Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space is a hybrid roguelike game of space exploration, adventure and starship combat set within a peculiar as-yet-unvisited region of the galaxy known as the Purple Void. Each time you play the game, a new and different “instant space opera” is generated at random; from locations of stars and nebulae to plot-twisting quest events, nothing stays the same.
(It) plays to its conclusion in less than thirty minutes – it’s the perfect lunch break game! Features also include a fully animated star map, a unique turn-based movement system, real-time starship battles, award-winning music and sound, and a robust battle simulator. Weird Worlds also has built-in support for community-created mods that can change anything and everything in the game!
What We Think
NOTE: This is a review of the version released on Steam in March 2013. The original release date is Nov 2005.
It will take me longer to write this review than it took me to play Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. By design, the game is almost shockingly brief, and, as promised by the developers, can be played from beginning to end in under 30 minutes. It’s like the flash fiction of gaming; it doesn’t weigh you down with too much backstory, complexity, or depth, it just gives you a spaceship, a map, and a fixed amount of time.
For some, that’s going to be a major turnoff, for others it may be just the quick hit they are looking for.
A Ship and a Goal. Go!
While it is possible to create your very own “space opera” with the skeletal plot derived from your chosen background and the descriptions of items and random encounters, you’re going to need to do quite a bit of narrative heavy lifting yourself – there aren’t cutscenes or extensive dialogues – there’s basically clicking, dragging, and sometimes reading. And, of course, always keeping an eye on the time left.
Roll Out, or Roll the Dice?
The latter is a shrewd design tactic that takes advantage of the rather terminal nature of chance-taking in roguelikes.
Boiled down, your score is based on the amount and value of loot you have on board, along with the character-specific goals (the Terran is looking for alien ambassadors, for instance) you meet by the end of the game. However, you have a fixed amount of time in which to accomplish whatever you can before returning to your home base. Failure to do so results in a stiff penalty to your score.
Also, not everyone you encounter in space is friendly, and combat is a risky proposition even with a well-equipped ship and hired allies. Like a hand of blackjack, you can’t win if you don’t take chances, but the risk of losing everything because of a bad decision is high.
For such a stripped-down game there’s a surprising amount of depth. This is not to say that Weird Worlds is a 4X game, but it manages to cram quite a bit of business into ten-to-fifteen minute chunks.
Each new game takes place in a unique, dynamically-generated universe. Inventory management figures prominently, as you’ll want to trade up to make room for more loot and to obtain better gear for yourself and any other ships you might hire. Strategy is a consideration as well. Since you have such a limited amount of time, you’ll want to maximize the return on planetary visits while minimizing the cost in travel.
This is another area where being both shrewd and lucky pays off, as some equipment allows you to travel faster, or cloak yourself from hostile aliens. Finding useful gear early on can make the difference between a successful playthrough and an early death.
Weird is Wonderful
Weird Worlds is simple, and it doesn’t ask for much of an investment of your time. As such, casual gamers will probably be the best audience. There’s enough here for more serious gamers as well, though, thanks to smart design, an active modding community, and an unexpectedly deep (within reason) strategic experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself coming back to Weird Worlds whenever I had a few spare minutes for a quick game. You can play a full game in the time it takes for a pot of coffee to brew, or the dryer to finish a cycle, or for your significant other to get ready, and that’s not something many other games can say. For that alone, Weird Worlds is worth a try.