Strange Adventures in Infinite Space Review

| | Comments (0)
Publisher: Cheapass Games
Developer: Digital Eel


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 350 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 16 MB HD space
Official site: digital-eel.com/sais/

A new era of space exploration is about to dawn as soon as Galicticorp perfects a faster-than-light Thorium Fission Drive, and you're an unemployed space pilot. The Exploration Pact of 4578 limited exploration and travel outside of the home colony system of Glory until the new drive is complete around 4590, but a wealthy smuggler has a deal for you. He'll provide you with a crew and a military corvette, modified for exploration. In return for breaking the law, you get to command a ten year mission to bring back as much wealth and knowledge as you can collect before the pact expires. Space, however, can be a dangerous place. You not only have to make it back in time, you have to survive the perils of Infinite Space to make it back in one piece.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Strange Adventures in Infinite Space (SAIS) is, essentially, solitaire. It's a space opera themed game of solitaire with a nifty, if simple, combat engine thrown in. Games are designed to be playable in fifteen minutes, although they often take a lot less, and involve exploring the sixteen star systems that comprise The Purple Void.

At first glance, SAIS seems a simplistic throwback to an older (and gentler) era of games, but there is considerably more than first meets the eye. The first impression may not excite gamers used to million-polygon games. During your ten-year mission, you go to as many stars as possible and try not to get slain by one of the few alien species of The Purple Void. The graphics seem archaic – a throwback to a simpler era when 640 x 480 resolutions prevailed. Combat, too, seems simple – you point your ship in a direction, and it fires automatically (you can do the same for any allies you may have hired or befriended). Travel only occurs between stars, restricting you to the straight-line paths between stellar systems, with no ability to circumnavigate obstacles such as black holes or nebular tendrils. If you only played a single game or two, SAIS could even seem frustrating as your ship's original engines will only allow you to reach a few other planets, and your weapons, thrusters and shields are hopelessly outclassed by everyone else in the galaxy. Then you play a few more games and learn better.

Alien technology abounds, and can be found everywhere. Alternately, you can trade for it with the Klakar who nearly always lurk around your starting system of Glory. Humankind possesses only the most rudimentary of spacefaring technology. But the game transforms once you start installing alien technology. Your initial engine can travel at six times the speed of light, and can barely move through nebulae. Other engines will travel up to twenty times the speed of light, some can speed through nebulae, and the hyperdrive (and some alien hirelings) can facilitate instantaneous travel throughout the region. A good engine suddenly brings all sixteen stars within reach. The temptation of alien technology also makes you balance the possibility of discovering a powerful propulsion technology with hefty, overdue loan payments should you limp back home with your slower engines.

The acquisition of better weapons, shields and thrusters also makes it possible to hold your own against the largely hostile inhabitants of the purple void. Additional ship systems, such as various countermeasures and battle computers, make you a force to be reckoned with. With more powerful armaments, you go from hopelessly charging at your foes with antiquated weapons to performing an entertaining tactical exercise. Ship weapons have firing arcs, ranges and differing power. Suddenly, your Terran corvette can circle a superior, but slower foe, peppering it with torpedoes and staying out of weapon range. As with the discovery of better engines, a little exploration and better items turn combat into something fun. Once again, the Klakar are your best ally. They trade all items and technologies on a one-for-one basis, so if you encounter them early you can trade the gum behind your helmsman's seat for a state-of-the-art death ray. If you truly want tactical combat, a cloaking device can make even the weakest ship a death-dealing machine.

The goal of SAIS is to return home, in under ten years, with the most valuable assortment of ship systems, lifeforms and artifacts you can scavenge. At first this seems frustrating. All items have text descriptions, but it seems hard to suss which items are most valuable. This is, admittedly, a source of some frustration. Since most of the game's code can be opened with a simple text-reader, you can always find out for yourself the relative worth of items, but a little empirical observation will give you enough general knowledge to become a savvy space trader. Perhaps the best part of SAIS are some of the rarer events and alien artifacts. Discovering what the Mantle of Babulon or Timeless Bauble can actually do lends a sense of achievement, and the foreknowledge of a star's nova when all you have is a hyperdrive spawns hopelessness. Perhaps you can even muster a bit of fear and revulsion when you finally understand the Yellow Kawangi's true purpose. These touches are what truly give SAIS a sense of identity, and give it replay value. Unfortunately, there are only a few such moments or events, and the game would be enhanced by more of these creative and mysterious items.

SAIS is very simple to modify. While the FAQ notes that new sounds and graphics would be difficult to add, nearly everything else is embedded in a series of text files. This means it is possible to add weapons, encounters and items with little difficulty. I was able to add an additional hardpoint for mounting weapons to my corvette with little difficulty. Before you suspect me of being an exceptional programmer, keep in mind that my last user modification was for EAMON Adventures. If you are enterprising, you could substantially add to the game, providing more variety than comes in the original package.

SAIS begins to hit the end of its lifespan once you have played the game so much that you have established an "optimal play pattern." Once you understand exactly which ship system or artifact you want, and you've seen all the mysterious events the game has to offer, it becomes solitaire very much in the style of Freecell, but in a tidy science-fiction themed package. Of course, that point could come after as much as ten hours of play, and that period is filled with little discoveries that titillate. Given that the game is only $15, that's decent entertainment for the money, and SAIS is sized to be the right game for relaxing during your daily coffee break. If you have any doubts, try the demo at the official site – it will give you a good idea what the full version of the game can do.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 19, 2002 7:10 PM.

Championship Cards Review was the previous entry.

Totaled! Review is the next entry.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

 

Add to Technorati Favorites