When it comes to space travel roguelikes on iOS, the gold standard everyone has heard of is FTL: Faster Than Light, and for good reason. It’s a perfect fit for phones and there are very few roguelikes that can match it in quality or quantity. Crying Suns ($ 6.99) may not be as well known as FTL, but it has very similar indications of urgency and mystery.
Much of the game feels pretty similar to FTL, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing – what’s good in FTL is good in Crying Suns, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s the same because it’s not. This is most evident in combat, but also in other, relatively smaller systems: ground excursions, squadrons and unlockable content.
Combat is more of an exchange of broadsides on the high seas between ships than that of large ships trading blows out of range and employing auxiliaries to counter and exploit the enemy’s strategy. The result is a tactical experience that emphasizes the careful use of available resources. Command your fighters too far forward and they can be destroyed, leaving you with a weaker force for the next fight. On the other hand, too passive gaming can have the same result or, worse, result in permanent hull damage and a weakened fleet. Not an appealing prospect.
To avoid such an unfavorable outcome, each officer in your entourage has a specialty in squadrons, hulls, weapons, or a mixture of all three. While it’s not always necessary to take full advantage of, say, a speed increase in two or three tiles or a slightly reduced repair time, these small benefits can really add up. After all, the difference between a repaired wreck and a fully functional cruiser is sometimes a quick release. However, the officers’ skills do not only affect combat. Each officer has not only ship specialties, but also some areas of expertise that can reduce or eliminate the dangers of ground excursions.
What are ground excursions? A great treasure hunt that is practically safe and rich in looting and salvage – provided, of course, the necessary precautions are taken. First and foremost, it is important that the maximum number of cannon fodder – sorry, commands – is used. second, but equally important, is to have a competent guide. You have to grunt to do the heavy lifting, but determining what to lift, how many of them make it back, and most importantly, what to get back with depends entirely on who is leading your task force. If the assigned officer is well suited for the mission, the odds are in your favor. The officer will likely return intact with much of the potential goodies and few, if any, sacrifices. On the flip side, if they’re particularly unsuitable for the job at hand, not only will they return with little to no treats, but they may not return at all. Put simply, a successful mission is determined by sound risk management.
The idea of risk management is a consistent thread in Crying Suns, although in many situations it might be better to call it an opportunity cost. Upgrade your ship now and hope that your ship and crew will not be damaged too much in the near future, or hold back and check out this station first. You run the risk of engaging in a highly competitive battle that could put you at greater risk in future encounters. Investigate this system with the ground signal and a series of anomalies, or visit the system with a trading post and just a few planets. Send commands aboard this mysterious and vaguely spooky wreck or walk past it and hope that there was nothing good on board. These and many other decisions force you to keep your crew in the hopes of continuing to travel or possibly finding the solution to a roadblock.
However, this is contrasted with the game’s general narrative and the basic gameplay of a roguelike: live, learn, die, repeat. No matter what happens on a particular attempt, it’s fine. There are countless hordes of clones, just like you on the space station, just out to take your place with all the knowledge you have gathered so far. While it hurts to lose your ship, your officers, and all the cute toys you took along with you, it doesn’t ultimately affect how the game plays out. It’s just inconvenient. In other words, there is no risk and no cost to choose, especially if the selection is wrong.
Even so, you are encouraged to continue the story not only with the promise of solving a puzzle, but with the promise of better ships and more options. Along the way, you’ll also unlock a number of specially grown clones of unique officers as you meet them. While I haven’t unlocked much of anything yet, none of the unlockable items seem particularly groundbreaking, instead new strategies or more effective strategies have been introduced earlier.
On the whole, Crying Suns is a lot of fun if you like more strategic games. Encounters force players to effectively use asteroid belts and other environmental factors, as well as selected targets for a cannon, so you can rarely win by brute force alone. Positive or negative NPC encounters are interesting and tend to have permanent consequences (at least for the duration of a run), although they can be a bit repetitive if you don’t get very far on a single attempt. Taken all together, all of these systems – finding new encounters, star systems you’ve never been in, new solutions to old encounters, and everything else – there is a sense of exploration and discovery that is wonderful, even though the pessimist in it I say it will wear off soon enough.
Crying Suns is a tactical game. More than that, however, it is a game of exploring, secrecy, and recovering what has been lost. Although some parts of it seem to collide, the overall experience is very good. For those who come from FTL, the sense of exploration, the wonder of meeting new people and finding new places is very familiar. For those who simply have the idea of fighting for the restoration of a crumbling empire, helping the people who are trying to survive the rubble, bringing some semblance of order to dangerous areas, is a treat. Either way, Crying Suns is an easy pick for those looking to experience tactical gameplay with an added helping of dark scifi frosting and a glaze of puzzles.
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