Early Access Report: Infinite Space 3: Sea of Stars, Glitchspace and Tabletop Simulator
I'm in the strange position of absolutely loving two of the games in this round-up, but not recommending them. There's either not enough content or there's a few issues that I can see past into the game behind, but right now are in the way of the enjoyment. It helps that with one—Infinite Space III: Sea of Stars—I've played the previous games and know they're capable of incredible, delightful things. Glitchspace works very well, but couldn't be more empty. The surprise to me is how well Tabletop Simulator works.
There's nothing quite like the Infinite Space series. It revels in the paradox of being a space game that generates a galaxy, and sends you out for a jaunt between the stars that only takes the length of a lunchbreak in the real world. I adored the previous two games and couldn't wait to find out what state Infinite Space III: Sea of Stars was in.
Each time you set-off, you're given 9125 days to return with enough loot to make a profit. Some loot adds to your overall total, other loot can be slotted into your ship or swapped for goods and services. So you click and your little ship whirrs through space, following the glowing line on the star map to your chosen destination. The galaxy has several stars to explore, and while some easy to get to, while others will be wreathed in a cloying nebula that slows you down. There's also the chance of being attacked at each planet you visit.
Which all seems very dry, but Sea of Stars continues the theme of the infinite space series by being charming as hell. If the loot isn't a ship part, it'll be described like this: "Lookout Frogs: Always met in pairs, these intelligent amphibians were uplifted ages ago by Garthan scientists for use as sentries, scouts and food." That's what loot in Infinite Space is. It doesn't even have a worth attached to it until you pay out at the end. Exploration is a trip through the writer's imagination, and it works thanks to its absurdity.
There is game, though. Items you collect can really improve the ship, giving you defensive and offensive buffs, radar boosts, and engines that can push through the nebulae. With a more powerful ship, you can start fighting rather than fleeing. The combat is all automated according to your set-up, but you can direct where your ship flies and order hired mercs into battle.
I think there's loads of potential in Sea of Stars, but I don't think it's quite ready for a larger audience. I found my ship's position in the world difficult to track, which is unhelpful if you're trying to pick a route through the galaxy for maximum gains. It's also tough to figure out the boundaries of the nebula, so it's possible to be caught when you thought you were clear. The game also launches in a tiny window and the large UI makes it feel super-cramped. There's some work needed to make is palatable for everyone, though previous fans will probably enjoy it.
If only I could change things myself. There's something very Matrix-like about Glitchspace. It's a game where the gun you have doesn't fire bullets, but code that changes the properties of the world around you. The simple levels enable you to manipulate the blocks that make up the challenges, presenting you with diagrams of their properties and letting you change their very nature. The fact that I'm capable of understanding what's going on is the real triumph.
To begin with, you don't deal with the gun at all. Instead you're presented with a red block and told to right-click on it: up pops a terrifying diagram of the block's properties. Actually, I'll just show you.
There's a lot going on there, but it will all be explained as you play. All you really need to worry about is the Scaleobject unit and the Object tab to the right. Everything else is locked. Clicking 'Object' will open a menu and present you with a 'mainobject' unit to drop into the diagram. It has the properties of a 'cube', and plugging it into the Scaleobject unit will transform the real-world object into a cube shape for you to walk on.
The context of the puzzle will help. With a little bit of wandering and staring, you'll understand what needs to be done to the blocks to give you access, and then when you start poking around in the properties the solution will emerge. It's a small but satisfying intellectual treat.
Reshaping the red boxes in the level is the main thrust, but you'll also be transforming movement, stretching and twisting blocks, and then the gun gets brought into play and allows you to affect multiple objects per puzzle, occasionally asking you to reprogram it between blocks. Eventually you'll be given a blank slate and asked to completely change the properties without any prompting.
But I currently can't recommend it. It needs more content. A lot more. There's, at most, about half-an-hour of story, somewhat augmented by a sandbox mode. But really, this lives and dies on the puzzles it provides, and it needs a lot more. When I finished I was disappointed and wanted there to be more, so it has that going for it. I also think the movement controls need tightened up, as most of my fails have come from misjudging a leap with the game's weak jump button. It's got lots of potential, and it's only £5 / $7, but I'd still wait for more game, or at least Steam Workshop integration.
Tabletop Simulator is a game largely based on the honour system: it's a multiplayer table simulator where every object is physics-enabled, meaning cards, dice, coins, and RPG pieces are all pluckable and tossable. There's even a 'flip table' button, and if you can end a game without clicking it, you're a better person than I'll ever be.
I'll admit that I'm here for the carnage. I revel in the tension that comes from sitting across a chess table at an invisible opponent and waiting for the move to end neatly. Make no mistake, there's nothing stopping anyone from toppling pawns or twanging bishops, or reaching over to your side and creating havoc. It's all down to human decency. But there's also a really lovely system here. Find someone you trust and hop onto voip while you're playing some chess or poker (or backgammon, checkers, dice, dominoes, etc) and it's a very easy way to lose an hour. You can even use it to coach someone, and of course eight person battle chess is a real possibility.
Speaking of that, it's the custom games that offer the most potential. There's a kit that'll allow players to create their own online game nights, ranging from simple hand-drawn boards to more complex RPG games with animated figures, lovely weighty dice throws, and that ever-present tension
It runs really well, feels lovely, the multiplayer is working (and allows you to blacklist disruptive types), and there's more to come. I think this is worth the money at the moment.
Worth buying right now?
Infinite Space III: Sea of Stars: Not Yet
Glitchspace: Not Yet
Tabletop Simulator: Yes