Planetary Annihilation Review - Games Weekly

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Planetary Annihilation Review

When it was first announced via Kickstarter Planetary Annihilation looked to be everything hardcore real time strategists could hope for, promising inter-planetary tactical warfare on a grand scale.

Unfortunately, as many have discovered from beta and Early Access builds, the game never quite lives up to the hype. It is not an entirely forgettable experience, the full release of this ambitious title continues to leave much to be desired.

Planetary Annihilation initially puts players in control of single vulnerable robotic Commander. The in-game maps, so to speak, are fully functioning cosmoses with fully spherical orbital planets, asteroids and moons that function as sites for bases and skirmishes think Populous: The Beginning or the latter stages of Spore.


The Commander can construct basic structures, from which more advanced builders and a rudimentary army can be produced. There is only one win condition kill the enemy Commanders by whatever means necessary. Veteran annihilators will also recognise the robust streaming resource economy all units and buildings require metal and energy to function, and if demand exceeds supply new production and construction slows to a halt. It nails these fundamental, if highly derivative, base building and resource gathering mechanics.

But when it comes to combat it all starts to fall apart. There’s no depth or complexity, and a conspicuous lack of strategy is required to claim victory. Each factory can be set to auto-produce an endless stream of new infantry bots, tanks, planes, boats, and orbital satellites, and provided you’re churning out a good balance of each you’re good to go. There are no factions, and no significant unit specific tactics. I did appreciate the ability to use rocks and destroyed buildings as cover, and occasionally plonked my troops behind ruined factories, but they’re all mowed down and replaced so easily that there’s typically no motivation to pull them out of danger, resulting in a perpetual zerg rush tug-of-war until one side is overwhelmed or gives in. There are fortunately there are a couple of gloriously destructive match enders in place, namely the ability to strap some rockets to an asteroid or moon and send it on a collision course with an enemy garrisoned planet, and dormant Death Star style interplanetary weapons that can be re-armed, and to be fair there’s nothing quite like humiliating your opponent with a cataclysmic explosion. But the satisfaction is greatly outweighed by the lengthy and tedious grind endured.


Regardless of whether you’re playing single or multiplayer, all matches begin with a zoomed out overview of the entire planetary system in which you’ll do battle, and while some will appreciate the added challenge, the sheer size of the battlefield swiftly becomes overwhelming as you enter mid to late game. The majority of matches span across multiple planets, moons and asteroids.

Though in lieu of a traditional mini-map you’re quipped with a nifty picture-in-picture mini-screen from which you can monitor a second area of the playing area and give orders, once you’re fighting off swarms of enemies in multiple parts of the cosmos it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of what’s happening and where. You can of course zoom back out to a macro view, a la Supreme Commander, or chuck down various radar devices, but you’ll still find yourself constantly rotating around the planets to stay on top of things.
“The sheer size of the battlefield swiftly becomes overwhelming as you enter mid to late game”
 It’s a game obviously built with competitive multiplayer and a desire to be taken seriously as an e-sport in mind, with built in keyboard hotkeys for Twitch broadcasting and an innovative option to share unit control between allies. However the community is, for the most part, already dead. When it entered Early Access earlier this year the multiplayer was filled with a mix of seasoned micromanagers and green combatants, and now only few of the former remain. The place is a ghost town, and finding a game where you’re not lining yourself up to be steamrolled can
be difficult at the best of times, and the lack of tutorials aside from an embedded YouTube video is disappointing.


Meanwhile, the randomly generated rougelike inspired single-player mode ‘Galactic War’ sadly doesn’t offer much in the way of enjoyment. You begin the campaign with limited tech unlocks, and move from system to system taking on computer controlled enemies, and unlocking new tech and acquiring upgrades.

But unfortunately you can only carry a limited number of tech unlocks and upgrades. You’re forced to pick and prioritise, which in practice severely undermines your ability to strategise and plan ahead surely the central tenants of an RTS.Granted, the computer controlled opponents do provide considerable challenge on even the lowest of difficulty settings.


Rushing an all-out ground assault might seem like a decent idea, but if you don’t deal a decisive blow, your enemy might regroup and counter attack with an aerial offensive that you’re likely ill equipped to deter.

Ultimately, Planetary Annihilation is a frustrating experience. It takes so many risks, but there’s never a payoff. I don’t hate this game, but you probably won’t see me playing it again.

5/10

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