June 27th, 2012 | By Dominic Tarason
In the future, all worlds will be cuboid. At least, that seems to be the way things are going. After the enormous success of Minecraft, everyone wants a slice of that chunky, malleable environmental pie. First seen back in March, Planet Explorers caught our eye – similar in style to the upcoming Starforge, although with less of a focus on physics, and more on large-scale construction and defensive elements. The first playable alpha build has now been released via IndieDB, and is free for all to download. Here’s the V0.1 trailer to give you an idea of what to expect:
The very first impression the game makes is a technical one. The Unity engine really is ubiquitous now, isn’t it? It’s used in so many high-profile indie games – including Starforge and many of the 7DFPS entries – but it still feels surprising to see it, for some reason. The technology behind it is now solid enough to rival UDK and Cryengine, so it’s no shock, but it feels odd to see that familiar Unity configuration box pop up at startup. Right now, there only seems to be one playable character model – a human female – which I quickly recolored orange with green hair, because Oompa Loompas Vs Dinosaurs IN SPAAAAACE is a great concept, and you know it.
Despite being a first Alpha build, there’s already a fully narrated intro, showing you crash-landing tragically on a tropical planet during a colonization mission. From there, you begin the tutorial. This game definitely identifies itself as an RPG first and foremost. Traditional MMO-esque controls, and a wounded-but-talkative survivor of your crash is nearby to walk you through the basics of survival. In short: You’re kinda screwed. You’re on a beautiful, lush planet (and currently on a wide open plain with scattered trees) full of hungry dinosaurs, and all you have is a glowing blue sci-fi survival knife.
With not many other things to do, I hastily chopped down some trees in an optional first-person view, and (naturally) used the conveniently produced blocks to assemble a house for my ailing companion. The building interface is quite elegant – you can only lay blocks in straight lines, but as many as you like, and stacked on top of each other if you want. It’s not difficult to quickly draw out an enclosed little building. It feels a bit more like building in a strategy or management game than in a Minecraft clone. This hints at what the later stages of the game might play like – there’s less micromanagement of inventory here, and more building.
Your injured friend will give you a few basic quests – once you’ve gathered some wood with your knife, you’re given the blueprints to assemble an axe. The axe lets you gather wood more efficiently (you get more units of wood per tree chopped), and that lets you start putting up walls. You soon upgrade to being able to place defensive arrow turrets. Clearly, you’re assembling things using a pocket Replicator, as an intelligent auto-tracking arrow turret made entirely out of wood strikes me as a little silly. Very useful, though, as it’s quite easy to get a lot of dinosaurs chasing you, and melee combat is exceptionally slow and clunky.
I’ve not played much further beyond basic fortifications and defenses at the moment, but if the trailer above is any indication, things escalate quite impressively, with larger dino-aliens able to knock down buildings. Guess there’s a reason for those noisy cannon turrets as well as upgraded melee combat gear later on. I’ll be digging deeper into this over the coming week, and seeing what depths this early build holds. It’s pretty clearly a clunky Alpha build right now, but there’s an impressive amount of content and gameplay here already. Grab the latest build off IndieDB and give it a shot. Just be warned – it seems a little crash-prone in windowed mode. Full-screen seems to alleviate that somewhat.
So far, Planet Explorers plays weirdly like a blend of Minecraft, Starforge, an MMO and a Tower Defense game. It’s like a great big grab-bag of potentially addictive elements. It’ll be very interesting to see whether they can blend them in the right quantities to make a compelling whole, though. Pathea (the developers) estimate that the game will remain in Alpha through the summer, and graduate to Beta testing sometime in the Fall/Autumn. The final version? Well, maybe by Christmas, if we’re lucky. This one looks to be worth keeping a close eye on, though.