Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game Review

Explore the unique universe of Stellaris with Ghost Signal, a VR exclusive roguelike game. Find out if the game lives up to its high ratings on the Oculus store and whether it truly utilizes the immersive capabilities of VR technology.
Ghost Signal Review
Image: Paradox Interactive

Stellaris is a 4X grand strategy video game developed by Paradox Development Studio and published by Paradox Interactive. The game has developed an almost cult-like following due to its unique mechanics, and even more unique look at sci-fi races and the exploration of the galaxy.

Stellaris’ niche popularity has left fans starving for more to come from the unique universe, and the announcement of Ghost Signal had a lot of players on the edge of their seats. This VR exclusive was released on March 23 and received high ratings on the Oculus store, so I had to check it out myself.

In Ghost Signal, you play as the captain of the Aurora, a small exploration ship tasked with tracking down a mysterious signal in deep space. Woefully underprepared for this task, you must gather new equipment and friends along the way as you chase down the ghost signal.

Ghost Signal takes a departure from the original Stellaris when it comes to gameplay. Stellaris is perhaps one of the most well-known space-faring 4X games out there, where players build, explore, and expand as a civilization on the galactic scale. Ghost Signal, however, is more of a roguelike.

Roguelikes are games like Hades, NOITA, and The Binding of Isaac, where players can expect to die over and over again, taking on randomly generated levels with an ever-increasing power level as you learn from mistakes each run.

This is the design philosophy of Ghost Signal, with the start of each game setting you down on a randomly generated path. As you venture into deep space, you find new upgrades for the Aurora that change how you play each run, such as increased energy damage or a boon that makes your kinetic shots bounce on hit.

As a roguelike, Ghost Signal is alright. It feels a little light on the roguelike features and lacks a lot of content to make the randomized paths feel that exciting. After a few runs, the handful of minibosses and different encounters become a little stale and a bit predictable.

Ghost Signal Beast
Image: Paradox Interactive

Ghost Signal is a VR game and, as such, is played with your hands. You use the controllers to navigate your ship on a flat plane in front of you and use your triggers to fire on enemy ships and space creatures in your orbit.

Just like in Stellaris, enemies and the Aurora alike generally have two health bars, shields and armor. Shields regenerate, but the armor on the Aurora has to be repaired and won’t regenerate on its own. If the Aurora runs out of armor, it’s game over.

Switching between kinetic and energy weapons is the main flow of the game, and it’s something you’ll get the hang of quickly as you navigate the Aurora. As you seek out the elusive ghost signal, you’ll be battling ships and space creatures alike, the space creatures being the more exciting of the encounters in my opinion. Defeating enemies drops resources, which you then gather to purchase the aforementioned upgrades.

Ghost Signal Green Galaxy
Image: Paradox Interactive

The first question I found myself asking when I really got into Ghost Signal was, “Why is this a VR game?” There are a few stunning visuals in Ghost Signal that really make the immersion that only VR can do hit hard — mostly in the introduction to the game.

The actual gameplay is on a flat plane that you view from a third-person angle, far above the action. Most of the gameplay is done by “piloting” the Aurora by pointing at a spot on this pane and clicking, sending the ship in that direction.

This design decision, for a VR game, baffles me. VR is a tool that allows for incredible and unique immersion, and this game uses the technology in possibly the worst way it can. Not only does taking away any personal connection to the Aurora mean the game fails to use the unique VR viewpoint, but the limits of the technology mean Ghost Signal can’t be as much of the game as it wants to be.

Ghost Signal Menu
Image: Paradox Interactive

All in all, VR seemed like a poor choice for this game, and it felt more like the publishers just really wanted to get a title on the platform.

As a Stellaris game, it’s alright. The game stays true to the spirit of Stellaris, giving a sense of exploration and making use of the unique species and concepts you’ll only find in Stellaris. Fans certainly won’t feel like this game is out of place in that department.

Ghost Signal would have been better as a first-person experience, and I can’t imagine why the developers would choose to do it the way they did, besides perhaps a lack of experience in the genre.

Ghost Signal received high ratings on the Oculus store, and frankly, I just don’t get the hype. Perhaps the platform is starved of titles to really compete in the roguelike genre, but Ghost Signal felt like a miss for me.

The Final Word

Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game is, in a word, disappointing. The gameplay is solid, even if it is simple, but feels held back by the technology. The game fails to take advantage of the VR presentation and overall feels more like a mobile game rather than an immersive VR experience.

5

Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game was reviewed on the Meta Quest 2. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Ghost Signal is available on the Meta store.

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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