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Distant Star Review

By on March 13th, 2012 5:29 am


While the iOS is still a platform in its infancy when it comes to space strategy games, Distant Star was one of the first and most interesting among the other small selection we have on the platform. When Distant Star first released live on April 20th, 2011, it was honestly not that much of a stand out. The other mistake made by Trevor (the developer) was to make it an iPad exclusive title, which at the time I did not have one.

You do not have to be a business major to have known that limiting your exposure to the smallest market is not a recipe for success. While gaming is a huge market, strategy games are a smaller niche of that total market. Add to the exclusivity of our genre the fact that the iPad was not quite as popular as it is now, and you will be not selling many copies. Trevor cites on his blog that while DS was originally planned to be iPad exclusive, he was convinced by friends and beta testers (including one of my emails =)) that the iPhone should not be excluded.

Trevor rectified this mistake and other polish issues and released Distant Star as a universal app, and instantly saw success as Trevor put it, “Astronomically” sold more. A well-earned price increase also seemed to not hurt things, as customers are willing to pay for more polish.

Get on with the review already..

Fast forward a couple months shy of a year to today, and Distant Star is nothing you would recognize. I believe Trevor is rewarding his customer base by not release 1.7 as Distant Star 2, which he could well have. The reason is that DS is now a much more polished game with features in place, and ready to be expanded. This is where I can see the game is not quite ready for a sequel.

For those of you not familiar with Distant Star, it is the first space strategy game to launch on the iPad. Your goal is simple, dominate the galaxy. You can accomplish this by researching upgrades, building warships, conquering new planets, and improving those that you own.


The game is very straight forward, and features a much improved UI and AI. The graphics are retro style pixels for the ships which reminds me of the ancient Sea Battle game for Intellivision. The game start up options are sparse with options to set Galaxy Size, Number of Races, and your Race. While the option to pick a race is present, the developers have yet to release the additional races. The only race “Humans” is described as having a variety of ships, tough cruisers, and cheap frigates, making them flexible. Additional races with other bonuses will be a great addition to the depth of this game!

Your first goal is to set your research topic, and build probes. I recommend researching your first combat ship, the Frigate, because you have none at the start. Once you research frigate, pick the “Colonizer” tech. This will allow you to capitalize on the exploration your probes did, and gain you the precious production facilities.


Spam, and lots of it! Don’t be afraid to spam as many ships as you can afford. Aside from occasionally upgrading your planets, you should not have any money left over between turns. If you do, chances are you are falling behind the ship building game. Trust me the AI is good at it, as you try to expand, you will also have to defend your home world. You can split ships off between fleets to help manage this task as well.

The research in this game is adequate as you can upgrade your ships with shields and better weapons, and improve your farms. One thing I noticed was that the non-combat research is not as beneficial, so I would recommend researching those last.

While the AI can be challenging in certain map situations, there are some quirks. One game the AI had a much larger fleet and could have defeated me. However, the AI just parked his fleet and held only two worlds. This allowed me to build up and eventually defeat him many hundreds of turns later. So the AI is better in certain map situations.


Another gripe of mine is that you cannot scrap a planetary upgrade to build something else, like say once you research the small tree labs become worthless.

Bottom Line

If you are looking for a quick and dirty space strategy game to kill a little bit of time, and a little less involved like Starbase Orion, then I would recommend Distant Star. While the updates have been slow, there are promising future features (almost warranting enough for a sequel) like more races coming in the future. There are some complexity issues, and pace of updates that are keeping me from rating this game higher than it is. Hopefully I can come back in the near future and change that…

Distant Star (iOS)

Distant Star

Buy it at iTunes.

Space Sector score: 7.9/10
The Good:
– Has all the basic elements of a space strategy game
– Runs fast, and provides a challenge
– Great updated UI, and retro style pixel ships
The Bad:
– Lacks more complex features of space strategy (diplomacy, ship design)
– The AI sometimes fails to be aggressive in certain situations
– Only one playable race at the moment

All screenshots

Kyle Rees “Lordxorn” has been a Space Sector contributor since May 2011. Kyle is a credited tester on games like Distant Worlds: Return of the Shakturi, and Panzer Corps, and an avid World of Tanks player. See all Kyle’s posts here.

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  1. Veridical Driver says:

    I have the game on iphone… While it is fun in itself, it is extremely difficult to play because of the size of the buttons on the screen. While the button sizes are probably good on the larger ipad screen, they need to modify the iphone version to be easier to use.

  2. Kyle Rees says:

    I agree with you that the game is difficult on the smaller screen, because when Distant Star was first updated to a universal app from iPad exclusive, I couldn’t play it at all on the old UI.

    However, they are trying to make improvement, and I think the newer looking UI is a step in the right direction. However, the developer has mentioned on his blog that it was harder than he thought adapting for the iPhone.

    I guess this should server as a heads up for future developers, in that you should have in mind to develop your game as a universal app. It is like making a game that will only fit on a 21 in monitor.

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Post category: Game Reviews