Star Trek: Infinite Review
Star Trek: Infinite sounds like it’s going to be a big game. “Infinite.” The final frontier is mind-meltingly vast. Across seven decades and almost a thousand episodes, no Star Trek show has ever run out of new worlds to discover, or civilizations to meet. Despite playing at endlessness, Star Trek: Infinite actually limits its scope. Perhaps there’s a game that could have it both ways; the best of both worlds.
Lens Flare By Starlight
Though published by superstudio Paradox, Star Trek: Infinite was developed by a team called Nimble Giant Entertainment. They’ve made a couple of games, but nothing as high profile as this one. And it’s a great looking game. The hand-drawn art of famous Trek characters matches evokes the game gear and board games of my 90s youth. Set nostalgia factor to mark 10.
Strangely, Star Trek: Infinite is sort of just Stellaris. There’s the passing resemblance sure, but under the hood they are fundamentally the same game. The gameplay loop of building ships and expanding your empire works identically. The resources sometimes are called ‘dilithium’ and ‘tritanium,’ but they all do the same stuff as in Stellaris. Which isn’t a bad thing; Stellaris rules! But it also already exists. Before Infinite was available publicly, I found that Stellaris tips also applied. When I needed to produce more unity or refresh myself on how invading planets worked, I could just pop over to a Stellaris guide and ten times out of ten, my question was answered.
I played quite a bit of Star Trek: Infinite right out of the gate. The game takes place shortly before The Next Generation. You can play as the Federation (obviously the coolest choice), but also as the Klingons, Romulans, or Cardassians. Borrowing from another Paradox game, each of the four factions has a unique mission tree to help shape their story. It looks exactly like the same mechanic in Hearts of Iron. There are a couple of critical moments like, will you support the insidious Section 31 or will you double down on your diplomatic corps?
The thing is, there is already an excellent Star Trek game built on Stellaris. I refer to the total conversion mod, Star Trek New Horizons, which has been regularly updated since 2016. That game feels infinite. You can play as the above mentioned factions, but also literally anything else. You wanna be the Borg? The Dominion? The Bolians? Tamarians! The freaking Bynar!? You can play as pretty much anyone, big or small. New Horizons also has a much larger scope, covering the story from shortly before Star Trek: Enterprise and going all the way through Star Trek: Picard; almost 250 years of story.
So the question is, with such a deep mod, what makes Infinite unique. It certainly looks better. It also plays much better. Despite some annoying (but easily fixable) bugs, Star Trek: Infinite ran smoothly. New Horizons crashes on me all the time, it’s super annoying. And that’s definitely something! But the game feels strangely hollow in places where it should crackle.
Best of Both Worlds
As an example, let’s look at one of the most celebrated stories in Trek, “The Best of Both Worlds,” where Picard is captured and assimilated by the Borg. When I arrived at that episode, my heart skipped a beat. I was ready to face the strongest foe the Federation has ever encountered. But after the story kicked off it just sort of… ends. You get to make a few binary choices, and those change what resources you acquire, but that’s sort of it. I did not get to significantly participate. Across four Federation playthroughs, I found no way to change the outcome.
Let’s compare that to an event that takes place in New Horizons. In the early game, you are informed one of your captains has unexpectedly vanished. After an unfruitful search, your attention turns to other pressing matters but 50 years later, the Federation is attacked by a strange creature commanding a deadly nanoswarm (which can only be defeated by blasting the Beastie Boys). This is the story of Balthazar Edison, Idris Elba’s character in Star Trek Beyond. But you get to interact with it on the game’s terms. Every playthough, the event happens to a different Captain and it’s possible to not only change the story from the movie, but to flat out lose and be decimated by the nanites. Infinite holds your hand, making sure you more or less stay on the track.
Slice Up the Quadrants
In the recent Microsoft email leaks, the Xbox executives discuss the future of big budget game development. It has become so easy to distribute an indie game that the big studios are worried they won’t be able to compete with the clever, more nimble studios. What advantages does a big dev have? Time, money, personnel. The Star Trek New Horizons mod is janky, at times ugly, and prone to crash. But if you embrace infinity, you are bound to make a mess or two.
Star Trek: Infinite instead focuses on just a few quadrants and just a few decades. The game was clearly made by a bunch of Trekkie nerds, who packed it with lore and references and nostalgia. But even with the expensive-looking artwork, the gameplay always feels like a secondary concern. The recent Pharaoh: Total War is a masterclass in going deeper instead of wider. Star Trek: Infinite is not really interested in that kind of depth. The tried and true Stellaris rules fit well but, it feels more like a very pretty review of Trek history.
Having spent many hours on Infinite, I think I’ve seen all I need to see. Expansions and DLC might bring me back, but now we are talking about gating content behind another paywall. That sounds less enticing to me, especially when there is a more interesting mod available for free. Someone patiently waiting for new Star Trek games will definitely have some fun puzzling through Star Trek: Infinite, but I think I am probably going to go back over that New Horizon.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Built on the already-fun Stellaris
- Great Trekkie Vibes
- Runs nice and smooth
- Limited scope in time and space
- Decisions feel unimpactful
- Very similar to Stellaris
- Where are all the Tamarians?