Nuclear Friendship and Planetary Annihilation
by Jason McMaster
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any of you will have heard of Total Annihilation or Supreme Commander (1 or 2) and will be here because the Kickstarter for this game was peppered with veterans of the TA and SupComm design teams. To an extent, this isn’t written for you. If you backed the Kickstarter and are a diehard fan of the earlier games, this is also not for you. I feel that to review the game for those two groups would prove rather pointless as you’ve followed the development and have been playing since the earlier releases. I welcome you to read and critique my view, but this review was not written with your knowledge in mind. No, this review is for people who are not overly familiar with the earlier work or are looking for a new RTS to play.
The general conceit of Planetary Annihilation is very cool – you spawn into a small solar system and, somewhere on one of the planets out there, is an enemy. This enemy wants to kill you before you kill them. I suggest you don’t let them.
The game starts and you choose a landing point. You’ll be put on a planet as one of several large mechs that can then build facilities for further expansion. Most of the game, from the RTS standpoint, goes in a familiar manner from here. You build a base, you build troops, and then you kill the enemy. It’s where the game diverges that gives it a bit of flavor and a bit of issue.
When you hit your planet, you start building. There are two major resources in the game- metal and energy. Metal can be harvested from certain spots on the planets and for energy you build production facilities. You spend your resources to build better buildings, defenses and armies. Unlike most other RTS games, though, your resources are used in a constant flow instead of being paid upfront in bulk. As long as you make enough to keep up with the constant stream of required resources, the lack of initial funding is no problem.
One thing to keep in mind for new players is that these games (Planetary Annihilation as well as TA and SupComm) trade in using icons for management. The game view requires a lot of scrolling out and macro management. In practice, from the outside, it nearly has the appearance of a tabletop wargame. This is certainly a necessity as you’re managing combat on several different planets at once, but it can get a touch confusing at the start.
In all RTS games, you can upgrade and build stronger structures in one way or another. Most of them require a building that you pay more resources and time to upgrade to a superior version that produces superior units. In this game, however, the build goes a bit different. You start with your big mech guy, who can build basic structures. If you build a basic vehicle factory, that factory can create its own builder units that can then make more advance structures that can make their own builders, etc, etc, etc. It’s an interesting way to gate advancement, which is made necessary by flowing resource building, but it takes a bit of getting used to and fiddling to feel comfortable.
My biggest issue with the full release version of Planetary Annihilation is one of information, and one that will – hopefully – be addressed within the near future. The tutorial barely scratches the surface and, once that’s done, it all falls to you to research how to play the game. When I say that, you might think that I’m referring to “mastering” the game. I am not. There is very little provided documentation, and without a reference point, a complex strategy game is an easy place to get completely lost. Alerts going off, information everywhere and an enemy breathing down your neck might be a bit too much for some players.
On the other side of the coin, let me tell you about my favorite round of multiplayer. My friend and I fired up the game and decided to go head-to-head as a way to learn how to play. The battlefield is a larger planet with two slightly smaller moons. We start the game and I haul ass towards the center planet. After a bit of back and forth, I take over the center planet and set up base. Things are going well, a few little sorties here and there, then I get a warning. My opponent went to my starting planet, loaded it up with jets and rocketed it towards my middle planet base. A window pops up and shows this moon, flying wildly out of orbit, and missing my base by inches – leaving a giant, smoking crater in my new home. Shortly after that, his forces landed and managed to kill my commander.
That singular experience guaranteed I’d continue playing the game. There’s a lot to like, a lot of potential and a hell of a lot of style in Planetary Annihilation. I hope the rest of the package comes together sooner rather than later. When the game is finished (I know it’s in release, but there’s changes and content incoming still) and the final touches are hammered out, this is has the potential to be one hell of a game.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/jason.jpg” ]Jason McMaster is a writer and video editor. His current work includes content and upkeep for Quarter to Three. Qt3 was one of TIME Techland’s top 50 sites of 2012. Before starting work on Qt3, Jason wrote for Gamasutra, GameSpy, Firing Squad, and Game Shark. As a video editor, Jason has worked creating gameplay footage and featurettes for Crispy Gamer and GameZone as well as several independent projects and KickStarter. Jason lives in Birmingham, AL with his wife Sarah and their 5 cats. You can stalk him on Twitter if you like. [/author]