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Freeware Friday: Infiniminer

Welcome to Freeware Friday, a weekly column showcasing excellent games that you can play free of charge!

Much like Iji or pretty much any game released by Flashbang Studios, some games simply grab your attention as soon as they are released and refuse to let go for quite a while afterward. Infiniminer, which was released earlier this month, is one such game. We haven't felt the tingle of such a superbly crafted engineering game since Dwarf Fortress, and the combination of building and mining help distinguish Infiniminer from other underground romps such as Spelunky. Be cautious: once you download and start this game, you may not stop playing for a long time. You have been warned.

Infiniminer, like many indie games, is completely devoid of story. You are simply miners looking for loot. There are no cutscenes and no explanations; gameplay is the only motivating factor here. If you really want to read into it, you could remark on the bleakness of the landscape, the futility of the mining, or the vicious nature of the two teams fighting each other. But really, who cares? All that matters is how much fun you have. And trust us, Infiniminer is chock full of good times.

The graphics in Infiniminer are not stunning in the traditional sense, but they are not terrible either. Everything has a distinct visual style that instantly "pops", conveying the information you need instantly without any thinking. Everything is done in pixel-graphics, with blocks being 3D and characters being paper-thing 2D cut-outs. Any equipment besides your mining pick is also represented by a first-person pixelated gun/tool. While the base textures are simple and the lighting is non-existant, there is bloom lighting as well as normal light emissions from certain blocks to help with navigation. In the end, the only thing that the game wants you to know is that you can see everything you want to in a crisp, recognizable format.

The actual gameplay of Infiniminer is entirely multiplayer. Based around the earlier alpha and beta tests of the game, two modes were developed. The first, and traditional, mode is known as Competition. In competition, players must attempt to reach a certain threshold of cash generated from bringing loot to the surface. They do this by mining the loot blocks and simply surviving to reach +01 altitude. Players may also construct structures from blocks, but require ore to do so, which is the dirt block that is speckled with grey.

The second gameplay mode, which evolved out of the natural desire to create awesome underground fortresses, is Sandbox. Sandbox was only added in the most recent update, and changes several core rules of the game from competition. First, there is no win condition present. You can get all the loot you want, but it won't let you win. Second, constructed blocks cost no ore whatsoever, allowing builders to construct without constantly running back to ore stockpiles. Where competition is a fiercely aggressive game of mining and sabotage, Sandbox is much more peaceful.

In both modes, you can choose from one of four classes to play as. These classes are:

  1. The Miner, which can dig the fastest and hold the most loot of all the classes. The Miner is a transport and selective removal tool, as his incredibly fast mining rate and large loot capacity allow him to stealthily steal gold veins from enemies. Unfortunately, his ore stockpile is the standard size (200) and he is the most limited on blocks that can be constructed.
  2. The Prospector, which looks for veins using his trusty propectron. Once a vein has been found and excavated enough to be visible, the Prospector can place a beacon to indicate to his teammates that a vein is there. Has the standard 200/4 ore/loot carry capacity and a normal dig rate. Works best with another class to dig where they point.
  3. The Engineer, which is the team's builder and support. Can hold the most ore (350) and can build all blocks except solid blocks of the enemy color and explosive blocks. This includes the bank block, which allows teammates to get stored ore from the team's stockpile or to store ore themselves. The Engineer is a vital member of any team, as he builds the infrastructure that allows people to reach the surface with their hard-won loot. He is also the primary class in Sandbox, as he has the largest amount of buildable blocks.
  4. The Sapper, which is the only offensive member of the team. The Sapper is much like the Prospector, but with large explosives instead of a prospectron. For half his ore payload, a Sapper can place an indestructible, remotely-detonated TNT block. This block can be used to clear large tracts of space quickly, clear the area around loot (explosions do not destroy loot), destroy the troublesome lava and rock blocks, or simply as an offensive measure to kill other players. Be warned that this explosion does have friendly fire, and explodes in a 5x5x3 area.

Out of all the trials you will face, two in particular will be the most daunting to you in your search for mad lewts. The first is rocks, which are indestructible to everything except a Sapper's TNT. Unfortunately, they come in large chunks and nothing of value is ever within, so they serve only to slow you down. The other is lava, the everpresent menace of the lower levels. Lava is indestructible (except to TNT), cannot be built on, and will instantly kill a player if they touch it. It also flows into all free space possible. It is truly the bane of the experienced miner.

Infiniminer is a game of amazing simplicity and firm hooks. Already it is being modded to allow more options, and with this latest update, Zachtronics even included a server browser so that direct connection is no longer required. From the simple prototype to an addictive multiplayer construction game, Infiniminer is one of the best freeware games around. You can download the client and server from the official website. Windows users only, as it requires XNA and .Net redistributables in order to be played (also available on the developer's site).

For another look at freeware games, take a peek at Joystiq's Free Game Club weekly feature!

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