It’s sad to be reminded that there is such a thing as being excessively British, but Big Sky Infinity’s continual attempts to wrap itself in ‘cheekie chappie’ charm continually fall flat, grate, and will likely push you towards the options menu in a desperate bid to disable the vocalized narration at the very least. Fortunately for the rather catchy and oft-drowned-out soundtrack, the game does offer this particular mercy, although it doesn’t make the in-game manual any less trying to read, where the same meme-laced, overtly wacky material is repeated ad nauseum.
Shooter design is as much an art as a science, with intangible vagaries becoming all the more important the longer you play.
Fortunately, Big Sky Infinity is a score-attack shooter first and foremost, and a comedy skit very much second, although some quirks in its formula act as sharp reminders that shooter design is as much an art as a science, with intangible vagaries becoming all the more important the longer you play and attempt to immerse yourself in the experience. While there are a lot of interesting elements at work here, I’m not entirely sure if they gel into a coherent whole, especially considering the score-focused gameplay.
Team Laser Explosion
There’s no plot here, just a vague premise; you’re flying a little spaceship through asteroids, angry aliens and entire planets (which you can tunnel through with a handy drill attack) in a mission to collect shiny objects for points and survive as long as you can. While there’s a whole range of playmodes including quick-play, boss rush, arcade and classic (wherin you level up between plays), it all plays out on the same semi-randomly generated horizontally scrolling plane. The left analogue stick moves you, the right analogue stick fires, and the shoulder buttons toggle the drill on or off, or (if held) perform a spinning close-range attack. There’s not room for a huge degree of subtlety here beyond occasionally not firing in order to conserve shot power, but that’s fine – this is closer to Canabalt in philosophy than R-Type.
The randomly generated levels are simultaneously the greatest strength (making it easy to go for ‘just one more’ run after dying), and its greatest weakness, stripping you of your ability to memorize and prepare for anything other than boss encounters, and throwing an interesting monkey-wrench into the scoring system. Things may average out if you survive particularly long, but it’s possible to play one game with high-scoring elements and multipliers thrown continually at you, and another where there’s nothing but small-fry enemies to deal with. Without memorization to fall back on, the game does develop a feel of its own, with reflexes and general knowledge of the game becoming more important than specific layouts, but it is a pretty big mental shift to make if you’re used to the status quo in the genre.
There’s an undeniable loop of compulsion here, especially in how you slowly upgrade your power in Classic mode, and unlock a steady stream of features and optional playmodes through achieving certain goals, and it’s quick and easy to jump back in once you die. One rather questionable decision is that in Classic mode, the cost of higher-tier upgrades becomes downright silly after a point, and the apparent solution presented is an in-game cash-shop (it didn’t seem to be active when I looked today, though) that’ll offer upgrade points in exchange for real moolah. If you got the game for ‘free’ as part of the PSN+ package, that doesn’t seem so bad, but if you’ve already paid full price, it does seem a tad cheeky.
It’s possible to play one game with high-scoring elements and multipliers thrown continually at you, and another where there’s nothing but small-fry enemies to deal with.
Visually, the game is pleasant for the most part. The effects are pretty spectacular, despite the almost silhouetted, lo-fi look of most of the sprites. It’s still a little surprising to see the framerate plunge on a fairly regular basis, especially on the PS3. I’ve not tried the (supposedly functionally identical) PS Vita version, but it seems safe to assume that the issue is just as bad (if not worse) there – presumably due to the game’s over-reliance on screen-warping, glowing, fogging or otherwise framebuffer-mauling effects. Load-times are another technical issue, with loading screens being frequent and a few seconds too long in the PS3 version. While retrying after death is almost immediate, going back to the menus to change anything feels like a bit of a slog.
I’ve grumbled quite a bit here, but Big Sky Infinity isn’t a bad game, merely not the kind of thing I really look for in a scrolling shooter. It also comes out just as the genre seems to be making a bit of a resurgence, and some of the best and brightest in shooter design are bringing their games to handhelds and smartphones. At least in the UK, the game is currently available as part of the PSN+ package on PS3, so snap it up if you’re a subscriber – there’s no harm in giving it a spin for youself. As for whether it’s worth the money? Personally, I’d say the game structure lends itself better to quick bursts gaming on the go, so if you’ve got a Vita, then give it a look. If you’re sitting comfortably at a sofa or desk, then you’ll probably want something a little meatier.