Tom Hooper aka Atomp
As the fantastic time of year that is the Steam Summer Sale is once again upon us I decided to “invest” in some games; enough to fill quite a few weeks worth of reviews in fact. One of these was Planetary Annihilation which is a spiritual successor to Total Annihilation and was Kickstarted into fruition in September 2012. Planetary Annihilation is an RTS with a focus on scale and macro-strategy over the more common micromanagement heavy RTS like Starcraft. The scale is, as the name implies, planetary as a single match will take place in a star system of smallish planets and moons. These planets and moons can then be the home to land and air units as well as orbital and interplanetary units… this is big stuff. The Kickstarter began with the goal of $900,000 and eventually concluded with $2,229,344 which secured every stretch goal. This is one of those examples of a massively successful Kickstarter that has absolutely delivered on the promises made, even before the final release of the game. This is actually a shorter preview than the game deserves and I will hopefully come back to the game as it is updated and provide more in-depth feedback.
I’m not usually a big RTS player with my last real dabble in RTS being Age of Empires 2 and Rise of Nations, I’ve kind of missed the whole Starcraft phenomenon. This also means that I managed to miss out on the whole Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander series of games as well, therefore I’m coming at Planetary Annihilation with a fresh set of eyes. I’ve so far been playing the recently added dynamic single-player campaign labelled Galactic War. This mode presents an RTS single-player campaign that is somewhat different from others appearing to be a mish-mash of FTL and Spore’s galactic stage. The overall map is on a galactic scale and you/your commander will travel between stars exploring and unlocking new tech along the way. There’s an interesting balancing act in the tech unlocks as you are only capable of holding a certain amount of tech at one time and these techs also determine the available units and buildings in the matches at each star. This along with the dynamically generated universe adds a significant degree of replayability to the single-player campaign as there is potential for a wide variety of tech or situational limitations or conditions that may have to be dealt with.
The actual RTS element of the game is designed to be easily managed yet huge in scale. This is game of flow whereupon resources are managed principally as a rate of gain first and stockpile second. The two resource types are metal and power; metal being a resource mined from scattered sites and power being produced by simple power plants. These resources are then used to produce buildings which are then used to produce units. The economy of the games is fast and constant with continuous resource production feeding continuous unit production. This continuous unit production feeds into the combat which is based around mass producing big armies and throwing them at the enemy. The real trick to victory is in balancing your particular army composition to the enemy type you will be facing. For example currently in my Galactic War playthrough I’m regularly fighting against a very air heavy opposition and therefore my army composition can be anywhere up to half anti-air as I very quickly learned that without it the huge squadrons of bombers could wipe my units out with impunity. With the anti-air units however those same squadrons satisfyingly vanish in a cloud of rockets, explosions and debris leaving my tanks to cleanup the light ground units and structures.
Visibility of the map is complete from the start and there is no tech-tree in the RTS matches. This is quite dissimilar from what I’m used to in the likes of Rise of Nations and Age of Empires 2, both of which have fully fleshed out tech-trees and ages at the very core of their gameplay. Despite being so different to what I’ve previously experiences in RTS I found the whole feel very organic. The fully unlocked tech tree and lack of fog of war makes sense when combined with the fast pace that the game is aiming for as matches take little time to get going. Turtling doesn’t really work as a strategy here, the enemy will rapidly out maneuver you and gain the upper hand in first resource production, then unit production and then offensive capability. Continuous expansion is the key and it creates a flow to the game which culminates in lots of units, shooting, explosions and fun.
Aesthetically the game has gone for a blocky muted yet colourful aesthetic which works very well when scaled up to the quantities of units and structures that the game is focussed on. I can imagine that a more detailed aesthetic style would risk making the entire experience visually overbearing or too busy. As it is the visual style works exceptionally well from both a gameplay and utilitarian point of view whilst also being nice to look at. The sound design is good and fitting although the real standout element of the sound is the Kickstarter stretch goal achieved orchestral soundtrack which is just awesome. I’m a big fan of orchestral soundtracks, especially when they’re put to something of grand enough scale to warrant their use, such as this. Another little thing worthy of mention is the female computer announcer voice that was added in the Galactic War update as it really adds to the feel of being this badass robotic commander.
Planetary Annihilation is available on Windows, Mac and Linux (yay) and is fairly heavy on system resources: A dual-core CPU, reasonable dedicated GPU with Shader 3.0 support and 4GBish of RAM make for a mid-level gaming PC being ideal. Overall though the game has been fairly stable, although I have personally seen stuttering and slowdown issues at times on the current build. But it’s a pre-release version so such issues are to be expected and I’m going to hunt for the cause at some point. In short I’d say that for the sale price of £14.99 (approx $25.50) it was absolutely worth it whilst the normal price of £29.99 (approx $51.00) is worthwhile if you’re a fan of RTS.
Planetary Annihilation Website:
Planetary Annihilation on Steam: