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Star Trek: Infinite Space has one goal: to make you feel like a captain. It’s not about blasting apart aliens in fast-paced action – that’s not Star Trek. Star Trek is sitting in the captain’s seat and making tactical decisions while letting your away team handle the situation on the ground. It’s about lowering the enemy’s shields before delivering a finishing blast with a torpedo. It’s about… well, being a captain, and so far, Infinite Space appears to do just that.
Infinite Space is a free-to-play MMO where players can choose to jump into the captain’s seat of either Klingon or Federation ships. In terms of plot, it takes place during the Dominion War of Deep Space 9’s third season, but it doesn’t look like in-depth knowledge will be necessary to play – it’s just going to make it more interesting for those who do. Everything about it reeks of Trek, from the interface (modeled after the computer screens from classic Star Trek shows) to the environments and gameplay, which is much more tactical than other space-based shooters.
While players are free to wander the universe’s space stations as a fully-rendered 3D avatar to socialize with other captains, a majority of the game takes place in a 3D ship on a 2D plane. It’s still a great looking game, powered by the same Unity Engine used to create Battlestar Galactica Online, but it’s very… flat. This might sound strange, but it actually makes sense; flattening out the tactics-focused combat experience let’s players focus more on how they approach a situation, and less on how fast they can click on an enemy to blow it up.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Saman Pakzad, producer for Star Trek: Infinite Space, and watched him run through a story mission, which charged him with rescuing a kidnapped ambassador from Klingon warlords. As he approached the enemy’s space station he was hailed by a fleeing Klingon ship. It was a rebel who offered help in exchange for at least four duranium crystals for him from a nearby area. The captain agreed via a dialog window and went off to harvest the resources.
There was a catch, of course: gathering the crystals required him to press forward into an area that continuously damaged his ship. So it was important to get in and get out without being reduced to space dust. He clicked into the foggy area and saw damage ticking above his ship’s hull – this mysterious nebula was cutting right through his ship’s armor, completely skipping the shield. Quickly, he clicked on the nearby crystals to loot the crystals before moving on. With low ship health, Pakzad took the opportunity to show off a new ability to repair his damaged hull. Suddenly, little 3D drones popped out and began to repair the damage, buzzing around in space.
With six crystals (instead of the necessary four) to offer the Klingon rebel, we received the intel leading us to the kidnapped ambassador along with a bonus: deactivation codes for the turrets guarding the Klingon warlords’ space station. This small, micro-choice changed the mission entirely, and we’re told that the game’s missions will often give the captain the chance to go above and beyond, though they will always end in the same place.
The captain used this information to hack turrets he came across, making the ensuing battles less difficult. When he did engage enemies, however, the combat was very calculated. He wasn’t firing his phasers all willy-nilly or trying to pick of enemies from a distance, he was getting up close and personal, using a combination of phasers, mines, and other weapons to defeat his foes. At one point he used his tractor beam to drag an enemy he had disabled with a stun mine to a turret he had dropped down in a previous battle. Other times he used brute force to weaken the enemy’s shields with his phasers before finishing them off with torpedoes. It was all done with ease thanks to the game’s controls, which are streamlined and simplified so that anyone should be able to use them. Players already familiar with MMO controls can use the mouse and WASD keys, while new players can do everything they need to do with just the mouse.
Eventually, he made his way to the enemy’s main base and beamed his crew aboard. He didn’t go with them, though – instead, he watched their progress, receiving updates with requests for orders as the mission progressed. This is where Infinite Space promises to shine most brightly, letting players take a more managerial role as a captain by making tough decisions. At one point he was told that the team had taken damage, and they wanted to know what his orders were. “Return fire, advance” was one option, and “Fall back, heal the wounded” was the other. The outcome isn’t random, either, but related to the levels of his crew members. If his Medical Officer had been used in multiple encounters prior to this mission, he might choose to fall back and heal the wounded, but if his Security Officer was a higher level, he might risk the skill check and have them try and advance.
He chose to fall back, and after being healed he was presented with another moral dilemma: the team was healed but pinned down. Since he couldn’t get on to the enemy station himself he decided to take a more offensive approach using the tools he had. Someone on the crew mentioned that he could try and blast them from space, but that it might be a little risky. He took the chance and fired a shot into the enemy’s ship. This sort of move could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t, and his crew on said that the blast hit the enemy, letting them proceed and rescue the ambassador.
But that’s just one way to play. Star Trek: Infinite Space is an MMO, after all, and lets players join together with four others to approach battles cooperatively. There’s also the option to buy new ships to switch between, something the developers admit goes against the continuity, but will be worth it for the gameplay advantages it allows.
And it’s also just one type of mission. When you get your hands on the game there will be three to choose from including Story, Battle Scenes (repeatable combat missions), and Exploration missions. Exploration has our interests piqued the most, and promises to up Infinite Space’s Star Trek street cred. Captains aren’t given a typical briefing when they take one. Sometimes it will lead to battles, other times diplomacy. It’s all about exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no man has gone before. That’s what Star Trek is about, and that’s why we can’t wait to get more time with Infinite Space.
Sep 22, 2011