I am a huge sci-fi geek. It shouldn’t really be a surprise, considering that I’m a pasty, pudgy, video game-loving white guy. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (Picard FTW!), I play any game that allows me to have a spaceship and the controlling thereof, and for a while I had a Star Wars Episode I poster on my wall. I was 17. It was that bad. I’ve even convinced my wife, who had no interest in sci-fi before she married me, to watch and enjoy Battlestar Galactica.
(Also, full disclosure: When I was 14 I made up my own Star Trek spinoff. It was legitimately awful. I basically copy/pasted every character from The Next Generation except for Picard, who was instead a young, brash captain who liked rock concerts. Listen, the less we talk about this the better. It’s dredging up bad memories.)
When I heard about Infinite Space, I was thrilled. A game where you design your ships, instruct your crew and go fight? I was so in. It seems like the perfect match of target audience and game. So, was Infinite Space everything I hoped for and more? To an extent. It has good points and bad points, but I had to temper my expectations a bit. How so? Let’s find out.
First, it’s time to bring out that old chestnut: “Looks great for a DS game.” The ships have great, unique designs, if a little pixelly. Some criticized the map that takes you from planet to planet, but I enjoyed it. It’s easy to see where you’re going and how to get there. The characters are all 2-D sprites and look really good, especially Nia, your Han Solo-esque female friend. Mrowr.
The music is appropriately epic too, as it should be. It helps ratchet up the tension where necessary. When you’re about to fire on an enemy, you’ll hear your crew blurting out technobabble before they fire, and it’s pitch-perfect. Just about every sound is great, except for one glaring exception: The explosions. I want more bass in my explosions, but when ships explode in Infinite Space, it sounds more static-y. Apparently, it’s an homage to Robotech, but since I never watched Robotech, the reference is lost on me. Even still, it could be far worse, like a slide whistle or “Yakety Sax.”
I wasn’t really concerned that the graphics and sound would be excellent, since the reputation of Infinite Space virtually guaranteed that those parts would be great. My biggest concern with Infinite Space was the battle system. How can you model ship-to-ship combat without making it tremendously esoteric and needlessly complicated? Well, here’s a quick explanation. There’ll be a quiz on this later.
First, you move your ship backwards or forwards in order to get your weapons into range. There are icons above your individual ships that show which weapons are in range and which ones aren’t: Blue for “in range” and red for “out of range.” There’s also a battle gauge similar to Final Fantasy. When the gauge fills up to yellow you can use a normal attack or a “dodge” maneuver, and when the gauge fills up to red, you can use a Barrage attack. However, a Dodge will only work against a Barrage, but not a normal attack. Your opponent can also use the same maneuvers, which adds a layer of strategy: Go for the Barrage and the kill, or risk having your attack negated by a Dodge? Your opponents’ ships are demonstrated with icons on the top of the screen. The icons will show where in the formation the opposing ships are, and you’ll want to take out the ships in front first before trying to hit the ships in the back. There’s also a ship icon for the opposing ships which either glows green, yellow or red and shows you how full their battle gauge is.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of intricacies in this system, and lots of wrinkles to it, like ship-to-ship melee combat and special attacks that can also be dodged. The benefit is that if you’re not careful, you will get destroyed in just about any combat session. The downside is that if you’re not careful, you will get destroyed in just about any combat session. There are no pushover enemies and no autobattle settings. You have to keep on your toes for every battle. At times I found myself praising that fact and other times I found myself cursing it, but I ended up mostly positive about it.
To get into the world of Infinite Space, there’s even more to learn. You have to build your ships, outfit them with the modules and weapons that you need, and assign your crew members to various posts around the ship. My favorite part by far was assigning crew members. You get to assign everything, like your first officer, the security chief and your fighter pilot leader. You even get to assign the assistant chef. It’s incredible. For someone who grew up geeking out on Star Trek, the ability to have that much control over your crew is breathtaking.
The characters and writing are also pretty good. Usually, RPG characters are all full of angst and confusing dialogue relating to bards and their respective spoonyness. However, the localization team nailed this one, making characters that are believeable and do and say believeable things. Kudos.
However, there are some major problems with Infinite Space that prevents it from being everything it could have been. I’m going to use Call of Duty as an example. When you die in Call of Duty, they’ll usually throw up a notice explaining what you did wrong. If you die by a grenade, they’ll explain what the grenade indicator is. If you didn’t duck, they’ll explain that you should duck in order to regenerate health, and so on. There’s no such explanation in Infinite Space, which is ridiculous for such a complex game. There are times I fought a battle with weak ships and didn’t realize it until several losses later I refitted my ships. I was never told that maybe I should aim at the ships in front, or maybe try refitting my crew or maybe upgrade to different weapons. The player is thrown to the wolves in Infinite Space, which will definitely appeal to some.
Also, here’s something that needs to be ended now. I’m drawing a line in the sand. When there’s a Game Over screen, we need to have three options: Retry, Continue, or Exit. Retry should have us play the battle over, Continue should load the last game, and Exit should dump us back to the main screen. I’m tired of games dumping me back to the main screen every time I lose, and Infinite Space is a culprit in this as well.
It becomes especially problematic when you add in the outrageous save and load times. It takes 30 seconds every time you save or load a game. I know that there’s a lot of data that needs saving, but when you have to go back through the main menu and go through a long loading process every time you fail (and you will fail a lot) it becomes tedious rather quickly. The difficulty of some battles and the finality of losing also encourages you to save rather often, which means that you’re sitting through that save screen repeatedly.
Finally, there is another big, big flaw. If ever a game needed a quest log, Infinite Space does. That’s outrageous for a game of this size. Here’s the thing: It almost feels like they had one when they were making the game. There are quest triggers that are very obtuse, like talking to a certain character twice instead of once, or trying to leave the star system where all the action is taking place. It almost seems like someone was writing these triggers down for inclusion in the game itself, and then it got cut at the last minute. The only way I was able to pick my way through in time to get this review done is by using a spoiler-free walkthrough, which is a little crazy.