by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
As I started to type this review, I experienced a heavy sense of deja-vu. I’d typed the intro I was typing before. I’d said almost the same thing more than once before. You might think this is a bad thing. You might think this means that Planet Alpha is generic, or that it copies too much from other games. That might be partially true, but the reason that I felt this way was because I’ve been incredibly lucky with getting absolutely beautiful games to review in 2018. More than a handful of times I’ve commented on the breathtaking visuals of the game I’d played, not just in a technical sense, but from a perspective of artistic direction. Planet Alpha continues that trend, delivering satisfying (if not fairly familiar) gameplay through beautiful visuals and an entrancing score.
It’s a fair critique to say that Planet Alpha struggles to be truly different. Most everything you’ll see, from how the game plays to how the story unfolds, will be familiar to anyone who’s picked up their share of indie titles over the last five or six years. They say, though, that if you’re going to imitate, imitate well, and Planet Alpha does package its familiar tropes into a game that holds its own. As the game starts, players take control of an unidentified astronaut on an unidentified planet, limping due to unidentified injuries. It’s here that the visual style immediately becomes clear, with the low-poly graphics bathed in a sea of deep-rich reds. The depth of field and zoomed-out cinematography over the opening minutes, drive home a sense of scale and loneliness, which start the story off in a nice blanket of atmosphere. Things then cut to a wholly different setting, but with much the same going on. Our astronaut is replaced by a raggedly-dressed alien trudging across a tan and gray landscape accented by mountainous pods. The landscapes continue to impress, with vibrant colors, interesting terrain, and animated fauna keeping things interesting on the eyes.
Day ‘N Night
It’s shortly after this that the game’s main gimmick is introduced - the ability to change the time of day. Somehow (I assume psychically, if the faint yellow glow around his or her head when the time moves is any indication), at designated areas, the planet can be shifted from day to night and vice versa. As a puzzle solving mechanic it’s not really something I haven’t seen before, but it is implemented well. The puzzles don’t get too mind-bendy, as time manipulation games seem prone to do, but are instead focused around shifting various objects on screen. Animations match nicely too, as the world’s flora and fauna react accordingly to the changes in time.
Beyond these puzzles, generally focused on either time shifting or moving blocks, stealth is the name of the game. Robots land down not too far into the adventure, and they seem to want you dead. Sneaking through tall foliage and moving when they aren’t looking will keep you alive, and the mix of light stealth and puzzle solving keep gameplay from getting too stagnant.
The stealth gameplay isn’t quite as satisfying as the platforming, though. As much as I enjoy the vibrancy of the environments, at times they fall victim to “form over function” issues. It looks nice to have a lot of depth of field and objects that blur the line between foreground, ground, and background, but sometimes it gets a bit confusing to figure out who can actually see you from where, and what’s coving you from being detected. This led to some moments of frustration, but, besides this, I didn’t have any serious issues with actual gameplay. Sure, some of the faster paced moments may err a bit too far on the side of trial-and-error, but it’s a fun enough- if not overly unique- game to play through mechanic-wise.
It’s worth noting that I did have some issues getting the game to run. When I first tried to run it (and the three times I restarted the application) the game was not scaled properly to my screen, resulting in me not being able to get past the title screen. I’m not an expert on why this may be, so I won’t hold it against the game’s score, but I’ve never had this problem with any other games before. To fix the problem I had to go find the games files on my computer, open the “properties” of the game’s .exe file, and toy with the items on the compatibility tab. I wish I could tell you exactly what I did, but I don’t quite recall, so if you run into the same problem just bounce around in there for a while until something clicks.
Deserving of your time
Planet Alpha doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it’s a game that does everything well enough to still be deserving of your time. The platforming and stealth aren’t going to blow you away, but they do their job in giving you a reason to play through the beautiful world that’s been built.
Beautiful presentation filled with bright colors and active environments.
Some frustrating moments with stealth, nothing particularly new.