Infinite Space 3: Sea of Stars Preview

The Infinite Space series has always held a special place in my heart. I recently grabbed the latest entry in the series, Sea of Stars, during an IndieGameStand bundle promotion. It's still in Early Access, so it's got a way to go before release. In this article, I'll see what's new and interesting in the third chapter of the Infinite Space series and check out the early build to get an idea as to what's to come.

# A Finite History in Infinite Space

I've played a lot of Infinite Space over the years. Back before the era of smartphones, we had something called "PDAs" which were like smartphones except without being phones, having internet, or really having a coherent app store of any kind. Apps were expensive and so I had very few games. One of them was Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. It was easily one of the most played games on my PDA, and it had to compete with PopCap games for that title, so that's saying something.

The Infinite Space series boils down to a relatively easy to explain concept: it's a space roguelike. FTL shares many similarties, although I don't know if the influence is direct, or if they both just had similar ideas. You play as an adventurous deep space explorer. You take your ship from star system to star system, collecting rare items and trying to find upgrades for your ship.

There's an element of combat to the series - if you encounter a hostile ship orbiting a star system, you can choose to engage in battle. Battles take place in real time, and you can move your ship around on the 2D combat area. It will automatically fire its weapons whenever you're in range.

The game ends when you return home to retire, if your ship is destroyed, or if you run out of time. Your valuables are totaled and you're given a score. The more stuff you find and the more you bring back with you, the higher your score will be.

Pretty straightforward, right? Each game takes anywhere from five minutes to maybe an hour. It's got a real "one more try" quality to it. The encounters are randomized, and there are some quasi-quests to undertake if you're so inclined. It's very much "easy to play, but tough to master." Even after years of play, I still enjoy a quick game now and again.

# See the Sea

That brings us to Infinite Space: Sea of Stars. It's the third game in the franchise, and it's currently in Early Access (ie, alpha/beta) on Steam. What does it do differently from the previous games to warrant a sequel? The disappointing answer at this point is "not a lot, and most of it is bad."

There's a lot of overlap between this game and the previous two. Right now a lot of the core game mechanics are identical:

The big change here is the 3D galaxy map, but I pretty much hate it. It's really hard to see where the other stars are, it's nearly impossible to determine how the nebula is laid out, it's difficult to navigate around, etc. There's nothing about this change that I like. It's needlessly complex and difficult to use.

A few new races, items, and encounters have been added. I hope this gets expanded to include some more unique scenarios, as I felt like most of them were either identical to or rehashes of the stuff from previous games.

There are also several different shops that have been added to the game. I'm okay with this, for the most part. It gives you some more chances at some of the better gear, although it comes as a price. There's also a ship vendor in the home system when you start. However, I was never able to afford any of the larger ships so it's hard to say if that's going to be any more fun or not.

# It's Early Yet

Sea of Stars is still far from complete. I have no idea what is going to change between the build I can play today and the final game. However, at the moment I can't really recommend this game. It's not really in a state that reflects what I've come to expect from Infinite Space as a series.

I want to like this game, but I also have to wonder at this point if gaming hasn't moved on. There are a lot of "space roguelikes" that have been released in the (more than) 10 years since the first Infinite Space. Without some significant improvements over the classic formula, I'm worried that the game might get passed over by today's gamers, and that would be a shame.

In the meantime, the excellent Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space (aka Infinite Space 2) is on Steam, and you really ought to check it out.