Available exclusively on PSN as part of the cross-buy initiative that offers gamers both the PS3 and PS Vita versions for one price, Big Sky Infinity is Boss Baddie studios evolution of its original PC-based twin-stick shooter Big Sky and its subsequent sequel Really Big Sky. With Voofoo Studios of Hustle Kings and Pure Chess fame also aiding development, Big Sky Infinity builds on the foundation of the previous games by combining frenetic space-based shoot ‘em up action with an ultra-competitive community arena, as well as a clever and addictive levelling system that has kept us coming back for more.
Big Sky Infinity is typical of the twin-stick shooters which have been doing the rounds on various platforms, piers and arcades for many years. Action takes place in outer-space and players move their small spaceship freely anywhere on screen with the left analogue stick. The right analogue stick is used to control the angle of the ship’s lasers with the freedom given to move its trajectory 360 degrees, while the ‘X’ button, or right bumper, is used to drill through planets and trigger spin attacks. The screen scrolls from left to right and the action is unrelenting as an increasing amount of enemies and laser-fire fills the screen.
What is quite unusual is that there are no levels as such. In the game’s Classic Mode, you simply need to try and progress for as long as possible, shooting down a variety of alien craft in an attempt to rack up the highest score, beat your personal best and improve your position on the global online leaderboards. Gameplay is procedurally generated and alters dynamically depending on your skills. If you’re doing well for example, the A.I. gets tougher and more enemies are thrown at you. Consequently, Big Sky Infinity is a tough, challenging game and having played over 50 rounds so far, we’ve barely lasted more than a couple of minutes in each session. However, the beauty of being challenged in such a way is that you do feel like you’re progressing and getting better on each turn and feel compelled to keep trying.
This is largely due to the clever levelling system that is implemented in Classic Mode. You level up through gaining points, but you also get access to a wide range of upgrades by collecting starbits. Starbits are essentially the game’s currency and can be collected by passing through starbit gates and blasting enemies to bits. Before each game in Classic Mode, you get to spend those starbits on improving your craft. Among the upgrades available, you can increase the size and range of your shield, improve the power of your lasers or the speed of your ship. There’s a lot of upgrades available and it looks like it’s going to take some time to fully level-up each stat. Indeed, part of the game’s appeal is watching your craft grow stronger and seeing how these upgrades help your progression in-game.
There’s a decent range of enemies and bosses too with the likes of homers that annoyingly follow you around until you kill them and splitters that explode and multiply. There’s also enemies that can be used to your advantage, such as the boomers who shy away from laser fire and then explode killing everything around them. Though the variety of enemy types and missiles creates a visually impressive and intense shoot ‘em up experience, all you’re really tasked with is trying to move out the way of projectiles and aiming your laser at anything that pops up on screen. In that respect, gameplay does get a little repetitive, and without levels to break things up you’re often fighting against the same enemies across the same backdrops over and over again.
Nonetheless, having to keep an eye out for planets and asteroids, using the ‘X’ button to drill through them, adds an extra dimension to the gameplay, as does the ability to detonate claymores with a tap of the back touchscreen or spinning your craft to smash enemies to smithereens when things get really tough. The fact that you can only spin your craft up to four times in each round also adds an element of strategy. One of the most enjoyable moments in game is triggering the spin attack when the screen is full of activity and watching your score in the top right-hand corner go crazy as you smash enemies to bits.
Big Sky Infinity throws a lot of stats at you, which is great if you want to see how you’ve progressing. You can see how many points you’ve earned per second, averages throughout each game mode, the highest multiplier you’ve scored and much more. Indeed, presentation as a whole is impressive with separate sections for stats and worldwide scores, as well as a library that details every enemy, skill and boss in the game. That slick presentation extends to the narration which is quite humorous with a very-British voice-over telling you that “you’re a spoon”, if you fail, or that “he’ll buy you a lovely packet of crisps” if you do well. That Britishness extends to the library, where it compares Big Sky Infinity’s Arcade mode to a “weathered Yorkshire labourer at the local pub.” After a while, the narrator can be a little annoying as he repeats the same sayings over and over again, but generally the sense of humour is a welcome addition to what is a serious and intense shoot ‘em up.
Outside of Classic Mode, there’s a fair few game modes to get stuck into, though the developer makes you work to unlock them. Personally, we’d rather have had all this stuff unlocked from the outset, though it hasn’t taken us more than a couple of hours to unlock the likes of Boss Rush, Arcade, Countdown, Nightmare and Hell modes. There’s also Marathon mode and Pacifism, where you can’t shoot at all, as well a multiplayer mode called Horse.
The multiplayer system on Vita works very well. Leaderboards are updated in real-time so you can always see where you stand before and after each session and you can set up challenges for others to pick up and vice versa. You can pick and choose game mode and game types – perhaps choosing to mix Boss Rush with Starbits so that you’re fighting against the bosses, but the aim is to pick up the most amount of Starbits. This means you can come up with a lot of different challenge types and therefore there’s plenty of replay value in challenging friends and the online universe. The PS3 version also supports 2-4 players local co-op and a handy little feature called Cloud Save which allows you to pick up where you left off on either the Vita or PS3 version.
Without levels to plough through, Big Sky Infinity does initially feel like there’s no depth at all to it. However, as you start to earn starbits, upgrade your craft and feel how your craft progressing that one-more-go mentality kicks right in and it all starts to make sense. Gameplay is fast-paced, intense and challenging and despite the fact there’s plenty of enemy, audio and backdrop repetition, the control scheme is intuitive and there’s plenty of fun to be had out of building your craft to the best it can possibly be and then trying to improve on each blast through. Let’s be honest here; Big Sky Infinity isn’t about to be hailed as the new king of twin-stick shoot ‘em ups when there’s the likes of Super Stardust Delta or Geometry Wars around, but it is going to provide hours of fun for competitive types who just have to unlock everything and those who like their arcade action fast-paced and challenging.
Note: A big, big reminder that Big Sky Infinity is available to PS Plus members in Europe for free for a limited time only. Also, there will be a starbit shop opening shortly on the PlayStation Store where players can purchase starbits to upgrade their craft.