Spawned from the 2003 PC space trader title of the same name, Flatspace is all about navigating the depths of the cosmos on a quest for fame and fortune. You start off in a pretty weedy ship with weak weapons, flimsy armour, and a tiny cargo hold.
From this humble platform you build yourself a galactic empire in order to complete the game’s ultimate objective: reassemble a legendary intergalactic hyper-drive. Whether or not you choose to achieve this aim via honest trade or devious pillaging is up to you.
Success lies in the strength of your spacecraft. As the cash comes rolling in you can purchase larger ships with the capacity to carry deadlier weapons or even their own fleets of fighter craft.
Customising your ship is of paramount importance. To perform actions such as picking up asteroids, cargo, or even people a tractor beam is required. Scanners are another vital component - these give you information about everything from cargo to pilots that have a bounty on their heads.
Getting gold for these desirable extras isn’t just a case of popping down your local spaceship dealership and enquiring about the interest-free options. In the cold and unforgiving universe, no one gives credit.
It’s possible to raise funds by trading items peacefully between the different spaceports that dot deep space. You can also earn cash by performing missions, such as delivering cargo or rescuing prisoners.
The latter option obviously hinges on you adopting a belligerent stance and arming your craft with weapons powerful enough to take down the vicious pirates that stalk the galaxy’s trading routes.
Of course, the option is always there to join the ranks of these good-for-nothing mercenaries. In fact, you might find that cash comes your way in a much swifter fashion than if you slavishly follow the honest route to riches.
This unrestricted nature is part of the game's charm: there isn’t a right or wrong path to take. The degree of freedom on display here is staggering at times.
For example, if you’re tired of hunting down innocent ships for their precious goods, why not issue a distress signal and make the ships come to you? Once they turn up you can fry them with your lasers and demand they hand over their cargo.
There’s always the chance that your beacon might attract the unwanted attention of a space pirate in a bigger, meaner ship who will mistake you for a craft that is legitimately in trouble and therefore an easy target for pillage. As such, there's an element of risk involved.
Few iPhone games are able to boast the level of depth that Flatspace possesses. You could play for weeks and still not see everything it has to offer. Because each game is randomly generated, it could potentially go on forever.
Despite this bountiful scope, Flatspace has a few issues that tarnish the experience.
The learning curve is so sharp it’s practically a wall - one which requires a significant amount of scrambling to surmount. You’re dropped into the game without any introduction or training. Don't feel bad if you spend your first few hours in a confused state.
Controlling your craft also presents problems. Flatspace uses the accelerometer for movement, while a thruster is activated by a virtual button. When you’re navigating wide open portions of space the system works fine, but as soon as you enter an asteroid field avoiding obstacles quite literally becomes a hit-and-miss affair.
A virtual control pad would have been nice, but it’s unlikely to be included in a future update as the screen is already filled with a multitude of other elements. No calibration setting for the accelerometer also poses a problem.
Such niggles ultimately pale in comparison to the awesome scope. There are so many different ways to play that it’s truly staggering at times.
The iPhone has unquestionably witnessed some amazing gaming concepts, and while Flatspace isn’t perfect by any means, it offers a something that no other title on the App Store has managed so far: an almost boundless experience.