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5 Reasons I Bought Strange Adventures in Infinite Space
By Zeus | 2008-07-08

Inspired by the original Star Trek, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space (SAIS) is a game of turn-based galactic exploration and simple real time combat. You're not here to conquer the galaxy so much as swipe a few alien artifacts and exotic lifeforms, then make it home in time to collect some cold hard spacebucks.

Developed by a three-man team at Digital Eel, including acclaimed Quake modder Iikka Keranen and scifi-cadelic Seattle artist Phosphorous, the game has a reputation for being quick, quirky, addictive and fun.

I've wanted SAIS ever since it was released for PC and Mac back in 2002, but I only bought the game last month. Here's why.

1. It's $7.50 (on CD) a FREE download!

SAIS - Trading

You can get a CD version for only $7.50, thanks thanks to a closeout sale at Paizo. (Hint: Add Plasma Worm to your order. It's Digital Eeel's first game, and it's free!)

Update: The awesome folks at Digital Eel made SAIS freeware. Now you can download the game for free and exploit the cosmos!

2. "Explore the galaxy...in 20 minutes or less!"

Short games are awesome. Tetris didn't need an epic single player quest to keep you crawling back for more. Same concept here, only with astroids instead of tetroids. Gamasutra even went so far as to call SAIS the "perfect short game."

Star Map

After you vaporize a few bug-eyed battleships, stuff your hull with alien contraband and rush home to receive your paycheck -- which, incidentally, doubles as the game's high score -- you'll immediately want to do it again. You can finish a game of SAIS even if you don't have much time to spare. And if you DO have time to spare, you can finish twelve games of SAIS!

3. I've been hearing good things about it for years.

SAIS was released during a dark period, after the fall of Shareware and before the rise of Steam and other digital download giants. Lacking a familiar publisher like 3D Realms, try-before-you-buy software from this time was often viewed with suspicion. But SAIS wasn't just some freeware SHUMP looking for a handout -- if that were the case, it wouldn't have been slobbered on by critics.

This Top Dog Award winner received a 77 aggregated rating from Metacritic, which is higher than Star Wars: Battlefront, EverQuest II, Resident Evil 4, Madden NFL 08 and other big name titles for the PC.

Combat.
SET PHASERS TO FUN: Combat is real time, but piloting is handled with a single mouse click. As soon you get within range of the enemy (determined by your weapon selection), your ship fires automatically.

Even Gamespot, who gave it Metacritic's second lowest score, admitted that, "The game's short length is what makes it so engaging... an addictive little game much like 'Bejeweled' or 'Tetris,' but instead of being a puzzle, it's a little adventure that you can lose yourself in for a few minutes at a time."

I couldn't have said it better myself. SAIS hearkens back to the days of the Bedroom Programmer, when gameplay was more important than graphics, imagination fueled endless gaming sessions, and the only things shaded were the windows. (You can't let a little thing like DAWN keep you from playing a game like this.)

3-A. People Love This Game

Forget critics. When I hear someone talk about a game they love, I always take notice.

There's a difference between hearing someone describe a technical achievement and something they're truly passionate about.

People usually start out apologetically -- "It has its flaws" -- but then they light up and gush over this six year old game that looks like it could run on Windows 3.1. That's what makes me sit up and take notice.

4. Infinite Replayability

Digital Eel's website claims SAIS is infinitely replayable. It's one of those things game companies say, along with photo realistic.

Thing is, they're not kidding.

Everything is randomized, so that the planets, aliens, and mysterious artifacts -- even the ship-slowing purple nebulae -- change each time you play. But unlike roguelikes, only the PLACEMENT is random, never the FUNCTION. So if a Micrometeorite Gun outperforms the standard Chaingun, it will ALWAYS be better -- none of that, "Will the Red Potion kill me this time?" business. (Incidentally, stats are mostly hidden from the player, so paying attention to the humorous text descriptions is key to survival.)

Super Nova
ROCKSTAR SUPERNOVA: Emphasis on star. Yeah, heh. This isn't one of my good days.

There are also rare events that occur roughly in one out of twenty games. One time a star went super nova, taking out a planet within the blast radius. Then another. And then I was helpfully informed that the shock wave was headed straight towards my home planet. A shrewd player might have raced home to cash in his loot and skip town, but I had to play Captain Space Hero and get close enough to the blast to "investigate."

Big. Mistake.

5. It Boldly Goes

Engage!
Engage!

Strange Adventures in Infinite Space simulates the fun and excitement of an oldschool episode of Star Trek. You're on a ten year mission to explore the Purple Void, a forbidden stretch of farspace, collecting as many exotic alien lifeforms, artifacts and allies as possible.

Okay, so unlike Star Trek, there's a bit of self interest involved. And you can pretty much throw the Prime Directive out the air lock; this game's tagline is, "Boldly blow up stuff where no one has blown up stuff before!"

But your ship is a dead ringer for the Enterprise, and when you're not being drunk-dialed by some evil warmongering aliens scum, you're encountering randomized anomolies.

Battle in the Purple Void.
Okay, a Garthan, a Gorn and an unlicensed military corvette fly into the Purple Void... stop me if you've heard this one before.

Most games that try to recreate the feel of a Star Trek episode get it horribly wrong. They're either large scale tactical wargames or... I can barely bring myself type this... first person shooters. And even when they try to simulate the feel of sitting in the captain's chair, they inevitably get bogged down with micromanagement -- Captain Picard didn't know how to pilot a ship, he just said "engage" and his subordinates made it so.

Being a captain is all about the big picture. And this is a big picture game. Strange Adventures in Infinite Space may not let you do everything ol' Captain Kirk did -- I've yet to make out with a single green-skinned alien babe -- but it lets you do plenty of stuff without once making you feel like that screeching harpy Janeway.

There's all sorts of critters in Digital Eel's vittles.
THERE'S ALL SORTS OF CRITTERS IN DIGITAL EEL'S VITTLES: 1) Descriptions like these make up for a lack of creature art. 2) The Tan Ru are a mechanical race of aliens, "Oblivious to human life," who send out binary messages prior to an attack. 3) The Zorg are essential to reaching a high score. These iconic little chrome domes can warp you through the galaxy in a matter of days. 4) Remember I said about the lack of a prime directive?

Unless you were born without an imagination, you probably dreamed of being a starship captain at least once in your life. Heck, there was a time when I'd spend hours with a crayon in one hand and a peanut butter sandwhich in the other, drawing construction paper control pannels complete with with viewscreens and big red buttons, which I'd gleefully press with jelly-covered thumbs. Well all that changed last week, when I finally got my mitts on Strange Adventures in Infinite Space.

Thanks, Digital Eel!

- Captain Zeus of the Starship Fang

e-mail me at this address: zeus [at sign] bucketbros [period] com

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