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Approaching Infinity by Mischief Maker 02/25/2017, 11:41am PST
It is with great hesitance that I recommend this game because it's a perfect example of a great game ruined by a shitty publisher. But then Total Biscuit was very apt when he described space exploration games as a "starvation genre."

Approaching Infinity is Tales of Maj'Eyal meets Starflight. And if you're too young to get the significance of that statement, this is the game No Man's Sky should have been, albeit rendered in shitty tiled programmer art.

But first I want to rant about the publisher. Everyone sees EA as the evil empire of the AAA scene. Well Shrapnel Games is the evil empire of the indie scene. They have a very keen eye for games with unimpressive graphics but massive niche appeal then rope their naive developers into years-long exclusivity contracts so Shrapnel can sell the game at insane markup. Their big claim to fame for years has having a monopoly on Dominions 3 which they sold for fifty fucking dollars and god help you if you didn't back that $50 installer up on disk because you only have a tiny 10-day window to download. They also had a stranglehold on the Strange Adventures in Infinite Space series for a while. These developers eventually ran for the hills once their contract was up and are now self-publishing with humble widget and steam. Unfortunately the developer of AI got caught in Shrapnel's web and not only is the game overpriced at $40 ($33 sale until the end of February, whoopie!) they added a 3-unique-install online registration DRM that's scared off customers in droves (to be fair, if you get a membership on Shrapnel's store before buying you can beg them for an extra install if you run out. I haven't dealt with actual grovelware like that since Gish.) And in return the developer of AI gets mentioned on Shrapnel's spam mailing list and has a store page that would knock your socks off if it were still the late 90s.

Like I said, buyer beware!

That said, this is a pretty fucking awesome game and if Hello Games had any brains they'd stop trying to be minecraft and just shamelessly copy this game's systems. It's a tiled roguelike based off the abandoned ProspectorRL, but with an accessible mouse-driven input design like Tales of Maj'Eyal (it even has an auto-explore button!) You're a spaceship captain exploring an infinitely long chain of procedurally generated star systems. Everything takes place on a 30x30 tiled grid, from the sector of space you're in, to the surface of planets, to monster-infested derelict ships. Ultimately the goal is to finish the quest chain for one of the factions in the game to get one of several endings, but you can keep playing after you've "won" and the game will generate an endless number of new systems to explore.

Now you can trade between stations and mine asteroids, but the primary source of income in this game comes from exploring itself. Every interaction in the game brings "data" from exploring fog tiles to blowing up hostile alien life, and all that data can be cashed in at space stations for money. How simple is that for game systems to capture the allure of exploration? Planetary surface exploration is limited by your suit's oxygen supply, requiring you to constantly return to the shuttle to replenish it, and hostile aliens can ambush you by lurking in thick forests that block line of sight, so navigating the random surfaces of alien worlds has a sense of wonder and danger that was sadly missing from No Man's Sky. The first time I equipped a set of mountain climbers on my away team and then climbed a mountain tile in the middle of a thick jungle and was rewarded with several tiles worth of unimpeded view above the canopy, never mind the planet looked like Dragon Warrior 1, I felt like king of the world!

You can hire up to six officers to make your bridge crew, each with their own class and skill tree. There's an infinite selection of randomly generated equipment to plug into your spaceship as well as new ships to trade up to. Some planets have cave systems that extend for several levels. Sometimes when you kill an enemy ship it doesn't blow up but instead leaves a damaged wreck spewing radiation everywhere that you can board and plunder. Alien ships interact with each other like one time I caught a pirate ship blowing up a rich cargo ship and after taking him out I looted all his victim's goodies floating in space. You can find clues to raid ancient alien star temples with super artifact items that have unclear but game-changing purpose within. The crafting sytem is both more robust and interesting than NMS yet completely optional. It looks like shit but there's a lot of gameplay under the hood.

There is a demo on the store page and I strongly suggest playing it all the way through before deciding whether or not to put up with Shrapnel's bullshit. Note that like NMS, this game holds back on many mechanics until you've advanced a few systems down the chain, so you're advised to reach the end of the demo first. A good starting game is the light explorer ship with a researcher class captain who has field medic skill and is assigned to the away team.

Recommended, but with many reservations. I can't wait for this developer's contract with Shrapnel to expire so he can sell it DRM-free on a proper platform.
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Approaching Infinity by Mischief Maker 02/25/2017, 11:41am PST
    Forget this game. "The Long Journey Home" rendered it obsolete. NT by Mischief Maker 06/02/2017, 7:20am PDT
    He finally got the rights back from Shrapnel and re-released on Steam! by Mischief Maker 09/05/2020, 7:37am PDT
 
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