Game

We’ve heard of choose-your-own-adventures, but this is a choose-your-own-action game with arcade tendencies – and somehow, it really works

Price: Free
Version: 1.2
Size: 272 MB
Developer: ArsThanea
Platform: iPhone & iPad

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Full of Stars is a mash-up of two distinct genres. At it’s core is a fairly straightforward – though masterfully executed – space flight game: evade asteroids, collect space dust, launch bombs, engage overdrive. You know the drill. Wrapped around that gameplay, however, is a sci-fi narrative with branching pathways and tough decisions. This is where things get interesting, and it’s also where you get hooked.

Flying through space without crashing is fun but challenging

Your overall goal is to transport a freighter of intergalactic refugees to the fabled “blue sector,” an Eden-like planet in which you can start a new life. That part of the story is fixed, though how you get there is up to you as you hop from planet to planet in search of money, people, and information. Your skill in piloting the action segments is important to your success – each time you crash it launches a randomized event that could threaten your cargo, your crew-mates or even your life. Space pirates, mutinies, hull breaches – each comes with a difficult moral choice to make. These choices mostly boil down to “which resource is most expendable right now?” though some of them do impact the narrative.

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Decisions like these affect your journey in various ways

The genius here is that the game creates an almost endless cycle of replayability, giving a sense of purpose and achievement to what could easily have been a throwaway endless flier. Each full playthrough takes the best part of an hour to complete – though individual flights are just a couple of minutes – and when you finally reach the Blue Sector the ship is sent back through a convenient “temporal anomaly” so you can do the whole thing all over again. It takes a good few playthroughs to find 100% of the stuff hidden through the galaxy, and even longer if you want to keep upgrading your ship and improving your base. The whole thing is set to a very fitting sci-fi soundtrack, at times reminiscent of Kraftwerk or Royksopp.

Power-ups can blast things out of the way when things get tough

Though free, the game goes a little overboard with the freemium stuff. There are unlocks to disable play limits, in-app purchases for extra resources, and optional video ads to retry after a crash. None of these techniques are terrible on their own but the combination of the three really tries to squeeze every penny our of an addictive play cycle. Luckily, aside from the $4 to enable unlimited playtime (we’d recommend considering this the cost of the game) it’s easy to avoid the other IAPs. We would have appreciated the purchase disabling video ads though – though technically optional, when the alternative could be losing the last few members of your crew, it’s hard to avoid.

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Branching pathways mean no two playthroughs are the same

Full of Stars is a hit on many levels: the controls are tight, the graphics are great, the story is compelling, and collecting resources is super-satisfying. It can be frustrating, but rarely unfair – aside from an obnoxious final flight that repeatedly warps you back towards the start of the level. Though we’ve seen better freemium systems, we found ourselves having too much fun to care most of the time.

Review: Full of Stars – a story-driven arcade game... in space
For
  • Fun, addictive action sequences
  • Clever decision-based story
  • Great presentation
Against
  • Too many freemium ploys
  • Lots of 'grinding'
4.1Overall Score