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Preview5th Apr 2014

Planet Explorers Preview

I don’t mind admitting that I’m becoming a little bit weary of games whose core mechanics revolve around mining, crafting and resource gathering. There has been a definite oversaturation in the survival game market recently and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. It seems that every other game I hear about is some kind of ‘open world survival’ or ‘procedurally generated sandbox action adventure!’. That age-old adage ‘Too much of a good thing.’ definitely rings true.

So it was with a sense of cautious apprehension that I entered the world of Planet Explorers, holding on to the assumption that this would likely turn out to be yet another poor imitation of better games. However, after only an hour or two of playing, it became crystal clear to me that all my fears were unfounded. Planet Explorers has impressed me in almost every way it could and surpassed my admittedly diminished expectations at virtually every turn. It’s fun, engaging and looks amazing for a game which is in Early Access and therefore, still in development.

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Planet Explorers utilises volumetric pixels, or voxels which for those who don’t know are the three dimensional equivalent of pixels. Think of them as the ‘bricks’ from which a 3D object in a game is constructed. What this ultimately means for the game is that the landscape and the objects within it can be sculpted and changed at the whim of the player. You are free to make pretty much anything you want anywhere you like, within the limits of the game engine of course.

Planet Explorers, at present, features a variety of game modes: the story mode which is essentially an RPG, complete with quests and an engaging narrative, is set in a pre-built world filled with landmarks and locations to explore. The Adventure mode gives you a few options to define the basic biomes and climate, then generates the world procedurally and sets you loose to build and explore however you choose. Multiplayer is available both online via player hosted servers and also through local networks. The Versus mode sees teams of 16 players battling each other to be the first to achieve a set number of kills or resources gathered and co-op mode allows 32 players to work together to create massive structures and colonies. The game also features a character creator although most of its features have yet to be implemented, and a build mode in which you have the freedom to make objects, weapons and even vehicles from scratch.

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The main story mode puts the player in the role of a colonist from Earth in the year 2287. After arriving in the orbit of the planet Maria, your ship is impacted by an unknown object, some of the crew escape in lifeboats which crash land on the hostile planet and are then forced to explore, build and fight to survive.

The game can be played from either third or first person perspective and while both are viable options, at this point the first person mode is less polished and comes up against a few issues with the camera clipping through your weapons and even your body at some points. The UI also needs some work in my opinion as all the different menus, inventories and interfaces can at first be a little overwhelming and confusing. This has little impact on the gameplay however as a little time spent learning your way around the menus will soon see you building, crafting, organising quests and managing your resources effectively. The positives in Planet Explorers substantially outweigh the negatives and one of the game’s’ strongest areas are its visuals.

The design of both the landscapes and the alien creatures which inhabit it are at times, nothing short of breathtaking. On more than a few occasions I found myself at the top of a hill or the edge of a lush, exotic forest just staring at the vista before me and soaking up the atmosphere of the game. Everything from herds of weird looking herbivores going down to a river to drink or being pursued by vicious predators, the sun slowly moving across the sky, to spores being tossed around in the breeze all add up to create a rich and dynamic game world which is as engaging as it is pretty to look at. The music is also suitably pleasant and atmospheric which adds to the overall experience without ever being annoying or distracting.

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Only in a few rare instances was my feeling of immersion sullied by a bad creature animation or the camera clipping through terrain. On the whole, Planet Explorers succeeds in creating an impressive environment which is just begging to be explored and enjoyed.

Probably the game’s biggest downfall in its current state is the combat. While there are a multitude of weapons available to the player, ranging from knives, swords and bows to handguns and rifles, the combat doesn’t feel particularly satisfying with any of them. There is no real perception of impact when you strike a creature with your weapon of choice and no real skill involved at all past spamming left click to attack and using medkits to avoid death during a fight. Your opponent’s health is also not immediately apparent and is only displayed via a small health bar right at the top of the screen. This is unfortunate as combat is a large part of the game and is necessary to obtain some of the materials you need to progress through the tiers of armour, shields and the weapons themselves.

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Mining and crafting are achieved in a way which should be fairly familiar to most gamers. There are various levels of pickaxes, axes and shovels and higher tiers are capable of gathering better materials. Crafting a particular item requires you to first obtain its script. When the script is then used, by right clicking on it in the inventory, the item will appear in the list of gear available for crafting and can be created providing you have all the ingredients.

Eventually, you’ll want to start creating your base of operations and even start a colony and in this regard, Planet Explorers has you covered. You are free to build structures out of materials which you can mine from the ground, set up a perimeter wall and deck it out with turrets and other defenses, build housing for NPCs and convert land to enable farming of the various native alien plant species. The building UI is intuitive and easy to use and I personally can’t wait to see what players will create when they fully get to grips with it, when combined with the item creator, the possibilities are staggering.

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Planet Explorers is shaping up to be something quite special. It’s fun, rewarding to play and the vast majority of the game’s features are well realised and wonderfully executed. The developers, Pathea, should be applauded for their efforts. Planet Explorers is an ambitious undertaking and the hard work which has gone into making it is apparent from the moment you load it up for the first time. If, like me, you’re beginning to tire of the endless stream of zombies and post-apocalyptic survival games, I’d highly recommend exploring an alien planet instead.   

Andy Mcdonald

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