Today, a game frustrated me to the stage where I strongly considered trading it in, in a fit of pique. Infinite Space – for that is said game – is packed with bizarre oversights and bad design choices. Yet somehow I can’t bring myself to get rid.
You play as Yuri, a stargazing farmer who, through reasons I won’t go into here, gets the opportunity to command his own spacecraft. The rest of the game is about his progression from boy to man, his growth mapped through the increasing size and power of the fleet at his disposal.
It’s certainly an ambitious game, and you feel at times that it’s on the wrong console, with the poor DS creaking under the strain of all those planets, all those characters, all those stats. But while it’s pretty ugly and samey in places, it’s quite an accomplishment to see just how much is crammed in there. It’s not lacking for content, that’s for sure.
But it’s what’s missing that really baffles. For one, in the ship battles, there’s no way to see your opponent’s HP. So the only way of telling how you’re doing is by seeing how many of their fleet are burning husks floating helplessly in space. Secondly, there’s no way of knowing your opponent’s attack range. You can be happily sitting there knowing you’re in a position where you can’t hit them, but often you’ll find a barrage punching several holes in your hull.
And when you’re in the ship-building section there’s no way of telling how your tinkering is directly affecting your ship’s stats. You have to nip off to another screen and check the figures, then back in to decide whether you’re going to go for that larger crew cabin or whether to sacrifice a few extra pairs of hands for a new shield. Staggeringly, there’s no mission log, so unless you’ve a photographic memory, you can return to the game after a couple of days away wondering what on Earth you were supposed to be doing.
It’s almost wilfully obtuse, too – backwards in coming forwards when it comes to explaining exactly how everything works, even when new mechanics are introduced. Most games have an optional help system for less experienced players; here, it’s an absolute necessity for even the hardest of core gamers. And having your ship’s targeting system at the start of a skirmish automatically set to aim at a back-row enemy ship (which there’s no way it can hit) is a real dick move on developer Nude Maker’s part.
Yet I can’t quite bring myself to hate it. The likable characters and salty, amusing dialogue helps, as does the satisfaction of slotting those blocky pieces together to fill every last remaining square of ship space in a masterpiece of design efficiency. And the rock-paper-scissors ship combat, whose random elements seem suspiciously weighted against the player at times, offers plenty of tension, particularly when an enemy’s down to his last destroyer and your sole flagship is limping along with an HP total barely scraping double figures, with one single shot the difference between victory and defeat.
So it stays. For now. Umpteen game overs later, I might well feel differently. But umpteen game overs so far haven’t quite quelled my desire to conquer the galaxy.