Back in 2002 an unknown developer called Digital Eel came out with a game called Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. Challenging you to explore and conquer the universe in about fifteen minutes, SAIS became a cult classic due to its interesting gameplay and low price. The game was an interesting mix of serious strategy and offbeat humor. Artifacts you found in space made references to fictional stories and pop culture, which made discovering new things always an exciting prospect.
Over the years the modding community embraced SAIS as well, and my gaming computer currently houses about ten different user-created mods for the original game. When I read a press release saying that a sequel to the game had been created, I expected it to be something similar to one of the many mods I had been playing over the years. How wrong I was.
Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space is a quantum leap forward in both graphical presentation, depth of play and even the storyline. Although the new publisher is offering the game at a discount price, Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space could compete in the same space with games costing a lot more. For what you get, Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space is an incredible value.
The game is a single player experience where you are charged with exploring the Alpha sector around a human home world. Nobody has been out there before, so it's anyone's guess what you will find. You have a choice of one of three ships to take with you on your mission from a science vessel to a pirate corvette to a military cruiser. Each ship as certain advantages, but in my opinion the cruiser is the way to go because you get three weapon ports and a ton of slots for ship's systems you find along the way.
When you get your ship chosen and are taken out into the system map, your jaw is going to drop. The worlds are all rendered in beautiful 3D with swirling nebulas, dual planets rotating around one another and sub-sectors lighting up as you highlight them and plot your course.
The sound also picks up here as well. You will hear ship chatter as different sections report in which really adds to the overall environment. Sometimes you will even pick up songs drifting over radio waves as you zoom around space.
Unlike SAIS, you can control the size of the universe this time in addition to nebula mass and enemy strength. Small maps can be explored in about ten minutes which make them perfect for quick diversions while you eat lunch or take a quick break form your work. The larger maps offer more systems and more time to explore and can last upwards to thirty minutes to finish the game, unless you meet an abrupt and untimely demise.
The gameplay is amazingly simple to pick up. From the main map, you simply click on the star system you want to visit. The game will tell you how many days it will take to arrive at the system given your current star drive. If you think the trip, which in some cases can take years, is worth it, then you can engage your engines and head in that direction. If a black hole does not appear in or near your path, giving you the option to try and risk it or turning back, then you should arrive in the new system.
What happens next is anyone's guess. You will probably find an unexplored planet and an artifact or two that you can either bring into your cargo hold or try and install into your ship. You will find life forms, this is where the weird part comes into play, that can be traded for money or components, and sometimes alien computers and weapons. Swapping out your low-grade starting equipment for some of the wondrous items you find out there in the void is a key to success.
You see, space may be weird, but it's not all that friendly. Sure, some races will embrace you into the space faring family and even offer to open trade relations, but most will see you as a threat that needs destroyed or simply an excuse for target practice.
Combat occurs in a zoomed-in screen with you and any allies on your side facing the bad guys. You have to maneuver your ship around the screen by pointing and clicking, as well as give orders to your fleet if you are lucky enough to have one. Any weapons you have installed will automatically fire if an enemy ship gets within range and crosses into your firing arc. So you need to try and keep pointed at them while maneuvering into their blind spots. This is a much easier process if you have installed certain amazing enhancements like a cloaking device or a scrambler that causes their missiles and torpedoes to go haywire.
Battles are sometimes won or lost based on how you have your ship configured. I like to have one anti-fighter weapon to blast the little quick ships that zoom in early, and then a long range capital ship-destroying weapon as well. Some of the weapons you find in the game like the infamous particle vortex cannon, are both. I just wish you had an option to mount a weapon facing behind your ship as you do in some of the mods.
Some new enhancements have been added to the combat engine. The most notable is the ability to ram an opponent and also to be rammed. There are certain ships you can ally with that are perfect for ramming if you can get them in close.
Graphically, the battles all look great with all the weapons getting a complete redesign and plenty of explosions to keep adrenaline junkies happy.
Alien races also don't just drift around aimlessly in space. They have homeworlds now too, just like the humans. Fighting a homeworld fleet is quite a terrible endeavor, but if you can defeat one - sometimes with combat and sometimes with diplomacy - then you can trade with them even if they hate you. And it gives you a huge diplomacy boost in your final score, even if your diplomacy is more of the Captain Kirk gunboat type.
The system requirements for Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space are a bit higher than its predecessor, but still should run on most systems without any problems considering the minimum specs are a Pentium II processor and a 32M video card. That said, Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space makes a perfect gift for just about anyone who likes space and science fiction, even if they are not a hardcore gamer. Anyone can appreciate the literary humor found in the game. And the simple gameplay is easy to learn and difficult to master, like any great title.
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