Infinite Space: Sea of Stars (Early Access) Preview

My god, it’s full of stars!

First off, what do the sci-fi movies and television series 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Planet of the Apes all have in common with each other?  They’re almost as good as the Infinite Space series of games which have been created by the small indie development studio, Digital Eel.  “Why’s that?” – you might ask.  Well, it’s simply because they’re fun, smart, humorous, and easily accessible, and they can be enjoyed by both hardcore and casual gamers alike.  They’re also something of a cult classic, much like the Red Dwarf TV series.

Sure, every campaign can be completed in the time it takes to enjoy an “extended” coffee break, or plunge a toilet filled with a bad case of explosive diarrhea, but that’s beside the point.  The real meat and potatoes of the Infinite Space series is found in it’s exploration, discovery, simple yet strategic combat, randomness, and the near infinite replayability it grants the gamer with.  It would be hard to directly compare the series to any one game, but it’s gameplay is spread over multiple genres such as 4X turn based and real-time strategy, mixed in with a hint of Roguelike and RPG-lite elements that contain item discovery, loot-drops, NPC’s, some dialogue, and a dash of diplomacy.

Having played the first two games in this epic series, I had an idea of what to expect when going into the third and latest adventure in Infinite Space: Sea of Stars.  The good people who work at Digital Eel know that they have a well-oiled and working formula, so rather than tinker to much with the overall gameplay, they instead enhance and add-on to a solid foundation while also modernizing the mechanics and bumping up the presentation.  Like-minded gamers obviously appreciate this about Digital Eel and their game development, because the studio was able to draw enough attention and enthusiasm from the public in order to successfully fund their Infinite Space III: Sea of Stars Kickstarter Campaign, which also surpassed it’s humble funding goal I might add.

Veterans of the Infinite Space series can expect the same gaming goodness with a graphical overhaul, a handful of additional features that enhance the Infinite Space universe (without breaking it), but also a more detailed and focused layout in terms of helpful statistical information in regards to weapons and item descriptions, planets, and races, to name but a few.  Newcomers will appreciate the pick up and play mechanics coupled with a friendly user interface.  As with the other games in the series, Sea of Stars includes a helpful set of tutorial and hint screens that efficiently do the job of getting the player involved in the game right away.  These hints can be turned off once the player understands the ins and outs of the game, which really doesn’t take very long, but they can also be turned back on in case an aspect of the game isn’t quite clear yet.

One of the major differences in the latest game is that players will start the game by purchasing a ship, rather than choosing a loose plot at the beginning which determined your starting ship type, as was the case in Sea of Stars predecessor which was aptly titled Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space.  This time around you’re given a bit of starting cash and a number of ship types to choose from at the beginning.  You won’t be able to afford all of the ships right away, but knowing that you can come back and buy the more powerful ships later is certainly enticing.

Once you’ve purchased your ship it’s simply time to explore and get lost in this vast universe of strangeness and wonder.  Players can fly from star to star or planet to planet, all with the simple use of their mouse and easy to understand interface.  During my first game I encountered a number of hostile races, some of which I needed to flee from because I simply didn’t have the shields or weapons necessary to deal with them, but on a couple of occasions I was able to defeat some of the weaker enemy ships and reap the rewards of new and mysterious items.  Sometimes I’d find a new weapon, or a shield, while other times I’d gain an item that seemed superfluous at first but ended up proving to be quite useful later in the game when I encountered an enemy who decided not to attack simply because I was holding said item.  Much like the first two games though, Sea of Stars features a randomized star system filled with nebula and both hostile and friendly races to deal with.  The replay value is nearly infinite and if this title turns out to be anywhere near as good as its predecessors, then I’ll be playing it often and for many, many years to come.

While the game still has that classic feel of the Infinite Space series, it’s easy to see that Digital Eel wants to make an even bigger and better sequel, with more options, and all new 3D graphics, and the same catchy ethereal music and sound fx.  However, the game is still in its early development phase, meaning it’s still got a lot of kinks and blemishes.  Although the game is available on Steam through early access, the core gameplay is still rough around the edges, and for obvious reasons, doesn’t feel complete yet.  That’s just fine for me though, and I think fans of the previous games can be confident if they decide to pick the game up early, in order to try out the current build and follow the production of Sea of Stars and it’s development right up to the finished product.  Newcomers and gamers unfamiliar with the series should definitely keep an eye on this particular title though.  Just understand that if you do decide to pick the game up, it isn’t finished yet, and there will be A LOT of new elements, tweaking, bug squashing, and polish added to the game over the coming months.  If there’s one thing I can say about the Infinite Space series though is that so far the games have been worth every cent, and then some.

You can head over to the Digital Eel website for info on their complete library of games but be sure to keep your eyes on the Infinite Space: Sea of Stars Steam page for a current list of detailed updates and release info!  Currently you can purchase the game in it’s early access stage for $9.99 US, which is cheaper than it’s predecessor was when it first came out.  So far, the game is only available on PC, but will hopefully become available on multiple platforms in the not so distant future.

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