The tongue-in-cheek ads for Strange Adventures in Infinite
Space boast that you may now “Explore the galaxy in 20 minutes or less!”,
a claim that effectively sums up both the sense of humor and style encapsulated
in its strategy-lite style of gameplay. With a touch of Star Control
and more than enough sci-fi silliness to fill several full-length games, SAIS
is a great way to see the galaxy, kill a few aliens, and discover a few bizarre
intergalactic artifacts, all before your coffee break’s up.
As stated earlier, SAIS is all about offering
an action-packed glimpse at space exploration with enough time left over to finish
your coffee. As a result, almost everything about the game is designed to be thankfully
brief and to the point. Even the plot is just an excuse to toss into the inky
wilds of space, as you supposedly land yourself as a former convict in the service
of Lextor Mucron, who funds your dream of returning to space in exchange for whatever
discoveries, creatures, and artifacts you can net for him from uncharted space.
There is a catch, however: you’re working on a time limit, and traveling
through the galaxy is no quick walk in the park. In other words, you must explore
and get a hold of as much as you can as quickly as possible, and make it back
home before your ten-year deadline comes up. Fail to make it back by the designated
date, and incredibly heavy fines are imposed, drastically reducing your overall
score. However, should you make it back with a list of new discoveries, plenty
in your cargo hold and time to spare, your score will be much more favorable,
as will your “ending”, which reflects your final tally. Finish your
mission in Lextor’s good books, and you might end up as an intergalactic
spy; end up in the red, and you’ll find your final days being spent as a
conscript, janitor, or worse.
stages reflect the game’s general philosophy, requiring but a few moments
to name yourself and your ship, choose one of three weapon combinations, as well
as the relative difficulty of the task ahead of you. After a few seconds, you’re
ready to launch yourself into a randomly generated galaxy that’s dotted
with numerous planets, not to mention the occasional black hole. Of course, there’s
also the ever-present Nebula, which immediately and drastically slows down any
ship foolish enough to travel through it, often forcing you to carefully decide
which planets you’ll visit on your voyage. Those seeking a quick and easy
shot through the galaxy can always opt to reduce the nebula’s size in the
opening settings, though the trade-off is once again a lower score. In fact, between
the time limit, the distance between the planets, and the nebula, it becomes somewhat
of a challenge to actually obtain a healthy, positive score. Even death will do
a number on your final tally, and avoiding its icy grip is no easy task: black
holes, collapsing stars, singularities, hostile aliens, and some hilariously strange
items best left unmentioned can often bring your trip to a quick end. However,
this constant challenge is decidedly part of the game’s addictive charm,
urging you to try it just one more time…time and time again.
discoveries abound throughout Strange Adventures in Infinite Space; some
are helpful, some are not-so-helpful, and some are downright weird. For instance,
you’ll constantly come across new and bizarre parts that you can swap into
your ship, such as stronger thrusters or engines that boost your travel speed.
Some are more useful for combat, such as a Micrometeorite Gun, stronger shields,
or even a type of cloaking device. Other items are purely useful in terms of monetary
value: while the Cenotaph of Rylex or the Codex of Primordius might not seem particularly
worthwhile to you in the wilds of space, you can bet that Lextor will pay you
well for them if and when you return. Naturally, it’s impossible to poke
around the galaxy, stirring things up without bumping into its inhabitants, and
these are varied as well, ranging from the strange Klakar, who will gladly trade
for just about anything, to the hostile, Borg-like Ru Tan who want nothing more
than to blow your ship into little tiny pieces. This last aspect, combat, is actually
quite entertaining in that it’s utterly simple and uncomplicated: when you’re
tossed into battle, you need only to click wherever you’d like your ship
or allies to move or shoot. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that
– weapon combinations, shield strength, enemy formations, ship sizes, effects
of any devices you’ve picked up – but in the end, it’s easily
and thankfully reducible to a short, point-‘n’-click affair that’s
just long enough to be entertaining without feeling drawn out.
all is said and done, the broad range of discoveries available to you is probably
the most appealing aspect of SAIS, as any given voyage will land you
with any combination of bizarre and helpful items alongside all manner of aliens.
The problem here, however, is that the game's “quick-shot” nature
doesn't it lend itself very well to long-term play; unfortunately, it doesn’t
take long to see most of the items, which damages a bit of the charm in the long
run. However, if you play the way it’s meant to -that is, in short spurts
every once in a while -it can provide you with a great way to distract yourself
when you're short on time.
Hearkening back to the days of the 286, SAIS's low-key graphics
aren’t exactly out to impress anyone; thankfully, they're still incredibly
charming, and do the job quite well. Bright, flashy colors nicely accompany the
varied look of your friends and enemies, as well as the different planets and
nebula that you come across. Interestingly enough, the bulk of the ship designs
seems to have been pulled almost directly from Star Trek: fans of the series will
easily recognize your own vehicle as a carbon copy of the Enterprise, not to mention
that your enemies can often be found attacking you in what seems like Romulan
warbirds -and of course, let’s not forget the Borg. While it's something
that would be somewhat distracting in any o ther game, this obvious influence
fits right in with the goofy atmosphere that pervades SAIS.
Although you can choose to play with the sound off, you probably won’t
want to, as the distinctive effects help out a great deal in setting the tone
for your adventures. From the standard sci-fi bloops and bleeps to otherworldly
slurping, hissing and chirping that accompanies the introduction of a new alien
race, there’s practically no aspect of the game that’s not marked
by some sort of bizarre sound effect or small musical flourish. While they join
the graphics as being slightly ancient in their general level of quality, the
audio nevertheless adds considerably to the experience.
Requiring little more than a handful of mouse-clicks,
SAIS’s interface is as straightforward and intuitive as they come.
The touch of a mouse button is all that’s needed to perform virtually any
task in the game, from upgrading your ship's components to trading with an alien
race to combat and much more. Considering the game's generally simplistic nature,
it’s a definite plus that the interface was made to be as easy-to-use as
it is, since it lets you focus on breezing through the action rather than wrestling
with the controls.
With ancient graphics, a one-click interface, and a fifteen-minute average
playing time, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space certainly isn't for
everyone; however, it does what it sets out to do, and it does it incredibly well.
As a coffee-break time-killer, it's absolutely great, allowing you to cross the
galaxy and back, meeting and killing all sorts of slobbery aliens, and uncovering
mysterious artifacts, all within the space of ten to twenty minutes. While the
production values aren’t exactly outstanding, they don’t need to be;
in fact, the game’s endless charm and humor carry it an incredibly long
way, as does the endlessly addictive hunt for bigger, better and more bizarre
discoveries. In all, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space has a great
deal to offer, and despite its few shortcomings, is still a perfect way to pass
a half hour or two.