|Dev: Keen Games|
|Release: Q3 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Josh Wirtanen
Fans of both Star Trek and video games have a lot to look forward to right now. Even if last year's Star Trek Online is starting to get old, there's the more simply titled Star Trek coming soon, based off the J.J. Abrams films. However, for the gamer on a budget, it really doesn't get much better than Star Trek: Infinite Space, a browser-based MMO game that is completely free to play. During E3, I got the opportunity to hang out with the guys at Gameforge, and they were more than happy to show off their newest addition to the Star Trek universe.
Trekkies would do well to not scoff at the browser-based formula used here. Infinite Space isn't just a Star Trek-themed reskinning of Mafia Wars or anything like that. It uses the Unity 3D web plugin, and its universe is fully 3D. That means you get to actually walk around in a fully-rendered space station, and even pilot your ship through 3D space. And this doesn't even require a download.
At various points during the demo I saw, the game was toggled in and out of full-screen mode, just to prove that it was still running in a browser. Quite frankly, if you didn't already know it was browser-based, you'd never be able to tell.
The demo started in a space station. This area will act as a central hub where players can walk around and interact with each other. In fact, like in many MMOs, there are emotes to play with. To my amusement, I was even shown a /facepalm emote.
Besides messing around with emotes and hanging out with your friends, from the space station you can also configure your ship, upgrade your skills, and rearrange your crew. Your crew is a set of characters who man your ship with you, though you won't ever see them in-game.
Of course, the real action happens in space. Space is 3D, but your ship will move along a 2D plane, so technically Infinite Space operates in 2.5D. If you click an area on the screen, your ship will fly there, and if you come across resources floating in space, you can click on them to beam them onboard. You might even blast a few Klingon vessels during your trip.
But Star Trek has always been more about diplomacy than all-out space battles, and you will often be confronted with choices. Many situations will allow you to choose between firing up your phasers or finding a peaceful solution. The consequences of these choices will be long-reaching, so you just may want to think twice before blasting away everything in sight.
Infinite Space is set during the Deep Space Nine timeline, but Star Trek lore fanatics need not worry about continuity. The game's story was written by Star Trek veteran Lee Sheldon, and there was even collaboration done with Michael and Denise Okuda, authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Infinite Space is as authentic a Star Trek experience as you could hope for in a video game.
There is a main set of story missions to follow during your journey, but there's no shortage of side-missions to help you level up. Since the story missions come with a level requirement, you will probably end up having to crank out a few side-missions in order to continue with the story. Some missions even allow for group play, where up to five people can tackle a tough mission together. Of course, this means you'll have ships to represent the common MMO class types: healer, tank, and DPS.
I was shown one brief mission during my demo session. We encountered a Romulan Warbird, and we had to decide the best way to deal with it. Our options included powering up our shields or making a pre-emptive strike on the Warbird's phasers. We made the pre-emptive attack, weakening the phasers and making our battle a lot easier. Once the ship was destroyed, we were able to collect the resources left in its wake, and were awarded XP and resource points.
Of course, with the free-to-play model comes a mictrotransaction store. However, the folks at Gameforge promised that the things available in the store wouldn't give paying players any sort of advantage over free players. Much of what is available for purchase falls into the category of cosmetic outfits for your avatar or loot or speed boosters. These may be convenient for less patient players, but are certainly not required in order to enjoy the full game. All the story and mission content in the game is one hundred percent free.
Gameforge promises that the release version won't be the final version of the game. They plan on continuing the development cycle to keep adding new missions and features. In fact, while it won't be available right away, PvP should arrive in an early update. We weren't told much about how this would work, but it was explained that players can select one of two factions: the Klingons or the Federation.
Star Trek: Infinite Space looks like it should provide a whole lot of content without even charging an entry fee. Star Trek fans simply shouldn't pass this by when it launches this fall.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer