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