It occurred to me once that Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space would make a pretty cool addition to the iOS gaming scene. Happily, it must also have occurred to someone whose opinion actually matters, because Weird Worlds is now available for iOS exclusively for the iPad. And I’m calling it the first notable release of 2011~!!
Have you ever wondered how a roguelike might play out if, oh say … the dungeon were instead the black of space? And your rogue were replaced by a starship? If ponderings such as these keep you up at night — I never sleep at all, I spend so much time thinking about such things — then Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space may be just the answer you’ve been seeking.
Weird Worlds is a game of space exploration and survival, set in a randomly generated universe each time you play. Beginning the game, you are given the choice of three starships in which to make your explorations of Sector Prime: a Science Vessel, a Pirate Corvette or a Terran Frigate. You may also set parameters for your universe including map size, nebula mass and enemy strength. You are given a limited number of years in which to explore the created universe — 20 years on a Medium sized map — and must return to the Glory system within that time to report your findings, else suffer stiff fines for defaulting on your contract.
Depending upon your ship choice, your primary and secondary objectives will vary. The goal of science missions to to catalog new lifeforms and to map as much of Sector Prime as possible. As a pirate privateer, your goal is simply to grab anything of value you can find: technology, alien artifacts, lifeforms, weapons and even hostages. And as captain of a military frigate, you are tasked to make First Contact with alien races, to determine whether they are peaceful or pose a threat to Terran interests; as a secondary goal, obtain any technologies, artifacts or information which may be useful for military purposes.
Embarking from the Glory system, Sector Prime becomes your playground as you venture from system-to-system discovering new planets, new lifeforms and many exciting space treasures. Travel amongst the stars takes time, however, and so it is always important to mind the date that you might return to Glory in time (the only way to ensure a good endgame score!).
There is much to be found in Sector Prime. New weapons and shields bolster your combat abilities, while allies may join your fleet to give you an even greater edge in hostile situations. Improved scanners can help you to make better decisions as you plot your course through the system, while faster propulsion drives will help to reduce your transit time between worlds, allowing you to explore more of the sector before your deadline comes looming. Drones can repair your damaged ship or provide other benefits, and artifacts and captured lifeforms may be exchanged in trade with other species, sometimes at currency value and sometimes in 1:1 trades regardless of an item’s inherent value (the Klakar are suckers!).
Events occur randomly as you travel the systems. You may encounter other lifeforms in healthy exchange, engage them in deadly combat, or encounter terrorists who will rob you of your cargo. There’s no telling what may occur in the black of space, where good decision making is the only thing that separates the living from the dead.
Bite-sized Spacefaring: Most space games are epic in scale, such that you may never see the end of the game, if the game even has an ending; many do not. A game of Weird Worlds will rarely last more than 30 minutes, making it ideal for quick bursts of quality spacefaring.
Random Encounters: There’s a lot to see and do in Sector Prime, and you’re not going to discover all the game has to offer in a single go, nor even in several. I think gamers will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of content there is to discover in the game on return sessions.
Variety: The different ship/mission types vary the goals of each game and change the way the game is played. Military missions favor an aggressive approach, while science missions had better avoid combat whenever possible. The objectives of your mission will motivate you to trade differently, and so prioritize your explorations in different ways. Combined with the many diverse random encounters to be had, Weird Worlds provides excellent replay value.
Visual and Audio Presentation: Weird Worlds is a great looking game. Space is pretty, and the game is full of original artwork. Ambient radio transmissions, interference and ship chatter help to set the mood.
Combat: Combat happens in real-time, putting you in control of your fleet and issuing orders to attack or retreat. During battle, the view shifts away from the starmap to a zoomed-in, tactical view of your ship and the opposing forces. Here you can plot the movement of your ships, target opposing vessels, launch fighters and fire your weapons. Ships may be boarded, destroyed or run away from. Hell, if you get desperate you can even ram enemies with your ships!
Do you remember Warpgate and how it was an awesomely impressive game in almost every conceivable way, except having combat that dragged the game headfirst into the muck and grime of Yoda’s swamp, and not just any part of the swamp, but the part where Yoda poops? Combat in Weird Worlds is nothing like that. In fact, Warpgate would have been a much better game had it simply aped Weird World’s combat wholesale. Yeah Freeverse, I’m talking to you. Look here and see real-time, tactical space combat done right. Do you see how it doesn’t suck? Do you see how it doesn’t bring down the entire game?!
Small UI Elements: With the iPad’s big, beautiful display, there’s really no excuse for so many of the user-interface elements to be so frustratingly tiny. Every one of the game’s buttons — cargo and ship access, help/description icons, text buttons, close window buttons, etc. — is just too friggin’ small. They’re difficult to hit with any accuracy at all, so it’s lucky that buttons are usually (not always) spaced out enough that there’s nothing else to hit by mistake. Star systems can be difficult to select on the map, and you will often have to stab repeatedly at your destination before it will register for travel. Enlarging the sensitivity areas around systems would really help the game out. These issues really should be addressed by the developer at some point, so here’s to hoping …
A Little Rough Around the Edges: Having been ported from desktop operating systems, Weird Worlds is still a little rough around the edges. You will catch some of the tutorials referring to mouse clicks and movements rather than touch-interface controls, such as in the combat tutorial. I’ve also experienced some lag and unresponsiveness when dragging items between my cargo bay and the shop. The game suffers from occasional frame-rate drops and stutters; as the game does not require fast reflexes, this is usually not enough to hamper play, though it is fairly annoying. Hopefully these are issues that will be resolved in the game’s first update, whenever that comes.
Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space takes out a new lease on life on the iPad. The game has been around for more than five years now, and holds up incredibly well to the ravages of time. The game is every bit as fun as it ever was, and makes an ideal fit for the iPad. While many of the UI elements are too small to be comfortable, the touch-interface is functional and does work really well for a game like this one; hopefully the developers will work to improve the interface in updates. Spacefaring gamers should definitely find Weird Worlds a worthy addition to their gaming library, and fans of roguelikes should also find a lot to like in the game.