I’m a pretty big fan of space sims and tend to pick them up anytime I see a new one has released. The more sim in the space, the more I’m likely to enjoy it. I remember seeing Infinity: Battlescape years ago as an ambitious project to create a space-based MMO. Of course, the latter half of the title wouldn’t come about for another ten years with a re-focus on the project, but the early concept was very appealing.
In a lot of ways, the initial Infinity project defined the dream that would later become Elite: Dangerous, except years before the either would successfully kickstart through their respective crowdfunding campaigns. Converting from the original MMO concept to a massive-scale space combat game, I-Novae Studios launched the crowdfunding campaign for Infinity: Battlescape in late-2015. The game successfully raised the required capital and has finally released as a Steam Early Access title four years later.
I picked the game up last week and gave it a try. At a very high level, the game probably isn’t quite there yet for most people, but there are aspects of it that suggest a really great concept. With a little more development time, this could soon be one of the better space combat options available. Even as it is, I think there is a definite set of people who the game will appeal to, and I’ll go over some of the things I think folks will like today. I’ll also talk a bit about some of the design ideas that I think are on the cusp of translating to something really cool, too.
Whether or not I-Novae ever turns back towards their ambitious MMO goals, they have a very solid opportunity in front of them now. It’s even more impressive when you consider just what their tiny team has turned out in a relatively small amount of time. While a lot of the work had already been done to some extent, the team has still effectively developed their own engine allowing them to model a solar system and support seamless flight between planetary surfaces and space. More importantly, they’ve made a game that’s fun to play.
Clearly the game has some way to go before anyone would call it feature complete, but there are some great systems already in place. For instance, mining facilities on the surface transport resources to factories. Those transports can be intercepted to cut off some of the point accumulation for the owning team. This creates an opportunity in the game for players to interdict shipping in small groups in order to contribute to the team success in a tangible way, and thus also creates an equal opportunity for players to fly escort for those same ships.
Another thing I really liked about the game is the system for attacking and defeating bases. Bases, whether ground based or in space, have a number of components that make up the entire facility. Defeating the base means you have to blow up all those components, but AI and players will be spawning to defend against the attack.
Defending and attacking will create battles in the mission menu to help players get directly into the action, and which seem to also contribute to the point totals of the two teams. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg question, but I’m not sure if the missions spawn the AI to attack or if AI can attack a base to create a mission. I have noticed missions being created as AI were inbound to a location, though. If you see these, try to get there ahead of time. The attacking fleet will come out of warp en masse and open fire, which is a seriously cool thing to watch.
There are elements to the game that suggest experience and a high level of professionalism by the developers. The UI is sleek and simple, but highly functional. Though the sound can be a bit quiet at times and things like missile locks can be easily missed, I still really found the design in general incredibly well done despite those minor issues. Not only is the score dynamic and thematically on point, but the sound effects combine to create some very dramatic combat that feels deeply cinematic to me.
The thing to be aware of is that the game is still in Early Access and there are certainly some features missing. While the battlefield feels huge, a look at the map suggests that there’s a goal to expand it a great deal later. That empty space gives you the sense of missing content and as good as the score is in places, it seems to be missing in a lot of the in-between moments of the game, leaving trips between points a feeling a little unfinished.
Also, while there are a lot of ships to choose from and ship configurations vary between factions, the ship-modularity hasn’t been implemented yet. The ability to swap weapons around on the ships is in the roadmap, but you notice that missing piece at the moment. The current number of ships does keep the game pretty interesting, but it starts to feel just a little flat eventually due to the static nature of the individual ship loadouts.
I also think I’d like to see just a little more variety in mission types. It is a combat game and that has to be the focus, but it’s also a space sim and there’s always those of us who enjoy strategy and logistics. They don’t need to implement “Space Trucker:The Game,” but I’d still like to see some sort of logistical support in the game. I think it’d help create more diversity in the gameplay and make things more interesting. I’d also like to see the UI developed a bit further to provide more context for strategic decision-making. How do you decide which base to attack if all the bases are the same on the GUI?
Adding just a little more depth to the various factories and other facilities and systems to support mission creation would go a long way to creating a sense of purpose that’s missing in the current gameplay. For instance, taking out certain bases might drive up the cost of certain classes of ships or limit the capacity of specific ammunition types. Almost anything that would push the game in a direction of intentionally targeting bases for a strategic goal would pay immediate dividends, I think.
Another thing that’s missing in the current game is better peripheral support. Gamepads and HOTAS controls are implemented, but not well. You have to manually the flight controls and buttons, which is really more time than I want to put into Infinity: Battlescape at this stage in development. I used my mouse and keyboard instead, and while it worked and was fun, I did really miss being able to use my HOTAS.
Some Will Like It
In the end, Infinity: Battlescape is a game that has tremendous potential and I think they’ve out-performed some of their better-funded competitors in a lot of ways. It’s not finished quite yet, but I do think that there are plenty of people who’ll really enjoy playing the game a lot. Especially if your game of choice hasn’t released yet.
The longer campaigns make it a great game for spending a weekend online with friends and the permanent destruction of bases in the game means that hit-and-run tactics by smaller forces can have very real contributions towards victory. I kind of expect that to be the standard player for this earlier part of the game’s development.
Small groups of friends and weekend players are very likely to have a lot of fun playing Infinity: Battlescape. During the week, I’m expecting the population to drop off enough that it won’t be quite as much fun. That said, the inclusion of AI ships means there’ll always be something to do and it shouldn’t ever feel like the game is empty, no matter how few players there are online at a given time.
There isn’t much in the way of context or information about the game and its many systems yet. In large part because those systems are just now coming online and are probably changing too fast to really be worth keeping up with. That means that new players are probably going to feel a little lost and that’s likely going to keep at least a few folks away from the game during Early Access.
That’s a problem that’ll resolve in time, though. More players will be creating more articles and videos with tips for newer players, and that body of captured knowledge will help pull in more players over time. I also expect the developers will be adding in more ship options and additional planets or moons to fight over as the development progresses. More depth will help the game feel closer to completion and that’ll be one of the key things I’ll be watching to determine whether or not the continued development is successful or not.
I can’t recommend the game to everyone in its unfinished shape, but what is there is more than concept art and I did find it fun to play. If you’re a fan of the space-sim genre, you definitely want to put this game on your radar, if not actually getting it now. I think that as they refine the game-loop, Infinity: Battlescape will eventually turn into one of those games my nieces and nephews beg me to play with them. Though, I’m also pretty confident that I’ll be playing it in the meantime anyway.