So, we've all had fantasies about being the pilot of some sort of futuristic high-speed starfighter, right? I mean, I have for sure, and I highly doubt I'm the only one. Watching movies like The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator and of course, Star Wars with its amazing X-Wing piloting all had a profound effect on the young Jonny. This developed into a love of sci-fi, and to a little side crush on space combat games that has continued on to this very day. Whether it was the more serious simulation of Elite, the on-rails arcade-style fun of Starfox or, most recently, the roguelike joys of Everspace, the best of this genre have always found a special little place in my heart.
Which brings us to the game I'll be reviewing next. Developed by Mistfly games and published by Blowfish Studios, its store description tells us that we'll "Step into the cockpit of an intergalactic fighter and explore the great expanses of outer space. With more than 30 engaging story missions and sidequests spanning several star systems, Subdivision Infinity DX is an action-packed journey brimming with dogfights, boss battles and more, set against the stunning and wild outer reaches of the cosmos."
Sounds right up my alley (at least so far) but there was one other thing that also caught my eye, the fact that this is a budget title. Costing less than $15, and seemingly aiming for an Everspace type experience, I was interested to see what this little game would be able to pull off, and how it will compare to the competition. So, let's get on with it, shall we?
First up are the story and setting, and we'll get that out of the way quickly as there isn't much to it outside of the usual sci-fi dialogue. You play as an independent pilot, a freelancer going by the codename Rebel-1 and you're basically a ship for hire, carrying out odd-jobs on a case by case basis, working for whoever is willing to pay. And this time, the people willing to pay are a large mining conglomerate, who for reasons they can't explain have recently lost all contact with a few of their off-world locations. After receiving an initial distress call, the entire sector has gone dark. As the only pilot for light-years, it's your job to go in alone, investigate exactly what's happening out there and ultimately, to deal with a threat that might harm the entire known galaxy. As I said, the story is pretty basic and largely forgettable, and while it isn't bad, it certainly won't capture the imagination either. It's told through text scrawls mostly, with the conversation between you and AV2 (a robotic helper) serving as little more than a device to link the levels together and push along the gameplay by moving you through the various available sectors.
Beginning a new game will start you off with access to only one of these sectors at first but more will open up as you progress through the campaign. Each location has a selection of missions you need to progress through, starting simple and becoming more difficult as you go. They all have their own little story setup that gives your objectives, but as this is a space combat game, 95% of them boil down to "kill all the enemies". Now, to be fair, not only is the combat the best part but there are a few other objectives scattered here and there too. You might be tracking down a signal jammer or stealing info by hacking into an uplink, but these all feel very simple, becoming little more than waypoints that end in an inevitable dogfight. At first, these missions provide very little challenge; the enemies are weak and do little damage while chasing them down is rather easy, and your weapons powerful enough to destroy them quickly. This does change after a few missions though with enemies, and in particular the larger capital type ships, soon becoming too powerful for your starting craft and set-up; meaning you'll soon find yourself in need of an upgrade.
And to do that, it's off to the hangar we go. This is basically a loadout screen that appears before each mission, and it's here you can see all your ships, give them upgrades, or even get a new one altogether. There's also a store where you can purchase weapons and items, but all these various goodies certainly don't come free. Not only do you need to have reached a certain level before they unlock, but each item requires different resources too. Buying new weapons usually just needs a stack of cash. Owned ships can be improved with some different metals and various building kits, while new ships can be built by finding all the relevant blueprints. Acquiring new weapons, and improving your fleet of ships, quickly becomes essential or you'll soon find yourself underpowered and having real difficulty clearing the campaign missions. Unfortunately, collecting these resources was also the part of Subdivision Infinity DX that frustrated me the most. It's really rather grindy. And not in a way that's particularly interesting.
You see, not only does each Sector have a handful of story missions, but they also include a couple of "Exploration" missions too. These are basically large areas of space, much like the story levels, but instead of objectives to complete, your purpose here is simply to gather resources, with asteroids being the most abundant. Requiring a Mining laser to harvest, you can break up these rocks and receive a few units of metal to sell, with their worth varying depending on the type. Be warned though, these ores don't make much money and, if you want to upgrade regularly, you'll spend a LOT of time doing this. Along with the asteroids fields, also scattered throughout the vastness of space are certain much bigger asteroids, many of which have large caves, space stations and mining facilities located on them. Searching through these locations can throw up containers, a certain amount on each level, and they house not only resources for upgrades but, most valuable of all, ship blueprint pieces. Finding these containers can be a real pain, however, and even though you can buy probes to mark their locations on your HUD, actually finding them can get annoying, particularly inside the winding tunnels and dark caves of the asteroids, etc. Upon first unlocking these exploration levels, I thought they might break up the otherwise totally combat-based story missions, but I quickly found this wasn't the case.
As you move around these levels, harvesting ore and hunting down resource containers, you'll soon find yourself being swarmed with enemies every few minutes. Having to deal with them distracts you from resource gathering and, the longer you stay in the level, the more powerful and numerous the enemies that spawn. You will find yourself replaying the exact same exploration mission over and over, firstly to gain money, and secondly for experience to level up. If it wasn't for the fact that upgrades are essential to progress through the story, I'd probably have played these levels WAY less than I did. They end up feeling like busywork, and without this grind, the combat focused story missions would give a much shorter playtime.
This brings us to the actual meat and bones of the game, the part it does well. The actual minute-to-minute gameplay and the main focus: combat. As you fly around in the various missions, whether they are story or exploration, the ship controls well and feels responsive. As combat heats up and you have enemies attacking from all sides, your ability to move in all three directions while weaving between asteroids and pieces of superstructure really comes in handy and I never felt like I wasn't in control. The left stick strafes you around, moving up and down, left and right, while acceleration and brakes are assigned to LR and LB respectively. You also have a boost, fired by clicking down on LS, and it's useful for escaping a sudden ambush or chasing down that tricky opponent. While all the movement controls are on your left side, this leaves the right open to control all your weaponry, and the slight auto-aim makes high speed aiming much easier. Primary weapons like flak cannons or plasma blasters are on the right trigger, while secondary weapons like missiles or the mining laser are on the bumper. This works well as you can unleash a volley with a simple button press and send everything you have in a relatively quick manner. Now weapons do have ammo and need to reload or cool down in the case of energy weapons, but outside of this minor limitation you do feel suitably powerful at times, as you are able to unload round after round into the hulls of enemy craft. This really is the most enjoyable part of the game. Traveling around in space, seeing the various background features and items like asteroids and pieces of old facilities both looks and feels decent for a budget title, while the combat is responsive and fast-paced. Fighting in three dimensions while avoiding damage really is the games strongest suit and I wish they'd fleshed this out more rather than including the extremely grindy and repetitive resource gathering. Visually the game looks pretty decent considering its price and background features like stars and nebula all looked as awesome and massive as they should, while smaller items like ships are suitably flashy and sci-fi-like. This extends to enemies too, who have their own varied designs ranging from small one-man craft, right through to larger capital ships, and they all explode with a satisfying flash under the pulses of your weaponry. My only criticism would be that assets are reused a lot, with the same buildings or features appearing regularly in the same area but this ultimately wasn't a major problem.
Subdivision Infinity DX was an interesting little diversion, for what it is. While the story is basically just a reason to link stages together, the moment to moment gameplay is stylish and fun. Your ship feels responsive and controls well, while combat is fast and frantic. Smaller enemies explode satisfactorily and larger capital ships fracture and burn when you destroy them. The grind, however, really does count against it, and the constant need to mine cash becomes a chore quite quickly. Although it doesn't have the mission variety or different approach options of Everspace (probably its nearest competitor), it's also only half the price. This is one to consider for all the space cadets like me. Don't expect too much outside of combat, and you might find it worth the price!
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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