Coming hot on the heels of Overcooked! 2, Team 17 are publishing sci-fi platformer Planet Alpha (by the Planet Alpha Game Studio). Very much in the vein of Limbo and Inside, it’s a side scrolling adventure that provides lush visuals, atmospheric music and an intriguingly told story that leaves as much for you to fathom as it reveals. That description probably paints a mental picture of a shortish game that doesn’t provide a huge amount of challenge, and one that you might think twice about buying. However, skipping over it would mean depriving yourself of one of the most beautiful and engaging experiences in recent years.
Waking up in a desolate landscape with no clue who you are, what you’re doing there or where you need to go is par for the course in a sci-fi game, and pushing right on the analogue stick and dragging yourself towards the unknown is the only way to proceed. Planet Alpha starts as it means to go on with no exposition or backstory – everything has to be figured out as you move along. The environment tells the story and the events that unfold are big enough and obvious enough that you don’t feel in the dark. It’s a good job that the world that you’re exploring is so rich in detail and filled with something eye-catching in nearly every area you’ll pass through.
It’s simply stunning. From the wastes you crawl through in the first minutes, through the sprawling vistas that contain immense creatures, and into the bowels of the world; every inch is ripe with flora and fauna that can either help or hinder your journey. It’s an alien place for the main character – or so you’d assume with the constant need to where a space suit – and even if most of the plants and animals will ignore the trespassing, there are some that are not so welcoming. Equally troublesome are the invading robots that seem intent on stripping the planet of its resources and blasting our hero with lasers as soon as they catch a glimpse. Whilst the majority of Planet Alpha is spent leaping and sliding through the wonderful landscapes, there’s a fair amount of stealth involved too.
Hiding from the things that hurt is generally the right way to tackle the obstacles because you’re protected from the atmosphere but not from hot lines of laser death. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to wreak a bit of havoc on the invaders, mainly through the application of physics puzzles. These come in two forms: manipulating the environment and changing the rotation of the planet. The former might be dragging blocks around to use as a stepping stone or additional cover, or it might be jumping on to weakened structures to crush enemies or create a path. The latter is the more interesting one as it puts you in control of the day/night cycle and plays with the wildlife dotted around. Whether it’s causing flowers to bloom or using steam vents to move floating objects, it’s very satisfying altering not just the light levels, but the way the creatures and plants interact so that you can keep adventuring. It’s not an over used mechanic either so you never get bored of watching the constellations spin around overhead.
With the ever present danger of meeting your demise it’s a good job there’s generous check-pointing preventing too much frustration with backtracking. Each scenario you end up getting pitted against isn’t particularly challenging if you’ve played this style of game before, but it still manages to illicit a wry smile as you figure out how to overcome a big obstacle. There are boss sections as such that denote the end of a chapter and usually consist of testing your reflexes at high speed, and end up being great fun to zip through even if you don’t make it first time. Some of the platforming sections are inspired and really make you consider the space all around you, especially if they’re not remaining static or stable.
There’s a touch of light exploration as well. Nothing gratuitous, just enough to make it worthwhile exploring and finding the odd hidden object – most of these tie in with the trophy list too. Occasionally there’ll be a warp point that transports you to a realm where gravity doesn’t work the same, and the route to the end of the stage is all about timing jumps and not getting crushed by giant rotating rocks. They end up being a nice diversion from the main chapters and do link back into the story if you can find them all. Definitely take the time to looki for everything because it’s the best way of spending as much time as possible on the stunning planet.
Planet Alpha is genuinely jaw dropping to look at with its vibrant and colourful palette coupled with the level of detail, and it’s a delight to play. It doesn’t redefine the platform genre in any way, but it does push up to the boundaries of what you should expect from a game of this ilk. There are points in the story where it feels there are heavy handed metaphors in play, then it changes tack and moves things in a different direction and leaves the surprises for the player to discover by themselves. Kudos for not pandering to where I though the story was ultimately going. Even though it’s all over in a couple of hours there are enough breadcrumbs dropped to make a return trip worthwhile, and seeing as it’s so easy on the eyes, there’s not much convincing needed. This is a must play for those who like the odd exclamation of “Woah!” with their platformers.
A PS4 review copy of Planet Alpha was provided by Team 17’s PR team, and the game is available from today (4th September) on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch, and also marks the 100th game release for Team 17.