Boldly Going Somewhere Awesome
As a nearly lifelong Star Trek fan, Star Trek: Infinite Space was already on my personal radar, so I was excited to go check it out. I am one of those fans who looked forward to Star Trek Online from its announcement and was later disappointed with the game. But if Infinite Space stays as true to the spirit of Star Trek as it seems now, it could be just what we fans are looking for.
ST-IS is being developed by Keen Studios and published by Gameforge. I got to check out a pre-alpha build of Star Trek Infinite Space as well as chat with Saman Pakzad, the game’s producer. The game utilizes the Unity 3D engine to enable it to run in just about any modern browser, without requiring a download. Even if you’re the kind of gamer who is skeptical about browser-based MMOs, free to play games, casual games, or all three... don’t stop reading yet, because you might just be pleasantly surprised with Star Trek: Infinite Space.
One of the neat things about ST-IS is that it takes place within the Deep Space Nine timeline and set against The Dominion War. That storyline is unlike anything else in a Star Trek series, because the arc encompasses events, plots, revelations about major characters, battles, politics, and more over four seasons of the show. The developers here take a LOTRO-like approach to the storyline of this game. Instead of playing through the events of the Dominion War as shown on TV, the game takes bits and pieces—an incident mentioned here or a battle or character mentioned there—and brings those to life in alternate scenarios you play through. In this way, the story (co-written by Lee Sheldon, who contributed to Star Trek: The Next Generation) is both exciting for fans and accessible to those who might not be familiar with Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek.
Speaking of accessibility, the game takes that to heart every step of the way. Create your character and select whether you want to play through as a Federation or Klingon Captain. There are multiple control options, including playing entirely with a mouse, or controlled via traditional mouse and keyboard, with shortcuts for ship skills. Emotes and menus are clickable too, and jumping into missions as a group takes one click.
There are three mission types in the game: story missions, Battlegrounds, and Exploration. Story missions are self-explanatory, and there will be many of these. With Federation characters and Klingons having unique arcs, that increases replayability. Missions may be tackled solo or in a group. Since missions are instanced, you’ll have to pick up a group in one of the lounges. When the missions load, the screen features your ship in a simulation of warp travel. If joined by teammates, their ships also appear.
Battleground missions involve exercises and challenges that you can take on, try out different roles, practice your tactics in groups, and more character and ship building tasks. Trying out different roles at any time is possible in the game, since there are no set classes. As the ship’s Captain, you have flexibility in how you want to play. If you decide to take on a mission instance with friends, things will scale in difficulty accordingly, with enemies doing more damage or having better shields.
Exploration missions were what got my attention. I am an explorer, so it was no surprise that was my reaction when finding out you can head out into space and discover new species, make contact, discover other quadrants and take on missions that involve, helping some scientists rather than battling Klingon Birds of Prey. Options allow for diplomacy, intimidation or other ways to end conflicts bloodlessly. Some of that stuff is at the heart of Star Trek, especially in this timeline, so I was glad to see it. There’s a surprising amount of depth in the game overall, and it caters to many play-styles.
Pakzad showed off a mid-level story mission that involved tracking down a Klingon named Bardik. It began with us hailed over the comm screen by a Klingon who had escaped from Bardik offering us codes to take down Bardik’s defensive barrier. He requested four crystals from a nearby nebula in exchange. We decided to trust him and gather the crystals. Our ship took instant damage from the nebula, but we got six or seven crystals before heading back. The Klingon was trustworthy, and he gave us the code promised for the barrier. However, since we brought him more crystals than he asked for, he offered additional codes to disable some of the inner turrets.
This particular bonus isn’t indicated by quest text, but is something for intrepid players to discover on their own. Pakzad noted the missions have a nonlinear quality to them and are affected in various ways by player choices. The team built rewards of all kinds into the game for players that go beyond what they’re asked to do.
Also catering to different play-styles are the mission screens themselves. When going through a mission, as the Captain, you remain aboard the bridge and give decisions to your Away Team. The Away Team is comprised of your four main officers – Security, Medical, Engineering, and Science. No, no random redshirts here. By being able to give orders to the team, you decide what kind of character you’re playing. Are you a more diplomatic figure, like a Picard, perhaps? Or can you be a bit on the cocky side, like Kirk? These and other options are available to you. You must make a decision each time to proceed. This sometimes sets up a skill check against your officers’ skill levels. Your decisions can succeed or fail, each taking you to divergent options for the rest of the mission.
The way missions are handled might not appeal to everyone, especially those that prefer to be right down there in the middle of all the action, but I think that this system is a robust one that felt authentic. Most of the time, the Captain does stay on the bridge.
Combat was a part of the mission as well, and it’s very fluid, even at this stage. The game lets you collect various types of crystals along the way for ship upgrades, and the number and variety of ship skills you can have make for fun, tactical battles. The demo ship was high level, so the arsenal included everything from the basic phasers to torpedoes, AI turrets you can create to fight alongside you, stuns, and in what was probably my favorite—your trusty tractor beam, which you can use to drag your enemies away to create a more level playing field or to harass them. There are lots of different combos and tactics available, with ship positioning playing a role too.
Combat is from a top down perspective that allows for a full view, while still maintaining the 3D effect. Graphically, there’s a lot of detail that you can get out of the Unity 3D engine, and each ship class is designed to be true to the originals. Overall, graphically, Star Trek: Infinite Space isn’t going to be bleeding edge. However, the graphics are more than capable and the textures are true to form. Could they be better? Sure. But the beauty of this game is in how easily you can pick it up and play, and waiting hours for a multi-gigabyte download in order to have the best textures on the planet is opposite that goal. If this game turns out as deep and fun as it seems now, then it won’t need to have Skyrim quality graphics to work.
The look and feel of the game so far is spot-on. The social areas are the bars, which feature theming, color, and music appropriate to the world in which they're located. I got to see two of them, one Ferengi and one Klingon, and the colors, décor, and mood were quite different in each, keeping in line with the actual lore. It was very cool to see the walls in the red and purple Klingon lounge decorated with handy pairs of weapons, including bat'leth.
Authenticity is a huge part of what the team is going for, and that's reassuring. I mentioned that we Star Trek fans can be a very picky bunch, which was received well, with it being noted the team is lucky to have such a picky group of fans, because being hard to please holds them to higher standards. In addition to consulting with Mike and Denise Okuda, who have worked extensively on Star Trek, there are many little touches that the fanbase is sure to appreciate. Seeing a menu come up in the familiar colors and rounded corners of a computer screen out of Star Trek: The Next Generation made me smile. One of the emotes involves using your communicator, with authentic sound. Those touches are awesome, but the game’s foundation seems solid, which is what matters most. These little elements, combined with the varied playstyles available, the replayability, and the options available in combat, make Star Trek: Infinite Space one of my games to watch. Even if you’re a skeptic or a detractor when it comes to casual and browser games, there’s a lot packed into this experience.
I went into this preview liking the premise of the game, but now I’m genuinely looking forward to it. How do I think non Trek fans might find the game? While some of the references may be lost on non-fans, the flexibility of the gameplay, low barrier to entry, and depth involved will be enough for players who are looking for a fun experience. Since there really is no knowledge required about the timeline, bring some friends new to Star Trek along for the ride, and the fun.
The game is on track for a release this year, and I know I’ll be beaming aboard.