c_rakestraw's Space Invaders Infinity Gene (PlayStation Network (PS3)) review

Space Invaders: Bullet-hell edition

Upon starting Space Invaders Infinity Gene's campaign, one is met with the following quote from Charles Darwin:

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

Strong words. Words that say a lot about the state of Space Invaders over the past few years and its efforts to stay relevant. It's many evolutions have, for the most part, always remained small and inconsequential to the core gameplay. Space Invaders Infinity Gene, however, the latest in the popular space shooter series, sees one of the more drastic yet all the while small shifts in the series yet: the move to bullet-hell territory. A definite change from the usual systematic approach of alien dispatch. By disposing its previously methodical nature, Infinity Gene creates a more thrilling experience where quick reflexes triumph over strategy, unlike its predecessors. Along with this, Infinity Gene brings with it a megaton of content to blast through, which lends it not only a strong lasting value but the title of one of the better incarnations of the series in a long time, as well.

The theme of Space Invaders Infinity Gene is evolution. In this case, the evolutionary process of moving from a methodical column-shooter into pure bullet-hell chaos. It begins with an arcade-perfect port of the original Space Invaders that, unfortunately, lasts for all of five seconds before it whisks you away to the game proper. Once passed, you're moved to a construct similar to that of 2008's Space Invaders Extreme in that you're faced with the same columns of invaders but with foes of varying sizes mixed in. The entirety of the first level, which is split into six smaller stages (as are the rest of the levels), sticks to that basic approach. The only evolutions that occur at first are the unlocking of additional types of ships and the amount of lives you start off with. (Unlocks occur every time the Evolution Gauge is filled at the end of each level, which is done by scoring well as points feed gauge's progress.) It's not until the second level that the first real significant evolution is made: full freedom of movement.

Once you get there, things start to change drastically. No more are you just eliminating columns of foes one at a time; instead, you're fighting off nearly endless waves of invaders that enter the ring from every side and angle imaginable, typically at blistering speeds. Everything moves fast -- so much so, in fact, that you often don't get any time to react to the sudden entrance of foes. By the time you notice their presence, you'll have likely already been destroyed. Its frustrating at first due to how cheap of a tactic that appears to be, but it's key aspect of the experience. A bit of trial-and-error may annoy at first, but once you begin anticipating your enemies movements and spawn points and begin using that info to your advantage to rack up points en masse, the brilliance of the game's design starts to set in. Weaving through legions of foes and bullets with ease is an art in and of itself. The skill necessary to pull off flawless runs of levels is demanding, but hugely satisfying once you ascertain the correct means of doing so. This isn't anything new for the genre, sure (a bit ironic for a game centered around evolution), but it still works wonders, which is more than enough for this style of game.

 And besides, what other kind of shooter produces set-pieces like this on a near constant basis?
As you move onward, the game makes a few minor aesthetic upgrades as it increases the intensity of the action. Static, plain background images appear throughout the stages of the first two levels that then change into slightly more dynamic images throughout the three remaining levels. Small elements like walls and pillars populate the play-field and endanger your well-being while effects like color and pulsating patterns appear in the background to give it more flash. A great accompaniment for the stylish wireframe aesthetic used to render you, your foes, and environmental elements, which gives the game a very appealing minimalistic visual style. Amongst all this, the intensity of the action increases as well, with more and more types of enemies surfacing as time goes on until it all eventually reaches a crescendo of madness that throws a myriad of foes at you, both stationary and mobile, while moving through a structure armed to the teeth with weaponry. By that point, the game transforms into a fully three-dimensional shooter, complete with changes in camera perspective.

A major departure from the standard isometric view that the game uses almost exclusively up until then, the change repositions the view behind the ship itself to give you a better view of what's directly ahead and generally disorient you. Adjusting yourself to moving about in a three-dimensional space here is far from easy; discerning where it is you can move in the foreground, sure -- your ship is practically pressed against the TV screen when in the foreground -- but in the background? Not so much. Distance is the primary obstacle; judging how far enemies are from your vessel is challenging due to you not having as clear a picture as you do with the isometric view. Moving behind foes off in the distance is especially challenging since they obscure your view your ship. It presents an interesting and welcome challenge. It's also the biggest evolution here. Unfortunately, segments where the 3D side comes into play are sorely underused and only appear during a couple of levels. All that's left then is seeing enemies and environmental elements rendered in 3D. That's all fine and dandy, but it's not quite as significant or noteworthy.

Apart from the mechanics, your weaponry is also affected by evolution. You begin with a standard double-barrel cannon as your weapon: A serviceable means of alien dispatch during the first set of stages, but a quickly defunct method as the intensity of the action grows. To better combat the onslaught of invaders, newer weaponry regularly becomes available, presenting you with myriad options of firepower. From a ship that fires an expanding wave of energy to one that instantly locks-on to foes both in front and behind you and pummels them with lasers to one accompanied by attack drones for added firepower, Infinity Gene has options aplenty. Each ship has its own style of play, which not only encourages experimentation to find the right ship for you, but also provides a nice bevy of ways to challenge yourself on previously conquered levels.

 Like trying to take down all those invaders with the aforementioned double-barrel canon. It ain't easy, let me tell ya.
There is one especially disruptive presence in the bunch, though: the "Field" weapon. What this one does is expand a large circle around yourself that decimates anything that enters it. Whether your foes be big or small, the weapon makes ultra-fast work of your adversaries without you so much as lifting a finger. In fact, once its fully powered up (power-ups are earned by destroying UFOs that stream across the top-half of the screen), you get by just about anything just by sitting in the center of the screen, as it covers the entire screen almost once fully upgraded. Using this weapon robs the game of its intense nature and makes it a mere cakewalk -- a major detriment to the gameplay. Granted, you don't have to use it, but given its enticing powers, it's hard not to use it. It's therefore a detriment and would have been better left unincorporated.

In terms of content, Infinity Gene is vast, containing 140 plus levels in all. A lot of content to preoccupy yourself with, certainly, especially with the added competitive aspect of leaderboards -- and that's not even counting the game's music mode. One of the more singular features of Infinity Gene, music mode allows you to create new levels using tracks of music stored on your console's hard drive, thus providing a near limitless amount of content. That's quite a steal given the game's $10 asking price.

For a bullet-hell shooter on the cheap, Space Invaders Infinity Gene is easily a bargain. Its new take on the series formula is welcome and gives a nice refreshing change from the methodical gameplay of its predecessors. And with so much content available it's certain to keep you preoccupied for many months to come. For only $10, this game is an absolute steal for bullet-hell fans and Space Invaders enthusiasts alike.
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