|Publisher: Digital Eel Genre: Strategy & War|
|Min OS X: 10.1 CPU: G3 @ 233 MHz RAM: 64 MB Hard Disk: 18 MB Graphics: 640x480 @ 256 Colors|
|Strange Adventures In Infinite Space|
January 17, 2005 | Matt Diamond
It's not so easy to bridge the divide between casual and hardcore games. A casual game should be easy to pick up and quick to play- you don't want it to go past the end of your lunch hour! And yet it should somehow be more original than the usual clones of Solitaire or Minesweeper. (Sure, adding monkeys to classic gameplay might seem to be a surefire method, but I'm pretty sure Freeverse has a patent on that technique.) So what's a game designer to do?
What Digital Eel has done is taken a classic science fiction game setting, the kind you'd find in games that take weeks to play, and streamlined it. "Explore the galaxy... in twenty minutes or less!" is the slogan of their fun, quirky, and interesting game Strange Adventures in Infinite Space.
GameplayThe object of the game is to explore a randomly generated galaxy of more than a dozen stars. The more goodies you find and the more interesting experiences you have, the better your score. Unless of course one of those experiences proves fatal, in which case your score isn't quite so good.
The game felt both familiar and original. I've played plenty of games set in space with the goals of exploring, trading, earning wealth and fighting alien ships, all the while upgrading your ship and equipment. (I'm thinking of one in particular whose initials are E.V.) Given the typical scope of such games it's almost shocking just how streamlined Strange Adventures is.
The galaxy you are exploring is relatively small; it fits on a single screen. You are given only ten years in the game to explore as much as you can. Your ship starts off slow and underpowered but fortunately there are better engines and weapons waiting to be discovered. Other discoveries include animal specimens and alien artifacts. These often have exotic descriptions, a sentence or two that suggest a background story while leaving the details to your imagination.
Speaking of aliens, there are a standard set of races that you are pretty much guaranteed to run into during your journey. Some are friendly and with the right bribes can be convinced to join you or at least leave you alone. Others are always hostile. They will hail you with a threatening message that you cannot respond to (there is no conversation in the game.) Then battle is joined.
Combat seemed rudimentary and devoid of strategy the first few times I tried it. (The game helpfully gives you a combat simulator that you can use to practice between adventures.) Combat isn't turn-based like the exploration is, but you can pause it to give yourself more time to micromanage the battle. You simply click on a ship then choose an enemy. Your weapons fire automatically when in range so combat is mainly about maneuvering. That's mostly it, though there are other devices you may find on your travels that can be activated during combat.
Like I said, there didn't seem to be much to it. But I later grew to appreciate hidden depths in the system. Even before combat begins there are strategies to take to avoid combat until your ship has been beefed up. There are also allies that can be won over to fight by your side. In combat the different alien races each have their own strategies of attacking, and different ships have different firing angles. You may want to remember which side of your ship has long-range weaponry installed so you can turn accordingly. And so on (you get the idea.) You don't need to play so carefully to enjoy the game, but there are details here to reward the hardcore gamer who bothers with them.
At the higher difficulty levels Strange Adventures can be frustratingly difficult. One false move can lead to your ship's destruction, ending the game. Which sounds horrible, but there are two reasons it didn't ruin the game for me. Firstly, each game is short and losing it is rather like losing a game of solitaire or minesweeper- it's merely annoying and makes the successes even sweeter. Secondly, you still earn a score. The high score list allows for a generous 20 names so you will often have the consolation of placing somewhere on this list, even if it isn't as high up as you would have liked.