Crying Suns is very fond of comparing itself to Faster Than Light, but I've never played FTL so this means absolutely nothing to me. I'm also not one to typically seek out real-time strategy games, so I'm doubly in the red when it comes to having an idea of what to expect from this title. What I do have, however, is a deep, abiding love of sci-fi mysteries and space epics, which is where Crying Suns managed to get its hooks into me.
Even with my limited frame of reference, I can say that Crying Suns has a lot going for it: simple but evocative pixel art, an ominously futuristic soundtrack, engaging combat, and a mystery to unfold as you travel the cosmos in search of answers. This one is definitely going on the list of best Android games.
Our story kicks off with the camera panning down over what looks like a human incubation farm (think the scene from The Matrix when Neo wakes up in the real world) with a large, creepy-looking robot scuttling around to open up one of these human-filled tanks. A man falls out of the tank, unceremoniously barfing up tank juice all over the robot's metal "feet", and through a brief conversation between the two, we discover that this is, in fact, a human farm in the form of a massive cloning facility at the edge of the universe.
You are a clone of Ellys Idaho, legendary admiral of an empire that has fallen to ruin.
You are the clone of Ellys Idaho, a legendary admiral in the imperial army who died decades ago, and you have been chosen by Kaliban, one of an exceptionally advanced line of robots known as OMNIs, to help it investigate why transmissions from the empire's capital have suddenly ceased. Once you're caught up to speed, Kaliban grants you a top-tier battleship, a suite of captains and commandos (no shortage of spare bodies at the cloning farm!), and you all set off to get to the bottom of these missing transmissions.
Things start to go awry quickly, as you encounter abandoned imperial tech that should be up and running, along with some incredibly hostile, and downright unpleasant, scavengers looking to destroy your ship to take its scrap for themselves. This is where the game really starts to open up, as the real-time combat is one of the most engaging facets of the game.
Once you encounter an enemy battleship, you'll both wind up on opposite sides of a gridded battlefield with a handful of fixed assets at your disposal—your battleship's hull (which acts as your total HP), your ship-mounted weapons, and a variety of squadrons like fighters and drones that will do the bulk of the heavy-hitting and defensive maneuvering for you.
Take down opposing battleships using your squadrons, mounted weapons, and highly skilled officers in pausable real-time encounters.
You have just a few open slots at your disposal for actively deployed squadrons, so you have to choose your fighters carefully going into an encounter. The game uses a rock-paper-scissors approach to squadron battles, where your craft are weak to specific types of damage and in turn, dole out massive damage against certain types of enemy squadrons. Damaged squadrons can be repaired at select star systems in each sector of the map, but it is possible to lose squadrons entirely if they take too much damage without having a chance to repair first. And of course, if your main hull takes enough damage to get KO'd, you lose the game and you have to start over.
Crying Suns incorporates elements of roguelikes into its mix, so failing and starting new runs is expected. The game's story takes place over 5 chapters, each of which plays out over 3 sectors of space. In each sector you'll have local star systems, or nodes, that your ship can jump to, which can contain scavenge-friendly resources, planets to explore via ground expeditions, trading posts, and/or "anomalies", which are high-risk, high-reward random encounters. You never know what you might get with an anomaly, so approaching these with extreme caution is ideal. An unfavorable anomaly could easily turn into a game-over if you're already in bad shape.
Crying Suns really hits the mark with its setting and story, but random encounters can get repetitive.
On top of all of this, you can recruit and build up your ranks of officers who each have their own special abilities, like being able to give your weapons a faster recharge rate, making your squadrons' thruster boosts faster, or even being able to repair the hull of your ship. Assigning officers to an asset (hull, squadrons, weapons) that will best suit their unique capabilities is a nice touch to add just a little bit more depth to the system.
Where Crying Suns really hits the mark for me is with its setting, story, and the way it approaches any given scenario. There's a lot of exposition in this game, which I personally adore. Small exchanges between Kaliban and Ellys, or even brief looks into your crewmates, give a lot of needed characterization and sci-fi flavor to what could otherwise be a bland experience. From a world-building perspective, Crying Suns does a great job of creating an immersive experience.
However, that's not to say that the game isn't without its faults. As much as I enjoy the narrative and the heavy exposition, it can get particularly repetitive when it comes to random events. You can only have so many pirate encounters before the novelty wears off, since there's not much variety beyond a certain point in terms of dialogue or even possible outcomes.
My other small complaint is that the big bads, the sector bosses, have fairly limited characterization. Each boss kind of boils down to just plain old "evil". They do vile things and amass their own vile hordes for no other reason than that they're evil. Again, it's not a deal-breaker, but I did find myself wishing for a slightly more nuanced or complex villain to pit myself against.
With a great soundtrack, slick graphics, and engaging combat, Crying Suns is well worth your time and money.
One last thing to consider is that the UI, which is very good overall, may be a little small for some readers when it comes to the text. This is the kind of game that might benefit from an Android emulator like BlueStacks, but if you have a giant phone or even just better eyes than me, then this might not affect you at all.
All in all, though, I would highly recommend Crying Suns. If you're into real-time strategy, great sci-fi settings and story, and don't mind the try-and-try-again loop of a roguelike, then Crying Suns is right up your alley. It's a little pricey at $8.99, but you can get it free if you're a Play Pass subscriber. Even without Play Pass, this game's quality makes it well worth the cost in my book.