the tutorial under my belt, I started a new game, with the first step being to choose a ship. There was the ship I used in the tutorial, a sturdy military ship and this organic ship which seemed a little too complex for my first run through, so took the tutorial ship. Scrolling through, there were more ships to unlock after getting to sectors 2 and 3.
I now had 15 points to spend that would give my ship extra things. There were droids, that could do repair, gunnery and medic tasks, as well as extra resources and ship parts. It helps to make each game a little different, and as you play you earn more of these points for your next playthrough. I grabbed the extra droids and resources and started my adventure in earnest.
Each sector is composed of a number of galaxies, which in turn are composed of a number of galactic bodies. They could be space stations, asteroid belts, planets shipwrecks among others. In its most simplistic form, all you need to do is get from one end to the other, in to the waiting warpgate to the next sector all the way through the ten sectors. Easy right? Well no, because the great gods of RNG are not overly keen on helping you too much.
The main problem with the just head to the gate theory is that your ship can only hold a finite amount of resources. Resources, which are critical for maintenance of your crew and ship, Organics are used by your crew, fuel is used by the ship, metals and synthetics are used for ship repair, while exotic goods are pretty much for trade.
As you fly through space, your organics and fuel are used up. Meaning you’re going to have to explore in order to top up those resources. However, waiting for you in space, and on those ship wrecks, and asteroid belts are things that may help or hinder you. Even if the planets don’t there are usually enough pirates and ship-dwelling ruffians to take a few pot shots at you while you’re travelling. All the damage and ship holes need to be patched up, and that’s going to take resources as well.
So straight through, or visit everything? Well, each has its advantages but at some point when things start going a little wrong you will still need to make some difficult decisions. No fuel, do you scrap parts of your own ship to get enough fuel to get to the spacestation, where you can hopefully refuel? The planet you’ve just landed on, do you risk your crew to harvest more organics from the surface. Pay the pirates or risk a space battle to save you some credits. Shortest Trip to Earth.
So far, I’ve omitted one very key element to STtE and that is the crew of your ship. Apart from being a continual drain on organics, they also keep everything running. Some modules on your ship require being manned, such as the control centre. The crew is also rather useful for dealing with internal repairs, fires and any boarding parties that come aboard.
Your crew is made up of a number of individuals each with their own stats. This makes some crew members better at manning the guns, while others are better in the control centre. Some crew may be great at putting out fires, or maintenance. If you start dropping crew members either from bad luck or just poor decisions, then your ability to deal with other things is hampered. If you haven’t got enough crew to man your shields or put out fires, then space battles are just that bit more difficult.
The AI of your crew can get a bit confused sometimes, to the point where I just manually tell them what do each time, but so far has not caused me any major issues.
Space Stations are often a life saver. You can purchase resources from them, fix external damage (and internal damage, if there isn’t any crew to do it), hire more crew and purchase new modules. You can’t always do all of those things in every station, but they’re still a welcome relief, if you’re a bit worse for wear and have an abundance of credits (unlikely)
So, that’s the gameplay in a nutshell, and what there is currently almost holds up to its comparators such as FTL. Which is a good thing, there are a few elements of the game that need a few tweaks.
For example, the interface is a little busy. When you’re trying to manage your crew, buttons are a little small and while you’re allocating, it can be difficult to keep everything you want visible. The tutorial could be expanded a bit, to include elements such as more knowledge on crew management, space stations, and maybe include a bit more about resource management.
Also, I found out fairly quickly that it’s best not to install modules into your ship without reading things properly. I installed a module that converted some of my organics to fuel over time. Then my organics plummeted, and my crew starved one by one. I turned the module off but too late, there was spoon only one crewmember alive, trying to man everything, only to succumb to starvation himself leaving an empty husk of a ship floating in space forever. Lesson learned there.
Ultimately, Shortest Trip to Earth is a fairly solid rogue space simulator, with some nice elements and enough tension to keep you delicately on that line between rage quitting and wanting to jump back in immediately. There a few low-level issues with balance and the user interface, but that’s nothing a few more weeks in Early Access can’t fix. If you like taking a pot shot at the gods of RNG and then seeing how they spank you, then Shortest Trip to Earth might be worth a shot for you.