Saving Planet X, Again
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Yep, that is the first thought when you look at the box containing DarkPlanet : Battle for Natrolis. Standard theme - almost. Humans find a planet. Humans want to take over the planet. Locals take objection to the humans kicking them off their world. Now here is where the first twist is introduced by Edgies, the battling of the Humans and the locals wake up a long dormant third party that takes exception to both other races and decides it would be a good idea to exterminate them so they can get back to sleep!
That's it, plain simple and uncomplicated. You can now step in as either the Humans, the Sorin (Lizard folk) or the Dreil (crustaceans that awoke to the battles between the Human and Sorin) and rid the planet of the other two. So it's a simple straight forward plot. But then I have never been one to let a weak plot get in the way of a good game.
You have your standard base building to do. Build basic structures, upgrade your base structure so that you can build more exotic structures and stronger and better military units etc etc etc. But here is where Edgies throws in another of their little quirks (actually two here) to the standard Real Time Strategy (RTS) game engine.
Each race needs three basic elements for building their structures and forces and supporting their armies once built, but there are four elements available on each game world. Humans need Rock and Crystals (from your normal sources of rock beds and crystal gardens spread around the landscape), Sorin need Rock and Wood (from trees of course) while the Dreil need Crystals and Wood. All three need energy. Here is yet another of the many little things Edgies has done to make this enough different from the others to be worth taking a look at. All three need Energy and get it in different ways. Humans get theirs from the very familiar geothermal vents, Sorin from the souls of captured enemies or by praying at their special temple and the insidious Dreil get it from cocooning their defeated rivals. So in any given game with either of the races you will be battling the others over the different resources, but not battling for the same resources.
I have seen the interface in DarkPlanet torn to shreds in various reviews. Well, I did not find it at all that complicated or difficult to learn. It is different from many of the RTS big shot games out there (and here is where I believe other reviewers gave it bad marks) but after running the three racial campaigns past the introductory level I was able to navigate the controls with no problems at all. Is it 'intuitive?' (Never really understood how that applies to a game interface these days)? I haven't the foggiest idea, but as I said, I found it usable and not overly difficult to learn. Having played many, many, many games of all sorts I no longer expect to be able to load a new game and instantly be able to navigate around its controls like a pro. The sophistication of today's games make it imperative to play them for awhile to get familiar with the controls - then you can navigate them like a pro!
Parallels seem to be drawn between the races of DarkPlanet and some of the current leaders in the RTS world, but I tend to not spend (waste?) time looking for parallels to pick apart, but rather look at the game as a whole and decide if it merits space on my hard drive based on its own strong points. DarkPlanet: Battle for Natrolis, while not ground breaking or genre-defining passes my test in this matter and will most likely reside on my hard drive for a few months at least (and that is a very long time for me, aside from Civilization and EverQuest that is).
Does DarkPlanet look good? Well of course it does. Any game coming out these days had better be visually pleasing to even get space in a reviewers schedule for play. Edgies has obviously taken the time to assure that this basic gaming requirement is met.
The different races and their various units are beautifully rendered and are fun to look at and work with. The visual effects are astounding. I remember when I destroyed my first building VERY WELL, as does my family. The resultant explosion knocked back all of my units that were up close to the building due to the blast of the explosion and I thought "Oh great I just lost all my units to that explosion." No, they did not seem to take damage but definitely got blown back a bit by the blast. Hehe. You should have seen me cackling with delight as the rest of the buildings in that town got destroyed. Even my dog was looking at me funny after that mission.
Speaking of missions. Each race has its own campaign as in many of the better RTS games. The first few missions get you familiar with how the race works, their various buildings and units and the use and gathering techniques of the resources they need to grow and prosper. Then you have the remainder of the missions (20 per race I believe) to apply what you have learned to the work of destroying your adversaries.
Then you are ready to set foot into what seems to be the reason the game was developed - their online multiplayer arena. Now you get to pit your self as which ever race you like the best or feel is the strongest against the legions of others who are bent on destroying your piddling race. It is the addition of this human element that sheds a whole new light on the game mechanics. I had no problems finding opponents to battle with on line; my problem, as is usual with RTS type games, is I like to build and build and just as I am getting ready to build the unit that will decimate my enemies I get overwhelmed with swarms of low level units from them that literally eat me up.
Ah well, that aside I still found the multiplayer aspects of DarkPlanet fun and exciting. I seem to do best when I go online with a group of friends and battle it out for bragging rights until the next session!
Edgies and Ubi Soft gets a solid 3 GiN Gems on this one.
Does it redefine the RTS genre? No. Does a game have to redefine something in order to be fun to play? Nope!
Is it fun to play and worth the investment of time and effort to learn? Yes! Especially if you have not played some of the groundbreaking titles in the RTS world or are getting really tired of getting overrun by Zergs all the time. There are enough cool new twists in DarkPlanet to make it a worthwhile addition to any RTS gaming library.
Royce Brainard is a GiN product tester. He has been heard to say "If it is a game, I have probably played it. If it is a good game, then I probably own it." He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org.