Infinite Space Review

   29/03/2010 at 13:44       Stephen Farrell       11 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Infinite Space, Nintendo DS, Sega, RPG, Spacely Sprockets

As a kid I spent far too long playing with Lego. But then, with the possible exception of Meccano, Lego is the greatest toy ever conceived. Those little blocks allowed my imagination to run riot, to take on form in the real world. They’re also responsible for my love of games where you construct things, be it my own cities in Sim City, or my own empire in Civilisation or even, albeit basically, my own magical weapons in Oblivion. So, couple that love of Lego with another love of mine, space, and what do you get? Infinite Space. (Also known as Infinite Line)

Frankly Infinite Space could almost be an appalling game, slated in previews and reviews, and I would still have purchased it. Simply because on paper it sounds awesome and the consoles, hand held or home based, are sorely lacking in any space based games, strategy or otherwise. Which is shocking when you think about it. Games such as Elite, X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Homeworld, FreeSpace, X... all have big cult followings and are all, by and large, universally praised. Couple this with the lack of decent DS strategy games and it’s a no-brainer.  Thankfully Infinite Space has a lot going for it. The basic premise of the game is that the main protagonist of the story, Yuri, wants to leave the planet he lives on and set sail through the stars for some adventure, exploration and other such shenanigans. However, the dictatorship won’t allow anyone to leave, forcing people to stay grounded “for the better of the planet”. So Yuri saves up his cash and pays for a “launcher” to come and take him away. This brings in the second protagonist of the story, Nia. Sure enough it’s not long before Nia and Yuri are in space with Yuri’s oppressors hot in pursuit. The story sounds a bit basic, but quickly gets interesting and takes more than a few sharp turns along the way.

Along the way you get your own ship, and then the beginnings of a fleet. Soon after you’re buying new modules; everything from weapon amplifiers to accountancy offices, and you’re assigning crew members to specific roles within the fleet; be it head of engineering, 1st officer or head chef. Contructing you little ships and assigning your crew, squeezing the best possible configuration out of what you have, is rather fun, and the backbone of the whole game. Cruising around the systems is pretty straight forward (Although re-plotting your courses if you make a mistake is irk-some) and there’s plenty of stuff to discover, from nebula to remnants of novas to asteroids waiting to be mined (Don’t get excited; you don’t mine, nor do you get goods, just a lump sum of credits. Effectively they’re treasure chests in disguise.  Missed opportunity.)

The game is presented rather well, considering. I was at first very sceptical of a 3D engine when you think about the sheer lack of power that the DS has. But the cutscenes, the battle scenes and the travel scenes are all done very well on the aging hardware. The lack of resolution can sometimes bring things down, especially when viewing a battle scene from a distance, but that’s not a frequent event. The interfaces are a bit of a chore, again, mainly in the battle system.  Far too much blue on blue, and you have to use the touch screen to navigate many of the menus, (I’m a d-pad and buttons kinda guy) but the style of them is very sci-fi and adds to the atmosphere. The sound effects fit in nicely, especially when you’re firing off a full barrage of weapons fire at an enemy fleet.

Sadly there’s a few down sides to the game. The start of the game is very confusing. The opening sequence is a very nicely done anime short, which then you have to actually play out in the game, effectively repeating everything you’ve just watched, whilst at the same time you have to play as a completely unknown character in full command of a ship. OK, you can’t exactly lose, but you are left floundering around wondering “WTF?” Personally the initial confusion lasted about an hour and once that passed I was able to get a grasp of the basics. And then came the joys of ship management. I write that sentence as a two edged sword really, as once you know what you’re doing it’s pretty fun to play around with both your ship and your crew. But learning what affects what is a nightmare. There’s very little in the way of an ingame tutorial, just a wealth of text (Delivered 2 lines at a time. Joy. There’s 2 screen for Gods sake, USE THEM!) in the help section, and there’s that much to learn that you find yourself constantly going to and from the help section just to check up on one small detail, which gets quite tiresome at times.

Perhaps the biggest let down is the battle system. Infinite Space takes the giant leap of putting you in command of not just one space ship, but a small fleet, up to 5 as the game progresses. So why did they effectively turn the battle system into a very basic single ship vs single ship affair? The basic idea of combat is that your fleet faces off with the enemy fleet across space. Except all ships in the fleet are lumped together and cannot seperate. There’s some formation work at play, but your only real strategy is to hit the ships at the front and work your way to those at the back, there’s no other strategy. You can move backwards and forwards, and your distance to the enemy fleet will determine which of your weapons can fire from the ships in your fleet. You can fire a normal shot, or a barrage shot which is 3 normal shots in one. Or you can dodge, which allows you to (usually) avoid a barrage, but makes you more vulnerable to normal attacks. Later on in the game you get fighters that you can launch.  You can also (eventually) board an enemy vessel and take them out in melee combat, which has an even more basic combat system of  that old chestnut Rock / Paper / Scissors, cleverly disguised as Slash / Shoot / Leader.  Considering the depth that they’ve put into the ship management and construction it’s such a shame to be let down when it comes to actually employing said fleet. There’s almost no strategy involved, and it would have been very easy to design such a system that would reflect the depth of the rest of the game. Something like Skies of Arcadia’s combat system, or an expanded version of the boardgame “Battleships” would have been a lot better and allowed for a greater scope of strategy than the current system.

There’s a couple of minor things that grate too; Camera change is nice, but again pointless as looking at an enemy ship up close yields no more information than looking at your own. There’s even a button on the interface to alter the image on a monitor on your bridge; a totally pointless and superfluous feature that should either been improved upon or scraped completely. There’s no log of what you’re doing, so if you save and quit for two days then the only option you have to fly all over the show until you pick up the thread of the story again. And even when you’re playing there’s frequently no clear indicator of where you’re meant to go. At least 3 parts of the story have unfolded on me as I was flying randomly through space, trying to figure out what to do, and I’m only a few hours into the game.

It may seem that I’m really having a go at Infinite Space here; I’ve written more about the bad than the good of the game, and that really isn’t the case. The game is overall a very good game and certainly worth the £25 I paid for it. But the closer a game gets to being great the easier it is to see the flaws. And some of the flaws (Especially the combat) are so glaringly obvious it makes you wonder if one half of the game was designed by a veteran developer, and the other half was done by Tim, the teaboy from the 4th floor. It’s so right in many respects and so wrong in others that it’s hard to imagine how the various parts were ever merged. I sincerely hope that Nude Make/Platinum Games take a note of the improvements that need to be made and try again. A decent strategic battle system, an improved interface, and it wouldn’t be too much trouble to shove in a basic looting and trading system either.

All in all if you can put up with the poor combat, the other failings are easy enough to overlook and you’ve got yourself a good game here.  But if you can’t, you’re going to be let down and annoyed at yet another games developer missing the point in what games like this need. Add that to the fact that this game took over 2 years to develop and it’s seriously frustrating. It’s a pity I can’t split the game into components and mark each section, as it would get a lot of 5 stars. Unfortunately it’d also get a few 1 and 2 stars along the way.  Here’s to hoping that Infinite Space 2, should it surface, is the diamond we’re all waiting for.

Should anyone get this game I highly recommend that you read the online manual; found here

http://dl.sega.com/guide/infinite-space/infinite-space-zero-g-manual-us.pdf

Stars
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