Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game - The most immersive version of Asteroids you'll ever play
We've tried the upcoming VR game at Gamescom.
Let's be honest. Unless you have a couple of millions to spare or you are personal friends with Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, you are probably never going to explore space with anything other than a telescope. Fortunately, Fast Travel Games and Paradox Interactive has got you covered with their upcoming VR game Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game. Unlike the grand strategy series it is based on, you are not really expected to use diplomacy or trading to advance. Instead, you'll get to pilot your own ship, traversing solar systems, battling enemies, and installing upgrades - all in the search of the mysterious Ghost Signal.
The game has just been announced, but about a month back, at Gamescom 2022, we jumped in the cockpit for an early voyage into the unknown and are now allowed to share our impressions.
While Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game is an action roguelite experience it does retain certain aspects of the strategy game it's based on. The most obvious one is the perspective. You are not controlling your spaceship from a traditional first or third-person camera, as in No Man's Sky or Star Wars: Squadrons. Instead, you view the action as through the window of a distant ship. This gives you some much needed overview as you are often surrounded by enemy ships. To stand a chance of survival, you'll have to constantly adjust your course with the analogue stick while pointing at enemies and firing away with your preferred hand.
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Quick reflexes and a certain precision certainly come in handy. But mostly Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game is about making deceitful tactical decisions on the fly. Changing from to the long-distance laser might help deplete enemy shields before they get into range of your rapid-fire guns, but will leave your open for attack from smaller and faster enemies. Plotting a new course might help you avoid enemies but takes time and slows down your momentum. These decisions, combined with the remote camera, makes you feel more like a commander than an actual pilot.
Roguelite elements and features
The emphasis on tactical action also makes sense in terms of the roguelite elements. As is usual for the genre, each battle is a separate encounter and, if you win, you will get to choose where to go next. For example, you can visit a shop letting you upgrade your shields, weapons and so on, or you might try you luck at a random event. There are also bosses to approach if you are brave enough. Losing will have you starting all over, but there are permanent upgrades to unlock along the way. While I only managed to clear a single star system, Fast Travel Games promises the following features in the full game:
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Alien species to battle or befriend.
Heavy artillery to fend off monstrous creatures or defeat enemy armadas.
Powerful upgrades such as freeze rays, atomic missiles, and dragon companions.
Randomised maps, daily challenges, and leaderboards.
Wait, haven't we seen this before?
While there are nods to Stellaris in terms of the tactical aspects, visuals, and lore, while playing Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game at Gamescom I was actually reminded of a much older title - the original Asteroids released for arcades back in 1979.
Just like in the legendary Atari game there is a real weight to your ship in Ghost Signal and battling enemy ships while blasting asteroids from a (sort of) overhead perspective gave this modern VR title a strangely nostalgic feel. It's really a testament to how great game design still holds up even after more than four decades of incredible technical progress.
A more action-oriented VR game is probably not what fans of Stellaris has been secretly wishing for when gazing longingly at the night sky and suddenly seeing a shooting star. None the less, Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game feels reasonably polished and if you are in the mood for some space exploration on your Meta Quest 2 headset, it will certainly be worth keeping an eye on when it releases early 2023.