How I Landed on Planet Alpha
I came across PLANET ALPHA while some of the other writers were discussing who was going to cover which upcoming games, and thought it would be a good entry for me to take on for my first review. The game-child of Developer Planet Alpha ApS and Publisher Team 17 Digital Ltd. presents itself as a unique puzzle/platformer that drops the player into a breathtaking alien world where danger and mystery are in no short supply.
The game begins simply enough, as you take control of a spacesuit-clad individual and begin slowly limping forward through the first environment. This rather uneventful introduction allows the player some time to take in the surroundings and begin to gain an appreciation for the wonderfully sculpted environments they will come across during their journey. Starting in this way, the game instantly begins to raise some key questions regarding the state of the being you control. Being clearly injured and showing signs of fatigue, I was encouraged to begin coming up with my own rationale as to why the character was in such a state. Almost immediately I began wondering if I was a visitor to this world that suffered a rough landing or if my visit to this planet was even intentional and not the result of some catastrophe that left me stranded. The fact that the game so quickly inspires the player to begin thinking through their current scenario is powerful in and of itself, and becomes even more necessary as you find that there really is no exposition through dialogue at any point in the game. What PLANET ALPHA tries to do is subtly raise questions which lead the player to begin attempting to piece the story together on their own. Using the context clues scattered about each environment as I traversed through them kept me constantly wanting to forge onward, wondering if maybe what I saw next would shed some more light onto my situation and make my purpose on this planet more clear. This worked so well on me in fact, that I played through the entire game in one sitting. Contributing to this was that the game did an excellent job of continuously introducing scenes or objects throughout the experience that continually raised more questions just as I thought I had begun to figure things out. This amalgamation of the lack of spoon-fed story and the game’s pacing in introducing new elements served to provide a unique story experience and certainly kept me interested and invested in where the game would take me next.
Normally when I think of evaluating the graphics of a game my mind highlights criteria such as realism in textures, lighting, object interaction, character models, and the like. With PLANET ALPHA however, a different sort of approach is required. As you have likely noticed from the screenshots I have included in the article thus far, this game doesn’t have hyper realistic textures and environments, or super detailed character models; but that isn’t what it is aiming for anyway. In lieu of the impressive realism some modern games provide, PLANET ALPHA instead offers up an incredible variety of visually striking, immersive, and beautifully colored environments. The sheer diversity of the environments you traverse in this relatively short game is astounding in itself, as the player will get to explore a very wide range of ecosystems and terrains. My eyes were constantly scanning the screen soaking in all of the background details and happenings while appreciating the wonderfully selected and rich color palettes that made each new landscape feel truly alive; often times ironically leading to my death as I fell victim to many mistimed jumps while distracted by the beautiful surroundings.
With no voice acting or real dialogue to speak of, the audio in PLANET ALPHA revolves solely around the soundtrack and sound effects that are inserted throughout the player’s journey. It was in this particular category that I felt the game experienced its biggest weakness. Now, that is not to say I found the soundtrack or sound effects bad mind you. In fact, I thought the audio overall fit the game rather well and did a good job of communicating various moods to the player as they forged onward. When I say this category was the game’s biggest weakness, it is simply because I felt it delivered so strongly in its other categories that this particular one did not shine as brightly. Put simply, the game’s various sounds and music supplemented the environments and experience well enough to not detract from the experience, but in my opinion did not serve to really elevate it either.
Being a puzzle/platformer, one would expect a rather simplistic control scheme and mechanics and that is precisely the case. In this instance however, simplicity is not a bad thing at all. Revolving mainly around precise timing and puzzle solving, PLANET ALPHA provides a well-balanced experience with smooth, trouble-free controls. In my playthrough I did not encounter any bugs or issues with the game, and found it did an excellent job of balancing the difficulty of both its platforming and puzzle elements. I did not feel any of the puzzles were overly challenging to the point of unhealthy frustration, but there were quite a few that did require me to really stop, think, and work through some trial and error to solve. The game also presents several scenarios where the puzzle itself is simple, but added pressure from time limits imposed by impending death or shifts in the environment add an extra level of stress to the scenario. It also does an excellent job of keeping the puzzles fresh by incorporating several different elements in the various solutions. These range from the player’s ability to control the day/night cycle of the planet, moving/arranging various objects, and utilizing the mechanics or unique elements of the particular environment itself in order to solve each new problem you encounter. From a platforming perspective, the game does well to provide a healthy variety of slow and fast paced traversal scenarios where the player must exhibit quick reactions or precise timing to clear the area and progress. I will also mention here that the game is nowhere near as linear as you may initially think. It is very beneficial to take your time and explore each environment to its fullest, and it seems this habit is also essential to fully unraveling the many mysteries the game presents. Overall I felt the gameplay was very well-balanced and could provide an enjoyable experience and challenge for veterans of the genre without setting the bar so high that those new to such games would be turned away by it.
When all is said and done, I found PLANET ALPHA to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. The clever, curiosity-driven story, wonderfully sculpted and visually immersive environments, and the well executed controls and gameplay mechanics all served to make PLANET ALPHA one of my most enjoyed games of 2018.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: September 4th, 2018 (All Platforms)
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Planet Alpha ApS
Publisher: Team 17 Digital Ltd.
Price: $19.99 (Standard) / $24.99 (Digital Deluxe Edition)
*I did receive access to a copy of this game free of charge from the developer for the purpose of reviewing this title and completed one playthrough in approximately 5 hours*