• Approaching Infinity Review

    Rogues in Spaaaaaaaaaace!
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    (In space, no one can hear you click)

    In the first days of computer games, it wasn’t about awesome graphics. It wasn’t about multiplayer options. It wasn’t about fast action, either. Early games were turn based, with minimal graphics (sometimes just ASCII symbols), and the best players weren’t determined by lightning fast reaction times. Instead, strategy, tactics, and discipline ruled the day.

    One of the most popular of the early games was Rogue, a turn-based dungeon crawler that was hard core: you had one character, and no classes or skills. You were tossed into the dungeon with minimal equipment, and forced to make your way to the bottom.

    Save games? HAHAHAHAHahahahahaha. No, you didn’t get to save the same. You die? You die, game over, you didn’t even get 3 lives like in an arcade game. There were many monsters too fast, too strong, for your character, and if you didn’t randomly find the right way to defeat them, you died (or you ran, and then, more often than not, still died). At the bottom of the dungeon, was the famed Amulet of Yendor…haul it back to the surface, and you win.

    A typical game could take hours to play, and you had to optimize every move—in addition to the monsters, you could starve to death, so every move counted. Every game started anew, so your character had to re-learn what every scroll or potion could do, had to simply hope that the new sword was magical, and not cursed, even if it looked exactly like the sword found in a previous game.

    Rogue spawned a unique genre of games: the Roguelike. Roguelikes are still made today, with the same hardcore sensibilities. While these games are often decent enough, there’s never been a Roguelike in a sci-fi setting, or at least not one that was any good.

    Until now.

    Shrapnel Games, whose main claim to fame has been the ridiculously awesome Dominions series of games (Dominions is the epitome of fantasy strategy games, honest), has released a solid sci-fi Roguelike game: Approaching Infinity.

    Approaching Infinity is definitely a Roguelike, but in a science fiction setting recognizable to fans of Star Trek. You’re the captain, and you start with a ship. Past that, the universe is randomly created, one pixel at a time.

    Acknowledging modern sensibilities in role playing games, there is a great deal of depth here. There are half a dozen character classes, and a like amount of ship types. Pick your (crude) figure, pick a ship, pick a class, pick a starting skill, and you’re good to go. You do get a single save...but it deletes if you're playing the game (so if you die, it's game over, and you can't have two different games in different saves).

    You do form an adventuring party, as you can hire five other crewmen to help you. Instead of magic items, you have a wide array of equipment to find. Shields, ship weaponry (three classes), asteroid crushers, warp engines…there’s way too much stuff to list. You can even leave your ship and go on “away missions” to the surface, to find even more loot, although you’ll most likely die. Planets can be swarming with monsters, as well as cave complexes 20 levels deep, a real problem considering you can run out of air. Granted, you can buy/find various space suits and a wide assortment of melee/ranged weaponry and special equipment, but if you try to explore every nook and cranny, you’ll die.

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    (I didn't even mention hostile bases in the review, THAT's how much there is in the game)

    “Beam me up, Scotty” isn’t going to happen, you have to take a shuttle down to the surface, and use it to come back up. If you’re in the landing party, and it dies, you die…but you don’t have to join every landing party. Even sending your crewmen down on a regular basis is pretty much a death sentence, actually.

    A good part of the game is deciding what risks are worth taking, and there are lots and lots of risks.

    Space is likewise not a friendly place, with numerous alien races and pirates flying around, waiting to put the smackdown on you and your ship. While most fights are easy, realize, just one mistake, and you’re dead. Permanently…you don’t even get a tombstone.

    Luckily, most aliens are friendly, mostly, and will let you dock with their stations to sell goods and buy equipment. They’ll also hand out quests. There are several ways to end the game (although theoretically you can play forever), and most of them involve finishing out a quest line for one of the alien races. In an homage to Rogue, the Amulet of Yendor is somewhere in the universe, granting one more way to win…although, seriously, simply not dying is pretty victorious.

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    (another planet to get crew slaughtered)

    Now, this sort of play (and the associated graphics) isn’t for everyone, but Approaching Infinity allows you to select “no permadeath” as an option, as well as play on a relatively easy skill level (my recommendation, until you really get a handle on how to play well). Of course, playing in wimp mode means less reward, and most achievements aren’t even possible to get when playing that way.

    I grant the average 14 year old, with more Mountain Dew than blood in his veins, will take a look at this game, and click “uninstall” with lightning speed. But if you know what you’re getting into with this type of game, Approaching Infinity is a landmark for the genre, and well worth the investment.