Right at the top of the list of "Imaginary Jobs We Wish Were Real" is Starfleet captain. Almost every kid has dreamed of following the footsteps of Captains Kirk or Picard or even Admiral William Adama and leading their own ship into the uncharted reaches of space. While we're still many years away from actually living out such a fantasy, games like Infinite Space are here to prepare us, and if actual interstellar exploration is anything like this, then it's going to be mostly enjoyable, but also potentially immensely frustrating.
Infinite Space follows the tale of Yuri, a young man who dreams of leaving his home planet and seeking his fortune among the stars. He contacts Nia, a "launcher," to help him take his first steps toward his dream. While most stories would end here, Yuri's fate is different, and it isn't long before he follows that oh-so-familiar route of plucky young adventurer caught up in a massive quest that he'd never expected. To say more would be to risk entering spoiler territory, but one thing that is impressive about the game is that the plot is actually fairly full of twists and turns and manages to easily hold players' interest throughout. While the basic narrative structure may be the same old thing, the details in storytelling set this game apart from the pack.
While the plot is elegant, trying to advance the storyline is anything but. Infinite Space lacks any sort of quest log or reminder system, so if you walk away from the game for a while or simply skip through dialogue too fast and forget where you're going, then you're in trouble. The only option at that point is to basically fly from planet to planet hoping to pick up the breadcrumb trail. Even more irritating, some plot moments won't unlock until you've talked to a specific character a certain number of times or visited a particular locale at exactly the right moment. While this issue is easy to ignore early on, later chapters can lead to extreme irritation because the galaxies get larger and the steps become more complex.
More important than the plot is the combat, as anyone who picks up the game will likely do so for the promise of epic space battles. Unfortunately, this is one area where the game doesn't really deliver, basically allowing itself to fall back on the same old semi-turned-based combat that RPGs have been trotting out for years. Initially, the game allows players to choose one of three commands (Normal Attack, Barrage and Dodge), which are all tied to a command meter. Normal attacks charge quickly and let you fire a single volley at the enemy, or players can opt to charge up their attack and unleash a three-volley barrage which, if it connects, is all but guaranteed to wipe out an opposing ship. The catch is that barrages can almost always be totally avoided by a dodge, potentially making you waste all that time and ammunition for nothing. In another wrinkle, a ship that dodges is more susceptible to massive damage from normal attacks, so the whole thing exists in a sort of rock-paper-scissors relationship.
While this setup is completely functional, it's also pretty boring, and most battles simply boil down to either pounding an enemy with normal attacks or waiting for them to leave themselves open to a big barrage. Things get a bit more complex later when fighters, anti-air commands and melee battles get thrown into the mix, but none of that really makes matters much more exciting. Those hoping to strategically maneuver ships during the battles or utilize flanking maneuvers to funnel enemies into a deadly crossfire will be sadly disappointed, as the potential for major fleet battles or chaotic warfare is all thrown out the window for the sake of a tidy, overly simple battle system.
While the combat may lack character, the ships engaging in combat are quite the opposite. Infinite Space offers up a large variety of destroyers, frigates, battleships and more, all of which can be further customized to improve their combat prowess. Upgrading ships consists of fitting new modules in a sort of light puzzle minigame where you have to move modules in order to most effectively utilize the space on each vessel. Sure, having that upgraded shielding system would be nice, but it may end up coming at the expense of some of your engine and navigation upgrades due to its unwieldy size. This constant give-and-take is easily one of the game's most addictive aspects, and many players will likely get lost for hours simply tinkering with their ships and setting up a deadly fleet.
Coming up with the cash necessary to build such a fleet is its own chore, though, and gamers should know up front that this title is one that requires extensive level grinding. The game's difficulty curve is steep, and players are going to need to quickly gather up the resources needed to enlarge their fleet and fortify their ships. In this respect, the first few hours of the game are absolutely brutal, as the enemy is almost always more numerous and powerful than you are. Making matters worse, your ships can only be repaired after landing on a planet, so if you get caught up in a series of battles while traveling from one location to another, it can spell trouble. While the game allows you the option to escape from most conflicts before they even begin, even some random battles are deemed inescapable, and they usually involve you facing off with at least an enemy battleship, destroyer and frigate. The cherry on this frustration sundae is the fact that there's no continue option, so defeat means you're kicked back to the moment when you last saved. If that happens to have been a while ago, then I hope you don't mind retracing your steps.
Some purists will likely enjoy this hardcore difficulty and extreme level grinding, and thus Infinite Space is the perfect game for them. Those who are just looking for a cool outer space adventure will be greatly disappointed, as this game does everything in its power to make you dislike it until you start building up an impressive fleet and attaching some amazing weapons. If you're willing to stick it out, you'll find a well-plotted space opera and a very cool shipbuilding system, but getting to that point will be tough for many. While there's a good deal to love about Infinite Space, there are an equal number of things to hate about it as well.
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