Infinite Space is a space-based real time combat game based on the critically acclaimed novel Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. The game begins when Yuri, a young boy from the Ropesk system, hires a "Launcher" named Nia Lochain. Launchers are "people smugglers" who take people from one system to the next. However, Nia's ship, the Daisy, is fired upon by the Ropesk government, which has put a ban on space travel. Yuri helps repair the ship and they set out to fulfill Yuri's dream of becoming a "Zero-G Dog", or space explorer.
Infinite Space is a mix of 2D and 3D real-time combat coupled with deep and extensive customization of ships and crew.
Each crew member that Yuri hires has a certain unique numerical value assigned to each of ten skills (Leadership, Control, Navigation, Artillery, Maintenance, Science, Piloting, Medicine, Management, and Combat), indicating their proficiency in each. In addition, each crew member has between one and three special skills that make them more effective in a certain field. Based on these numbers, the player must assign the crew member a position somewhere in the fleet, such as the kitchen, the medical bay, or at the guns. For example, a crew member that has a Medicine skill of 11 and a combat skill of three is better suited to the medical bay than to the fighter squad. The player must make decisions between crew members to maximize efficiency and minimize crew fatigue and unhappiness.
Another way to make Yuri's fleet more effective is with modules. Modules increase a ship's overall stats, such as speed, armor, and weapon strength. Modules can be set to determine defense, offense, resource management, and even crew happiness. The modules come in pre-set shapes, and the ship has a specifically shaped area in which to place modules, making careful placement of them is key to the ship's efficiency. This is handled in a Tetris-style segment where experimentation and thoughtful planning are paramount if the player wishes to maximize the efficiency of their ship and its components. They can, however, be rearranged to make room for new modules. Fleet formation can also be altered so that stronger ships are in front.
Combat is handled with a command gauge that slowly fills and refills over time, and a rangefinder that determines weapon effectiveness. To be able to attack, the player must move within range of the opponent, indicated by a ruler across the top of the field. There are three basic commands when in ship combat: 'dodge', 'normal', and 'barrage'. Dodge requires the least expenditure of the command gauge (must be in the green zone) and will result in an evasive maneuver. Normal requires more expenditure of the gauge (must be in the yellow zone) and is simply a normal attack. Barrage requires the most expenditure of the gauge (must be in the red zone) and is a heavy three-round burst--basically three times as powerful as a normal attack. The combat itself works something like rock-paper-scissors: a dodge will evade a barrage but will increase the accuracy of the enemy's normal attack. A normal attack will be much more likely to hit an opponent who has attempted to dodge but cannot match up to a barrage. Finally, a barrage is much more powerful than a normal attack but is extremely unlikely to hit if the enemy is attempting to dodge. The gauge refills automatically and relatively quickly, so conservation is not much of an issue as long as the crew is not too severely injured. Being able to predict what the enemy might do next is important to survive the battles. This can be summarised as:
- Normal > dodge
- Dodge > barrage
- Barrage >normal
Other options besides those core choices include Fighters (a yellow zone attack in which multiple ships swarm the enemy), Anti-Air (spec permitting, a green zone attack that counters a Fighter command), and Special (an ability that is unique to different crew members and varies wildly).
When close enough to an enemy ship, the option to board the ship is made available if the command gauge is in the red zone. This initiates a melee battle with the enemy crew, in which the loser is the side that runs out of crew members first. Once again, there are three options available that work in a rock-paper-scissors format: 'Slash', 'shoot', and 'leader'. Slash is a blade attack that is more effective if the opponent has chosen the shoot option but less effective if they have chosen the leader option. Shoot is a projectile attack that is more effective if the enemy has chosen the leader option, but less effective if the opponent has chosen the slash option. Leader is an attack that is specifically directed at the enemy captain. It is more effective if the enemy has chosen slash, but less effective if the enemy has chosen shoot. This can be summarised as:
- Slash > shoot
- Shoot > leader
- Leader > slash
As in ship combat, a special skill can be used, though the difference here is that they can only be used once per battle and are simply more powerful versions of the basic commands.
Exploration is also a key factor in the game, as while traveling between systems players will sometimes discover "celestial objects" such as nebulae. These increase fame, which in turn allows players to hire better crew members. Players can also take on small jobs at the taverns located in each spaceport.