Planet Alpha ApS / Team17 Digital Ltd (studio)
09 September 2018 (released)
10 September 2018
Since Inside, there have been many designers and directors keen on capturing the same type of vulgar and engaging visual style and gameplay. Many tried and many failed, never capturing the simple yet highly effective method of storytelling and flawless combination of many different visceral gameplay elements. Now another indie developer has decided to take on the challenge but turn everything completely on its head, adding colour, beauty and pleasing aesthetics, yet keeping the same tone in many respects. Does Planet Alpha do this well?
Let’s find out.
There’s no denying that Planet Alpha is a strikingly beautiful game. The low polygon, ultra-smooth and brightly colourful visuals really do stand out for a game in this type of genre. While other games in this genre tend to focus on vastly deep contrasts between light and shadow and immense detail, Planet Alpha is able to create the foundations and develop world in a simple format. That’s not to say this visual form of presentation is not highly immersive, it is. There’s a wonderful contrast to colours, elevation of terrains in the fore and background and a remarkable sense of creativity when you organic life in action.
Various architectures have a mysterious and alien tone to them, making them visually spectacular to explore and also grants engaging elements for environmental storytelling. While many may compare this to another game with a similar visual style, Planet Alpha breaks away from a game like No Man’s Sky due to its immense and layered detail while remaining within the confines of its simple art style.
As you may be wondering, if a game looks this then surely it’s covering up for faults in the gameplay? Well I have to be honest and say that while Planet Alpha does introduce some interesting ideas, it fails to utilise them.
Players will take the role of a lone explorer, as they side scroll across a magnificent planet encountering various puzzles and dangers along the way. There is never a clear goal, other than to persist further and keep moving forward. Along this journey players will face a number of different obstacles including the ravenous wildlife, dangerous terrains and planet bending puzzles where you can literally change day to night and rotate the planet as a whole.
Exploration across Planet Alpha is completed through simple platforming, allowing players to grasp a sense of control and movement easily enough. There are some nice traversal puzzles that helps build the complexity of Planet Alpha while integrating trial and error segments as well. While I have no problem with Trial and error as it’s something that can enhance platforming games if done right. Planet Alpha does these moments relativity well but due to certain control issues, these can be a little annoying at times.
Controls can often feel a little unresponsive and floaty, meaning that timing can be off or judging the distance between jumps can prove a little more perplexing than it should be. Many of the set pieces are fine, some of which are incredibly intense and exciting. But what doesn’t help is that the same type of set pieces are often recycled. The falling platform segment is seen a little too often and is only expanded upon with the scale but never adds to the complexity. Thus it becomes a little formulated and dull when you have to complete these.
There are other gameplay set pieces worked in, including stealth segments which work fine if not being a little overly simplified. These segments feel too linear and can be easily deciphered within a few minutes at most. Still some of these moments do make use of the environments and can be genuinely intense from time to time.
Then there is the most interesting gameplay mechanic, the alteration of Planet Alpha. This is where the player can rotate and manipulate the Planet itself in order to solve a number of puzzles across the journey. While this is an interesting idea and one that could have great potential, it’s never explored or expanded upon. The majority of puzzles that feature this mechanic usually revolve around the player rotating the planet until something clicks. It is an interesting idea to be able to control the shifts of night to day and rotate an entire planet, but it lacks depth and weight to make it meaningful.
While Planet Alpha does lack depth in certain areas, it’s still an enjoyable journey with some neat platforming and stunning visuals. While it doesn’t live up to Play Dead’s Inside, it does at least take a different approach and adds colour, beauty and scope in a genre that became a little too black and white.
Still worth checking out.
++ Visually beautiful
+ Some great exploration and set pieces
- Lateral elements lack depth
- Controls need a little more refinements
A PS4 review copy of Planet Alpha was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.