Are you a fan of games such as Inside, Limbo, Little Nightmares, and the classic that is Another World? Are you also a fan of No Man’s Sky, and do you lie awake at night constantly thinking that there should be a hybrid of these games? It sounds like an idea people get just as they are falling asleep at 2 in the morning, right? You can feel sleep coming on, you completely relax, here it comes and then BANG! You start thinking about some weird crap like “the only time the word incorrectly isn’t spelt incorrectly is when it is spelt incorrectly”. Yeah, thanks for that, brain, but I digress. Yes, a hybrid of the aforementioned games is a weird thought like that. Well, thankfully some at Team17 also had this thought, and so Planet Alpha was created. Like many games that imitate others, there are some really fun and great aspects, but there are also some extremely frustrating failings.
Much like, well, every game mentioned above, there is no prior explanation to your current situation in Planet Alpha. There is also no dialogue at all, so you sort of have to make a story up in your own mind, and that is something I always enjoy. The things you do know from booting up Planet Alpha are that you are an astronaut of an unknown humanoid species, and you appear to be marooned on a planet. It also seems that you have either been hunted by a robotic army, or you are not welcome on this planet at all, and the robots hunting you are inhabitants of this world. Everything else is just guesswork, which is absolutely fine. Limbo and particularly Inside were also pretty devoid of story assistance, but the story you could work out was an incredible one. That isn’t so much the case in Planet Alpha, but it is fun to try and make your own story as you explore the world, and that is where Planet Alpha really does shine.
The planet itself is incredible, and the landscapes really are gorgeous with a great deal of diversity. Whether it be a thick jungle or a cavern only illuminated by glowing green plants, the backdrops are just jaw-dropping, and I swear my playthrough of Planet Alpha was doubled because I spent so much time just stopping to look at what was behind the character and taking screenshot after screenshot. There are also numerous, magnificent creatures that come to life out of the backdrops, and again, these number just as much as the landscapes too. I won’t spoil a particular part of the journey, but there is a moment where you just stop and stare in awe at what is walking towards you. It is perfectly executed, and you will be hitting the snapshot button over a dozen times trying to get the perfect screenshot. I cannot talk about this moment with any more praise and must simply say that moment was a highlight of any game you’ll play in 2018. If you are wondering where the No Man’s Sky influence comes into Planet Alpha, you only have to spend a couple of minutes playing to work it out. The creatures, fauna, and game world itself look like the spitting image of a planet you could land on in Hello Games’ space sim. Colours just pop off the screen with contrasting beauty that will be hard to beat with any other release this year.
There are times when Team17’s artistic choice somewhat hampers the gameplay, especially in the aforementioned cavern where it is a tad too dark at times, and even more so while playing handheld on the Switch. I rarely have my screen set to full brightness, but I had to whilst I navigated this cave and sometimes had to hold the Switch so close to my face that my nose would keep touching the screen. Also, the incredible landscape and backdrops can distract you by since you could very well end up paying too much attention to them and not the floating killer robot just a few inches above your head.
Unfortunately, the rest of Planet Alpha isn’t as incredible as the visuals. Any fans of Inside or Little Nightmares will be able to pick up and play without any learning curve. That might sound like a weird criticism, bemoaning a lack of a learning curve, but it just makes Planet Alpha a bit too easy at times. This goes for the environmental puzzles too. I was only stuck on a couple of occasions for a short period of time before working out what I needed to do. It is a harsh criticism because of the genre Planet Alpha is part of, and there really isn’t much else the development team could do. It just fell at an unlucky release time, really, as Inside and Little Nightmares are still fresh in the minds of a lot of gamers. There is a small innovation in the puzzles in Planet Alpha where you can control the time of day on the planet. This also adds to the incredible visuals of the world as you switch from dawn to dusk, night to day. Using this mechanic for solving puzzles is also fun, but again, much like the rest of Planet Alpha, it’s not too difficult. Generally, it is used to knock objects down that you need to boost a jump or to open up plants so you can jump on them.
That leads us to another issue with Planet Alpha: the controls. They are by no means the worse set of controls out there, but they can be inherently frustrating. There isn’t any significant command delay when you press a button, but again, comparing Planet Alpha to the two most recent and successful 2D platformers in Little Nightmares and Inside, the controls just don’t feel as crisp. Jumping, an important part of any platformer, just feels off here. It’s weird because it should work great as you can jump a lot higher than normal. This could be down to the gravity on the planet you are marooned on, or maybe the species you control can just jump that high. Either way, jumping just feels clumsy, and landing a well-timed jump doesn’t bring you the sense of satisfaction like it does in other platformers.
The stealth elements are also a bit hit and miss in Planet Alpha. They are not particularly tough, but as previously mentioned, you might not notice the floating killbot directly in your path as you are spending too much time gushing over the landscape. As you can imagine, there will be a lot of restarts which, again, isn’t too much of a pain in the backside as Planet Alpha auto-saves every couple of minutes.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 4th September 2018