“Sһoots For Tһe Moon, But Fаlls Sһort” – Stаr Trek: Infinite Review

Summary

  • Star Trek: Infinite is a complex 4X strategy game based on Stellaris and the Star Trek franchise.
  • The game features four major factions with distinct playstyles, and players must explore new worlds, interact with civilizations, and expand their empires.
  • While the game excels in its deep mechanics and extensive tutorials, it falls short in terms of battle mechanics and immersion.

Star Trek: Infinite wants to be the Star Trek strategy game to beat the band. It was developed by Nimble Giant Studios and published by Paradox Interactive, a publishing house with a reputation for wonderfully deep, complicated strategy games. Among its flagship properties, Paradox counts Cities: SkylinesCrusader Kings, and Stellaris, which Star Trek: Infinite’s systems are based and built upon. And of course, it has the benefit of its Star Trek branding. It’s set in one of the most fascinating and popular eras of the series’ continuity, beginning in The Next Generation’s 24th century and stretching far beyond.

Star Trek: Infinite is a 4X strategy game: explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. As one of four major factions, and in conjunction with or opposition to a smattering of minor powers, players must race to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and incorporate them into their empires by death or diplomacy before anyone else can. As a strategy game, Star Trek: Infinite is intriguing, engaging, and memorable. As a Star Trek adaptation, it shoots for the moon, but falls short of the mark.

Star Trek: Infinite’s Systems Go Deep

Unsurprisingly to fans of Stellaris or Paradox games more generally, Star Trek: Infinite is incredibly complicated. But Paradox’s pedigree is really on display here: its core mechanics are deeply fascinating. Players are directed to pick one of four Star Trek factions at the beginning: the United Federation of Planets, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, or the Cardassian Union. Each one is geared toward a specific playstyle, with its own strengths, weaknesses, and long-term goals.

The Federation is the default faction for a first playthrough; players must select it in order to play through Star Trek: Infinite’s tutorials.

Specializing in science, construction, and diplomacy, the Federation primarily expands its territory by building infrastructure on uninhabited worlds, or by tactful integration with smaller spacefaring societies. The Klingons are hardened by their martial culture, but their pride holds them back in matters of politics. The Cardassian Union operates in the shadows, using intrigue and subterfuge to fabricate false claims on star systems and turn their rivals’ allies against them. The Romulan Star Empire is the most balanced, able to use either statecraft or slaughter to get ahead.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement from the beginning, discovering what mysteries the wider galaxy holds and watching as the chosen faction’s borders begin to branch out. The mid-game becomes a contest of resource management, keeping numbers up while trying to avoid overexertion. In the late game, however, wars and consternation become more frequent as the Borg threat draws near.

Unfortunately, battle is the least interesting aspect of the game. Its mechanics are overly simple: players simply place their units where they like, and all other maneuvers are performed automatically. Non-player factions seem especially prone to mounting campaigns of humiliation, which aren’t nearly as impactful as some of the other war causes. In a humiliation war, the only goal is victory – the losing side isn’t forced to concede any territory. There’s always the risk of financial damages in the form of destroyed ships or Starbases, but there’s relatively little at stake here. Players can simply ignore these threats, or surrender before too much harm is done, at little personal cost.

In essence, Star Trek: Infinite plays out like a simplified version of Stellaris. It finds a wonderful middle ground, with gameplay complicated enough to be interesting to veteran strategy players, but intuitive enough to attract newcomers. However, the excitement can peter out by the end, causing the last 200 years or so of a campaign to become a slog.

Baby’s First Paradox Game

A screenshot of the Federation Mission Tree in Star Trek: Infinite. Several goals, like

Paradox strategy games are infamous for their complexity, often requiring players to watch hours of YouTube tutorials before even booting them up. What sets Star Trek: Infinite apart is its expansive system of tutorials. When players start their first runs as the Federation, they’re treated to near-constant guidance from an AI assistant, who explains exactly what each menu does the first time they open it. The assistant also grants simple missions, designed to encourage players to experiment with core mechanics: build a Starbase, send an envoy to an ally, send a spy to an enemy.

Long-term goals are tracked via the larger Mission Tree, unique to each faction. The tasks outlined here draw attention to each one’s strengths and weaknesses: the Federation’s mostly revolve around research and exploration, while the Klingons’ revolve around conquest. Completing these missions also grants rewards, like access to the USS Enterprise for the Federation, or the return of the mythical warrior Kahless for the Klingons.

New and returning strategists alike will be supported by the Overview menu, an at-a-glance list of every single ship, base, and planet under the player’s control. From here, players can constantly see what each of their units is doing, and can issue orders at the touch of a button. This is greatly preferable to strategy games that require players to simply remember where all their units are, and makes it easy to execute complicated battle plans that involve multiple units moving at once.

However, even these wide-ranging tutorials have a couple of surprising blind spots. The particulars of battle and war are never described, which can make the player’s first dogfight a surprising experience. There are tooltips galore, but they’re sometimes incomplete, dropping other obfuscating terms that are left unexplained. Other Paradox games, like Crusader Kings 3, allow players to pin tooltips to the screen, then click on terms within them to obtain a more complete explanation. This feature appears to be missing in Star Trek: Infinite, which can lead to a lot of frantic Googling of mysterious mechanics.

Presentation Issues Break Immersion

The First Contact window open in Star Trek: Infinite, showing a Farian individual hailing the player.

From time to time, Star Trek: Infinite can create an incredible feeling. Gazing down at the galaxy map, watching tens of ships flit to and fro, the warp drive humming as the music swells in the background – a player could forget that they’re not actually a Federation admiral, surveying their fleet from the bridge. At other times, they might forget that they’re playing a Star Trek game.

Star Trek: Infinite’s voice acting is severely flawed. Sometimes it feels like a simple case of misguided casting, like when a should-be gruff Klingon speaks with a clear, kind voice. But the problem is larger than that, and extends to almost every single voice line in the game. None of the voice actors sync up to the kinds of characters they’re portraying, or the context their lines placed in. That can take players out of the game, and feels especially egregious for a game set in the TNG era, which has some of the finest acting of any Star Trek series.

That’s further complicated by the visuals, which sometimes look too much Stellaris and not enough Star Trek. The influence of the TV series’ vibrantly colorful, button-laden computer terminals is scarcely seen. Players spend too much time looking at the zoomed-out, generic galaxy map, while the interpersonal and ideological conflicts that make up the heart of Star Trek are relegated to brief multiple-choice popups. And that’s only made worse when the in-game characters actually open their mouths.

Final Thoughts & Review Score

Several Federation ships pass through a binary star system, with multiple Federation starbases and resource extraction modules visible in the background.

As it stands, Star Trek: Infinite is a decent, appropriately challenging 4X strategy game, despite its flaws. Its presentation issues and late-game slog may detract from the player’s enjoyment, while the mechanical focus on the broader strokes of strategy sometimes ignores major parts of what makes Star Trek interesting. These issues don’t completely ruin the experience, but they do hold Star Trek: Infinite back from its full potential. But with Paradox’s penchant for putting out DLC, that’s liable to change in the future.

And even so, Star Trek: Infinite is already a worthwhile experience. With the depths of its systems, there’s plenty for players to sink their teeth into here, and the four different factions provide more than enough replay value to keep them coming back. Tutorials make the game more accessible to 4X newcomers, even though they’re sometimes lacking. Those who are interested in a more complicated strategy experience might be better off sticking with the original Stellaris. But for those who really want to step into a Federation admiral’s shoes, there’s no substitute for Star Trek: Infinite.

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