Developer: Jason Rohrer
Inside A Star-Filled Sky hails from the quite remarkable and intensely worrying mind of veteran Indie architect Jason Rohrer. His work includes the hybrid freeform adventure Sleep Is Death, but at first glance, this latest effort seems to be distinctly out of character. In fact, it appears to be mainstream.
The WASD keys guide a small, randomly-generated creature around sprawling mazes whilst the mouse allows firepower to be independently targeted. Just like nearly every other 2D shooter on the market. The art design and music is both soothing and deeply attractive, but after a minute or two, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it hasn't managed to rise above the majority of its peers that glut the crowded genre.
And then everything clicks as you undergo a genuinely startling revelation. Inside A Star-Filled Sky is is a truly infinite game... because every enemy, powerup and even the player character is a procedurally-generated level in itself.
Highlighting any object and pressing the shift key causes the camera to suddenly zoom in, with the sprite in question ballooning outwards and becoming the level itself. Upon entering the monster or object in question (or even yourself), collecting item pickups in completely changes the attributes of your host. You can become stronger by entering your own body- but enemies and items can be manipulated in the same way.
This is very difficult to describe without a practical example. Imagine that you've encountered an opponent that's too difficult to defeat. Rather than engaging in a futile showdown, you can simply leap inside your adversary and completely change its attributes from within by collecting detrimental pickups. Those negative power-downs can be further enhanced by leaping inside them and collecting further pickups... and the enemies encountered within can be weakened by entering them... and your own character can then be strengthened by entering itself... and then...
... ad infinitum. Each layer becomes progressively more difficult, but the core concept essentially furnishes you with an experience that never truly ends. Hundreds of thousands of possible weapon and powerup combinations are available (including different fire modes, health states etc), and procedurally generated fractal-esque levels means that the term 'infinite' is neither inaccurate or overblown. It's very literal indeed.
This profoundly impressive level of content and extended playability is inevitably accompanied (and made possible) by a lack of focus. As you'd expect, there's no story or progression to speak of; rather, you'll keep playing just to enjoy the experience in all of its inexplicable, life-affirming glory. Many players will find it to be just a little too left field or quirky for their tastes, but it's absolutely perfect to dip into every now and again.
Performance-wise, Inside A Star-Filled Sky will run on practically anything with a screen and a hard drive thanks to attractive yet easily-rendered sprites. Whilst there's no way to alter graphical settings from within the game, you'll be able to mess about a fair few options by messing around inside some .ini files (possibly a clever allusion to the nature of the gameplay?). Slashing the frame rate to 30FPS allows it to run on even the most basic of netbooks, meaning that the morning commute is now the perfect opportunity for some existential shenanigans.
- Unprecedented and exciting core concept
- Colourful, attractive visuals
- Infinite replayability. Infinite scope. Infinite everything!
- Lack of focus
- Limited graphical settings
- The mind-blowing revelation might drive you insane
The Short Version: Inside A Star-Filled Sky is an unassuming Indie masterpiece that deserves your immediate attention. It may be Rohrer's most accessible and least prepossessing title thus far, but it also manages to be the most impressive. A remarkable achievement.