I am one of those lucky people who is blessed with a job that is mostly unsupervised, and is prone to periods of downtime. As a result, I often find myself paid to play video games. Unfortunately, I am often required to get to work on a moment’s notice, thus precluding most online games from combating my work boredom. Further, my work laptop can’t quite run Civilization 4 at the speed I’d like it to. I found myself stumped for something good to pass the time.
I had seen a plug for Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space on Penny Arcade a few weeks ago, and figured what the hell. Low system requirements, a low price (a mere $25, for a quick downloadable .ISO file) meant I had little to lose, and everything to gain.
Weird Worlds is a single player, turn based game with a real time battle system. Essentially, you fly around the universe exploring different stars, taking loot, and fighting (or befriending) aliens. The game has a few different customizable features (such as mission type, size, and enemy ship difficulty), and generates a unique universe every time you start a new game. Some events and “quests” only crop up every few games, so there is a fair bit of replayability. Top this off with a mod community (there are about half a dozen mods I’ve seen with minimal research), and you’ll be entertained for a good while.
The graphics work. They’re clean, nicely done, and they’re simple. This isn’t a game about graphics. That being said, I’m content with them, and you will be, too. Sound wise, I have no idea. I usually play it muted. Explosions from my office would give away my lack of productivity. The sound effects are like the graphics. They’re simple and get the job done. This game is more about the gameplay itself than anything else.
Your first decision in Weird Worlds is to set your game up. You pick the length of your mission (10, 20 or 30 years), which dictates the universe size. This is the time you have to complete your mission to score points. Time is essentially your currency in the game: all actions (moving, repairing, installing equipment) costs time. Your goal, therefore, is to accomplish as much of your primary mission (see below) in the time allotted. If you’re late to returning, you are fined appropriately in your score. At this point you also determine other settings such as the size of nebulas (nebulas are huge cockblocks until you get the right stardrives: they vastly slow you down, often restricting large portions of the universe), and difficulty of enemy ships (easy, medium, hard).
Now: on to the fun stuff! Next is to pick which ship you want: Science Vessel, Pirate Corvette or Terran Frigate. Each ship has different equipment/weapon slots, cargo sizes, and, most importantly, affects how your game is scored. The Science Vessel has the biggest cargo, the least weapons, and is scored on finding life forms and other neat space geek stuff. The Terran Frigate is the most heavily armed, smallest cargo, and is scored on seeking out alien races and finding weapons. The Corvette is a balance of the two, and scored by grabbing as much crap as possible (the joys of being a pirate).
One of the neat things about the game is the customizable ship system. Each ship has a number of slots for general gear, hardpoints for weapons, and thrusters/star drives. You can freely interchange gear on your ship (for a small cost in time). Further, other ships in your flotilla operate the same way, so you get a lot of freedom to customize (within the constraints of actually finding things to put on your ships, which, depending on your game, is hard or easy). My sole complaint here is there are a lot of weapons, but I tend to gravitate to the same ones over and over. I wish there were more weapon hardpoints, or more flexibility, or something. Or maybe I need to branch out more.
As your ship flies about the universe, you occasionally are forced into battle. The battle system is a simple 2D overhead view of space. You have your flotilla (up to 5 ships) against a number of enemy factions. I’ve only fought 2 others at once, but the simulator lets you go to as many as 4 (including yourself). I found combat to be a bit confusing at first: I would routinely get the shit beat out of me. However, as I played more, and got better at not engaging the computer (easy to do, you can just “avoid” an occupied star system to not fight at all, or usually retreat in battle…avoiding can be turned off though as a setting, if you want something harder core) until I have the FOD (fleet of death). At this point battle becomes trivial. This is less of an issue at the harder difficulty level for enemy ships, in which case you once again will get your ass handed to you if your fleet is not rock solid.
Ultimately, combat success comes down to strength of your fleet, and a rock paper scissors approach: make sure you have the proper counters to most situations, and have good equipment, and you’ll win. Well… duh. Still, if you’re not careful, you can find your flotilla rapidly decimated, and there are minimal chances to restore your fleet size in the game. And, if you lose your flagship… good game.
Throughout the universe is a huge array of random stuff. Ship systems, life forms, treasure, artifacts: you name it. The game does not have specific statistics attached to any of the ship systems beyond a simple value rating system (1-5): performance specs must be derived from the item’s description. In some cases, this is easy: star drives, for example, explicitly state their speed. Others, such as shields and weapons, have adjectives (“adequate,” “optimal”).