Having only recently attained your pilot’s license and a new shuttle from Earth, you’ve set out to explore the great beyond; “Space, the final frontier” and all that nonsense… You know as well as any veteran flayer captain that space is simply another market to exploit. After destroying half a dozen pirate ships in the designated “grey zone” – a safe perimeter established around your home planet – you decide to dip into “the black” with the hopes of liberating more valuable cargo. Having only jumped a couple sectors outside of the grey, you’re suddenly met face-to-face with a small fleet of titan-class ships belonging to “Murder, Inc.” – a corporation well known for smearing rookies like you across the galaxy. A simple, yet pointed message flashes across your HUD: “Join us or die.“ Fire, run, or be assimilated… choices choices.
Infinite Black is an MMO (massively multiplayer online) game that harkens back to the old-school days before 3D immersive graphics but after M.U.D.s had taken root. Those of us like myself enjoy single player games to a certain degree, but nothing really beats teaming-up with live humans and accomplishing feats of destruction and organization together. On a whim one night, I decided to see what the current MMO scene is like on Android and was faced with the usual suspects – games such as Pocket Legends that strive to bask in the afterglow of what us PC gamers are used to, and those that happily market themselves as MMOs even though they’re no such thing. I also ran into The Infinite Black.
All Substance, Low Style
After scanning through the screenshots on the Play store, I was expecting to be shoved into the pilot seat of a spaceship – third-person style. Unfortunately, this lead to some dashed preconceptions of what Infinite Black was all about… Let’s get this out of the way right now – there are no fanshy 3D graphics in this game. In fact, you’re presented right out of the box with nothing but a vast network of color-shaded and arbitrarily linked octagons spanning as far as you can swipe. The background layer behind the map is customizable with various rendered space-themed graphics, but they mean nothing in the grand scheme. Turn them off, and you’re left with a very very dull interface. I almost quit right there (spoiled).
You begin the game as a rookie pilot of 0.5 level stationed at Earth (a designated safe zone) with nothing but a shuttle to your name. Higher levels unlock new tiers of equipment. Once you leave the blue zone immediately surrounding Earth, you’ll enter “the grey” – a PVE (player-vs-enemy) zone where you’ll spend many days “farming” heteroclites, pirates, and mercenaries for their materials. Your shuttle has a fixed number of “equip points” which are basically slots to be used for equipment such as weapons, hulls (armor), storage, computers, etc. It won’t take a rocket-scientist to quickly realize that he wants more space for better stuff… farming. It happens early and it happens often.
Farming In Space
Almost immediately after leaving Earth, I began to start murdering the various AI ships in the grey, collecting their resources, and selling them at various starports for credits. Obviously, you’ll need money for new ships and equipment. Lots of it. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 different ships, from battleship to wyrd reaper, all sporting an increasing number of equip points. Once you have a better ship, you can either pick up common items at the starports or start browsing the market for auctions. Yes, this game has a server-wide auction house! In the market, you’ll find rare items to either bid or buy-out that offer both higher stats as well as use fewer equip points. You can also sell dropped items you find while farming to help speed up your own purchases.
As you’re hopping from sector to sector blowing away npc enemies, you’ll be taking damage and salvaging resources. One such resource is both valuable for selling as well as repairing your ship – metal. Other resources you’ll find along the way will be mostly used to trade for credits until you manage to weasel your way into a corporation. This is where things get interesting.
Of Corporations And Alliances
The Infinite Black has a tiered leadership structure, like most MMOs, similar to that of “guilds”. Within my first couple levels, I was sent an invite to join one such corporation and was also immediately added to that corporation’s alliance (a conglomeration of corporations). Joining such groups nets you several advantages, not limited to discounts on equipment, hand-outs from your peers, and safety in numbers. Once you get a few of your corp’ies together in a “stack” (bunch of ships in one sector), you can strike-out into the black for more violent (and rewarding) encounters. Oh, and PvP. Yikes!
While the grey is simple and straightforward – fly around, blow stuff up, sell for credits – the black is more nebulous. This entire region is PvP flagged, meaning you’ll likely get mobbed by higher-level ships and obliterated if you don’t have sufficient backup. The NPCs in the black are also much more powerful, but drop higher level rewards. In addition to combat, the black is where your alliance’s leaders will be constructing garrisons – starport-like structures that allow you to repair and store alliance goods. Leaders can even use garrisons as virtual walls to keep non-alliance players out of your “yard” (area of black around your garrisons). Alliances can even create their own planets with enough resources, and terraform them using resources to provide universal bonuses for their underlings.
Stay On Target!
Interface-wise, TiB for Android isn’t anything to write home about… The map itself is a lifeless grid of octagons and ships are represented by simplistic icons stacked on the right of the screen. Fortunately, iPad users will benefit from a much shinier interface and better sound effects. Enemy ships are similarly stacked below your own, but are highlighted in red. Red bad. To attack an enemy, you tap the icon to open a list of options – one of which is attack. You can also long-hold an enemy to both attack and follow. NPC ships have an annoying tendency to jump from sector to sector during a fight, so AF (auto-follow) is a good idea. Once a battle is finished, you’ll pick up any loot that drops from the wreckage and hop to the next sector. Each ship has its own jump drive cool down, so you’ll have to wait a few seconds before jumping. If you’re set on a long-range destination, you can set the waypoint and let the drive do all the work for you.
This game has a steep learning curve, so be warned. An in-game help system is available, but is nothing more than an html-style manual. I spent a good deal time joining up with my corp’ies and hounding them with questions as we raided the galaxy. TiB sports a comprehensive chat interface with all the filters you’d expect from an MMO – universe, server, corporation, alliance, etc. but it requires that you flip from the map ui to a dedicated chat window. Expect to get shot at if you’re busy chatting.
Top-Off With Black Dollars
To-date, The Infinite Black has kept me hooked with the usual formula of slow leveling and saving for obscenely priced trinkets. The addition of a market is an added perk as you’re always min/maxing your ship’s gear and haggling with your alliance for better stuff. If you find that grinding isn’t your thing (it’s recommended to stay out of the black until level 10), there’s an alternate currency called Black Dollars that both drop randomly from NPC encounters or can be purchased using real-world money. Black Dollars allow you do purchase an additional fighter drone to make combat quicker, get a temporary boost in xp, buy rare ships (if you have tons of BDs), jump to your corporate garrison, etc. They also can be sold in-game for a pretty penny in a pinch.
If you’re a gamer with a penchant for the old-school vibe, give TiB a run for your money… actually, it’s free. Despite the cruddy ui and graphics, this game has a decent MMO structure and two additional servers planned to roll out this year. Note: I’ve written the developers asking when/if they’re planning on bringing the Android version up to par with iOS but have had no response. Try the two versions and you’ll see what I mean. Should you download TiB, expect hours upon hours of grinding with little in terms of distraction save for a smattering of corporate interactions. All the fun comes in the latter levels when you cap-out like the rest of the big boys.