Planet Alpha gets going with you, a slightly elongated humanoid within a classic 1950’s Sci-Fi looking spacesuit limping slowly across a barren looking planet. You’re alone and clearly not in the best of shape. A few scenes and few minutes later you collapse at the mouth of a cave only to wake up moments later once more as fit as the preverbal fiddle. It’s an odd start to the game and if we’re honest, the relevance of this to the game’s story is never really explained.
Stunning to Look At
Over the course of a five or so hour play through, you tackle a fairly diverse and yet standard set of questions such as the nature and cost of war, what sets biological entities apart from machines and a few other queries in relation to nature and living ecosystems. Thankfully Planet Alpha sets about these questions without delving into plain old navel gazing, something that’s so very easy to do when tackling these type of topic areas.
Developed out of Denmark by an ever so small group of developers, we are mightily impressed with how Planet Alpha looks. It’s natural to compare it to No Man’s Sky and yet for us, the artwork here with its low poly styling certainly trumps the latter. You’ll find yourself playing across barren deserts, ancient temples and deep, dark caves. Within these locations you find beautifully animated creatures ranging from Space Wales down to anemones and jelly-like fish that add depth and additional atmospherics.
We found ourselves wanting a photo mode to capture some of these environments and it’s amazingly frustrating to find pausing the game obscures these views with a menu. That being said, compared to other aspects of annoyance, this is exceptionally trivial.
The Gameplay Fails to Excite
Aside from these visuals, Planet Alpha feels frustratingly shallow. While the game splits into platforming, puzzles and stealth, each of these offerings are sadly on the slim side of things. The stealth sections are, for us, the real low point with the gameplay often following a trial and error approach to progression. On numerous occasions, we hide thinking we’re safe only to get one-hit killed by an enemy laser. In others, the smallest movement alert the enemy robots and yet toward the other end of the scale, you can at times avoid a chasing enemy by hiding in the grass, even if the robot is watching you before you go into cover.
The sections where you find yourself sliding down a slope are equally frustrating. Here you manoeuvre your character over and under obstacles and yet in these scenes, the platforming is often so imprecise we die without knowing how or why we missed a ledge that seems easily within reach. Thankfully Planet Alpha offers many check points so in general, there’s not too much ground to recover following these instances of surprising death.
One other aspect which is so underused is the players ability to change the time of the day to help solve puzzles. By turning the day into night, new plants emerge or paths once blocked become passible. It’s a fairly unique attempt at something interesting although in use this mechanic feels simplistic and flat. For example, mushrooms create a path to walk upon under hours of darkness and come the sun, they get eaten by a host of little critters. At times feeling unsure of what to do to progress, simply hitting the day to night button is usually enough to figure out the way forward.
Aside from the art, Planet Alpha doesn’t really ever get going. While it asks interesting questions, the gameplay implementation based on our play through feels sub-optimal throughout. We’re happy to have played it and sure, Planet Alpha looks great, and we mean REALLY GREAT, although we feel your time and waged earnings would be better spent on other things.
This review is based on the full retail offering for the PS4 with our copy having been purchased from the Sony Online Store on the day of launch. For more information on our review policy, please see our guide here.
- Formats: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch,
- Price: £15.99 / $19.99
- Publisher: Team 17
- Developer: Planet Alpha Game Studio
- Release Date: 4th September 2018
- Age Rating: 12