App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Runners have always seemed like a genre that could expand out beyond a mere arcade experience. The developers behind Full of Stars must have thought the same thing, since it's a game that stitches together choose-your-own-adventure-style moments and role-playing game (RPG) elements with runner sequences. It's a gameplay formula that has load of potential, but is held back by some nefarious design choices and a general lack of stability.
Get your a** to Mars
In Full of Stars, you play as a freighter pilot that narrowly escapes a planetary attack with a few passengers in tow. Your goal (if you can call it that) is to outrun your attackers, keep your passengers alive, and find some refuge somewhere.
It's an appropriately intense setup for a runner game. Between the bits of story that you get at your destinations, your ship hurdles through space, dodging asteroids, moons, enemy fire. It's up to you to reach these destinations by tapping the sides of the screen to move your ship left or right and swiping up and down to use your hyperdrive and weapon respectively. It's a control scheme that works, though it does feel weirdly floaty.
When you aren't in runner mode, Full of Stars feeds you story bits and asks you what to do to drive the action forward. At destination planets, this usually involves talking to people, picking up passengers, or trying to get supplies before choosing your next destination to blast off to. There are also plenty of non-destination events that happen, but these only trigger if you wreck your ship in between points of travel.
The events that trigger when you wreck–while interesting–are usually scenarios that make you choose a between a set of bad outcomes. This makes these events feel like a punishment for failing to flawlessly execute a long runner sequence rather than an interesting story moment. So, while I do appreciate the ideas of alternating between story events with runner action, it's hard to enjoy the half of it that's actively trying to end your run.
If you end up losing all of your crew or find a way to kill your pilot character, you have to restart Full of Stars over from the beginning. In this way, it's sort of like a roguelike. On each subsequent run, you learn more about how to survive and get further. You can also spend any currency you collect during runner sections of the game to purchase upgrades, which can make the game a little easier over time.
I normally don't have issues with games designed to be replayed over and over again, but Full of Stars is different. Its difficulty seems to spike to ridiculous levels just as you get on a roll. It's a really frustrating experience, especially since your options for continuing involve spending premium currency or watching an ad.
Difficulty problems aside though, Full of Stars also has some stability problems. I experienced several hard locks and crashes in my time with the game. While it never erased any of my progress or anything, it's still a pretty significant issue to have your game crash pretty regularly.
The bottom line
Full of Stars is a neat combination of ideas in a poorly executed package. Although it has a pretty glossy exterior, that doesn't make it any easier to look past the control, difficulty, and performance issues that it has. In fact, it makes things more frustrating. Full of Stars could be so much better than it is, and it's a real shame that it isn't.