Shortest Trip To Earth is a space, rogue-like, strategy game developed by Interactive Fate. It makes its full release August 15th on Steam and Humble Bundle. The Humble Bundle link is a referral. I get a small commission if you purchase the game through it. This review was conducted by Joseph Pugh.

Overview

It is impossible not to compare Shortest Trip to Earth and FTL. If I didn’t already know better, I’d assume the game was a direct sequel to FTL upon first glance. However, it’s more of an inspiration or spiritual sibling. Like FTL, Shortest Trip to Earth is a roguelike, space strategy game. You move along a non-linear path laden with random encounters and ship battles. On one difficulty setting, you can pause time while you select your actions, while a harder setting simply slows it down.

You choose and outfit a ship. Direct a crew and do your best to survive an increasingly dangerous galaxy as you move between sectors, with the final goal of reaching earth. Shortest Trip to Earth is significantly more complex than FTL. Whether this is a pro or con depends on the individual. I prefer deep games, others might enjoy FTL and it’s to-the-point simplicity.

Shortest trip to earth FTL like Battle
Ship Battles are core to the game and highly dangerous.

Unlike FTL, the game does not rush you to move forward. You may explore each sector at your leisure, weighing the scales and testing fate. Sometimes it’s smarter to gather more supplies, but danger lurks in every shadow. Its space..there’s like, a lot of those…

Pick Your Poison

At the start of every run, you choose your ship. At first, your choice will be limited, but you can unlock more ships as you progress through the game. Each ship has a crew and set of modules that come standard. However, you may alter its fittings with the use of fate points. You get several fate points to spend, and you earn extra during your playthrough to be used on your next run. How much you earn depends on the choices you make during your play-through.

Spending these points on different perks can alter your starting strategy. Many perks are unlock-able but each ship also has specific perks you can choose for it. You can buy upgraded weapons, crew members, security drones and more. You also have the option of renaming your crew. Sadly you can’t see what each member is good at prior to starting the game. It’s pretty random.

Shortest Trip To earth FTL like perks
Buying perks at the start of the game can drastically affect how your ship performs.

The ships themselves are drastically different, in shape, load-out, starting crew and statistically. A smaller ship might be more evasive, but cramped, forcing you to choose your modules carefully. Another might have plenty of room for activities while being thicker than a bowl of oatmeal so that even the crappiest gunner can hit it. Combine this with the perk system, and you have a large amount of variety, choice and variation before you even begin your run.

Space To Move

Once the game begins you have access to two maps, stars, and sectors. Each sector is home to many stars and each star can house planets, space stations, wrecks and of course danger. You may fly freely in the star map, moving to points of interest as you please. However, you consume fuel and organics as you move and you always need to weigh your options between exploring and conserving your resources.

Most points of interest introduce you to a random event. You can harvest fuel from gas giants, but it might be dangerous. You can choose to explore a shipwreck or play it safe. Be eco-friendly when harvesting organics from a planet or go whole hog. There rarely is a correct answer, its a gamble. One risky move may go off without a hitch, another may damage your ship or injure your crew. I wish there a more concrete way to predict the outcomes, but randomness is a decent part of the rogue-like identity.

Shortest trip to earth FTL like space
You are free to fly around the star map. Beware of asteroids and hostile ships though.

With enough fuel, you can warp to neighboring sectors and explore more. At the end of each map is an exit where you move through to the next map. Ten maps full of sectors in total and mostly random. Once you reach a new map, you may begin a new game starting on the map with some additional fate points to help compensate. Beware of running out of fuel. Your only option is to fire off an S.O.S signal in hopes of attracting a trader…but other less friendly folks may show up instead.

A Lovely Bunch Of Resources

Shortest Trip To Earth has a lot of resources to manage. Your ship can hold limited quantity’s of each one depending on your storage modules. Excess materials can be crafted into packs to be opened later. But they take up precious space in your cargo hold. Resources are commonly obtained from events, destroying ships and scrapping modules. You can’t actually sell the modules individually, only the resource’s within.

Organics feed your crew while fuel feeds your ship. Metal is used to patch holes in your ships hull. It can be pricey to do it that way though and is far cheaper to pay a station to repair it. But emergencies happen, and often. Synthetics repair the individual modules of your ship while explosives are ammunition for many kinetic weapons. Exotics are the rarest and most valuable, but can also be used to bribe your way out of hostile encounters.

Shortest Trip to earth FTL like random events
Plenty of random events offer resources. but danger is always present.

If you can give up some module space, you can outfit your ship with different types of fabricators that can craft some resource’s while on the move, such as a garden for example. These generally need a crew member to run them however, manpower and space are limited.

Managing The Ship

Ship to Ship combat occurs in real-time though you can pause or slow down the action depending on what difficulty you chose. Your crew all have different levels in various skills and can be assigned to different modules. The bridge must be manned and can power up weapons even without an operator. However, assigning a crew member with a gunnery skill to an individual weapon will speed up its reload time and increase its accuracy.

You can assign crew to point defenses, the warp generator, shields, repair bays and more. You can also dedicate some of them to repairing the ship, putting out fires or security detail to repel boarders. Modules can be damaged or destroyed and targeting different modules of the enemy is a key strategy. If your hull reaches zero, you start losing maximum ship health on one difficulty, or it is simply destroyed on another.

Sometimes you need to fight more than one ship at a time.

A ship has deflection and evade depending on its model crew and modules such as the engine. Some shots may simply miss or deflect off its armor. Shields block energy weapons as long they remain powered up, they will be overwhelmed by sustained fire though. Kinetic weapons simply bypass shields altogether, though point defenses can shoot down missiles and nukes.

Nukes are expensive and devastating one-shot weapons for when you need things to die, now. There are several varieties of them and if an enemy ship has one, it’s terrifying. There is indeed a lot of strategy in battle, powering up and depowering modules, aiming weapons at specific parts of the enemy and moving crew around. However, at times, I felt though the battles were decided before they started. I either had a layout that would let me win or I didn’t. This was especially true whenever another ship sent boarders.

Enemy crew can board your ship. Its easily the weakest part of the game.

There isn’t a lot of micromanagement that can help you deal with being boarded. You more or less have to hope your crew and security forces are statistically strong enough to kill them without being killed. I didn’t at all find this aspect fun and I cringed whenever I encountered a ship capable of boarding me.

Verdict

Shortest Trip to Earth wears its inspiration on its sleeve and improves on the FTL formula in a lot of ways. It is deeper and more complex so much so that it can be daunting at first. The UI is cluttered with so many icons of resources and crew management that it looks overwhelming. However after playing the short tutorial and reading the concise help menu. I figured everything out pretty quickly.

I enjoyed being able to move about at my leisure (As long as I had food and fuel). The fate point system works very well for its permadeath progressing and the game has a ton of variety between ships, modules, and crew.

The game features a large variety of weapons, nukes and modules.

The combat is intense and there is strategy to it. Knocking out an enemies shield generator or weapon feels satisfying and the games visual effects are nice. Yet at times I felt there was a bit too much randomness in both the events and combat, especially when boarded.

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It is a much bigger game than FTL and because of that its flaws are much more pronounced. Yet it remains fun and I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t enjoy it if you liked FTL. It has a ton of variation to play with and a lot to manage. Just keep in mind that the randomness is all part of the fun and sometimes you can do everything right and still lose.

If you were a fan of FTL and want more I’d say give Shortest Trip To Earth a shot. If you like strategy and resource management and aren’t turned off by the RNG, pick it up. However, if I’ve made you skeptical, put it on your wishlist and perhaps get it on sale or even watch for updates from the developers. They are active and my complaints may be addressed in the future.

A press key for the game was provided to Gideon’s Gaming by Iceberg Interactive. Interested in other roguelikes? Check out my review of Void Bastards!

Pros

  • Difficulty settings
  • Variety of Ships and modules
  • Non linear progression and move at your own pace gameplay
  • Fate point system is good meta progression for its rogue-like nature
  • Combat is fun

Cons

  • Cluttered user interface
  • Random events are a bit too random
  • Combat is sometimes decided before it begins based on ship layout
  • The boarding mechanic is not fun and largely excludes user input.

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