There’s an old joke about 4X games that goes something like this: after you spend several hours on YouTube watching tutorials, you get to fumble your way through a playthrough with a vague idea of what you’re doing before you inevitably make some fatal mistake you don’t recognize until much, much later. Then you restart and do a little better. Star Trek: Infinite isn’t interested in re-inventing the galactic wheel – this is a 4X game’s 4X game – but it does do a good job of bringing Trek into the space that publisher Paradox Interactive has boldly charted over the years.
From the jump, Star Trek: Infinite lets you choose from four factions: the Federation, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Empire, and the Cardassian Union. The Federation is best at exploring, diplomacy, and researching new technology. The Cardassians excel at spycraft and warfare. The Klingons’ penchant for tradition and honorable combat make them the guys you’ll want to go to if you’re looking to conquer the rest of known space, and the Romulans are great at stealth and guile. I mostly played the Federation, because I wanted to try a less combative playstyle.
Star Trek: Infinite is a pretty traditional 4X game; you’ll navigate a series of menus to control your civilization, manage your planets, acquire resources, expand your territory, build and pilot ships, and so on. If you’ve played Stellaris, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how Star Trek: Infinite works. If you haven’t, just imagine navigating a series of Star Trek-themed spreadsheets, and you’ll be on the right track.
You have to like spreadsheets and pause-and-play gameplay to get the most out of the experience, but there’s some cool Star Trek-flavored filling in this donut. First, you’ll run into lore-important Star Trek characters who can command your ships, serve as admirals in your fleets, or spy on the other factions. It was cool to have Spock run some of my tech research and step into a science vessel when I needed him, and it just wouldn’t feel right to have the Enterprise under the command of anyone other than Jean-Luc Picard.
Another cool thing is the Mission Tree, which tasks you with completing certain faction-specific requirements that mark major milestones in the events of that society. Gather enough alloy as the Federation, for example, and you can build the Enterprise. Win enough fights with the Enterprise, and you get Worf, while surveying systems gets you bonuses that aid the Federation for decades. Completing these milestones unlocks story events and missions that will be familiar to Trek fans, and there’s even branching paths depending on how you decide to play your faction and what you do when story events play out. It all feels very Trek, and gives you something to shoot for as you manage your civilization.
My favorite part of Star Trek: Infinite, however, is how differently each faction plays. When I was the Federation, I tried to do things the way they would, which meant diplomacy and exploration first. I would only get into shooting fights as a last resort. I kept a couple of fleets around for defense, but mostly I explored strange new worlds, sought out new life and new civilizations, and boldly went where no one had gone before. And the crazy part was, it worked. I built relationships with other cultures and once we got along well enough, I brought them into the Federation. Meanwhile, the Klingons were starting wars every other week, the Cardassians were trying to bully and/or conquer the less advanced civilizations, and the Romulans were mostly trying to be left alone. That is, when they weren’t sneaking into our territory.
Eventually, though, conflict does arise, and you’ll want to be prepared when it does. Star Trek: Infinite lets you customize your ships, taking a simple class blueprint and adding in all the wonderful toys you get from the research your scientists have been doing. It’s fun to be able to tailor your ships to your playstyle, and it means your older ships are still useful later in the game. You don’t have to engage with this system – Infinite will generate an “auto-best” build for you automatically – but it’s a nice feature, especially in a game based on a series with ships this iconic.
Star Trek: Infinite does a great job of staying true to what makes Trek Trek while integrating it into a 4K strategy game. You’re still navigating a lot of menus, certain things are still very obtuse and require a lot of prior knowledge (I wasn’t kidding about all those YouTube tutorials), and it can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if you’re new to 4X games. But after spending a dozen hours with this preview build, I still want to explore, discover new civilizations, unlock new missions in the Mission Tree, and see what else Infinite has up its sleeve. Exploring the final frontier isn’t easy; Infinite gets that. But it also understands there’s a whole lot of adventure out there, too. All we have to do to find it is be brave enough to engage with all those menus.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey