Digital Eel's Strange Adventures in Infinite Space is an incredibly addictive space exploration game that plays like a cross between a board game and Star Control.
The game is best described as the condensed version of Star Control: imagine the same sense of humor you have come to know and love in Accolade's classic, minus the grand plot, mix with more intergalactic business savvy, and you'll have a good idea of what SAIS is all about. As a space explorer, your objective, in the game's offcial words, is simple: "explore exotic star systems; seek out new technologies, artifacts and lifeforms; boldly blow up stuff where no one has has blown up stuff before!" You basically explore the gameworld, interact with aliens you encounter (some of whom are hostile), and barter with goods in your cargo. You gain money for accomplishing tasks in your mission, such as capturing lifeforms, finding alien artifacts, or finding habitable planets. The game is timed in a sense that everything you do, e.g. travelling to different planets, repairing your ships, and engaging in ship-to-ship combat, takes a certain amount of game time.
One of the best things about SAIS (and there are many of them) is the fun ship-to-ship combat model. The weapons and ship designs are not as inventive as what you get in the melee mode of Star Control 2, but the action is no less fun. The action is fast, fluid, and full of spectacular weapon effects. At first I was a bit annoyed when seeing ships pass through one another, until Rich kindly told me that space is 3D, so those ships actually pass under each other :P
With excellent graphics, top-notch gameplay, and even a rocking soundtrack (although I like the ones in Plasmaworm more), SAIS is one of the best space exploration games you'll ever play. Although it's quite short (each game takes only 10-20 minutes to complete), randomization guarantees infinite replayability, and the game is so addictive you won't even miss the save feature. The short length makes SAIS ideal for a quick round during coffee breaks. Be careful, though -- given the game's extremely high "just one more game" quotient, you might have too much fun playing the game to notice when your break is over. Here's hoping for more titles from Digital Eel... hopefully with boss key built in so it will be less risky to play their games at work ;) The full version, which costs only $15, features over 20 ship types, 69 artifacts and ship components, 7 unique alien races, and much more. Try out the demo today to find out what Star Control 3 really should have been, but wasn't. Two thumbs up, and a proud entrant into our Hall of Belated Fame.