Planetary Annihilation Review:Price:
The dwarf planet Graphene is about to become the cueball in the most monumental game of snooker ever played. I’ve just completed constructing the second of two “Halley” megathrusters on this desolate spacerock, and a GLaDOS-esque computer voice announces that “Planetary Annihilation” is now possible. Oh goody!
I lock in the target coordinates – a semi-habitable desert planet on the far side of the solar system, and hit engage. The thrusters kick into life, belching huge jets of fire into space, and Graphene slowly begins its slingshot-course around the sun. The desert-planet’s doom is all but certain. But the enemy commander has one last trick up his sleeve. He’s surreptitiously built a portal on the far side of Graphene, and is about to send an army through it to destroy my precious Halleys. But I’ve prepared for this scenario. Across the inky void lies a third planet, where an enormous tank-platoon of my own construction awaits deployment.
I send them through the teleporter to the surface of Graphene, just as the first few enemy units poke their metal hulls through my opponent’s gateway. A colossal final battle rages on this planetoid hurtling through space, half a minute from its target. The enemy Commander's gateway is destroyed. His fate is sealed. Moments later, Graphene smashes into the desert planet, shattering it like a dropped egg. The mushroom cloud that signifies the enemy commander’s demise is just visible amid the planet's obliteration.
In these moments, Planetary Annihilation is an absolutely brilliant game. In terms of bold and bombastic entertainment I haven’t enjoyed a real-time-strategy this much since, goodness, the first Company of Heroes way back in 2006. It combines classic RTS base-building, resource management and army construction with an interstellar metagame of planet-hopping, trans-solar invasions, and absolutely demented weaponry. Unfortunately, while PA often has such marvellously enjoyable moments, the experience is not a consistent one. What's more, there's a niggling sensation that it isn't finished either, at times feeling lacklustre at both micro and macro levels.
A spiritual successor to the late nineties RTS Total Annihilation, which I should point out that I have never played, Planetary Annihilation evoking shades of the best old RTS' – Age of Empires, Command and Conquer, Supreme Commander, while at the same time bringing something unmistakeably new to the proceedings.
You assume the role of a robot commander of a robot army, who whether in single or multiplayer, is given the straightforward task of destroying every other robot commander they encounter. An individual “match” of Planetary Annihilation takes place within a solar system that consists of one to eight planets, dwarf planets, moons and asteroids. Planets range from primordial hothouses dribbling lava and fire, to idyllic garden worlds, glittering ice-crusted baubles, and barren, arid rocks.
In its initial phase, Planetary Annihilation is a very typical RTS. You build structures which issue units that enable the construction of further structures and units. In addition to that, you must see to resource requirements by building energy generators and mining metal deposits that occur on all worlds. Resources are unlimited in their abundance, but your ability to build structures and units depends on how many resources you collect per-second. If your energy output or metal mining process is too slow, your production and expansion will grind to a halt, making you vulnerable to attack.
The tutorial is totally inadequate in explaining how Planetary Annihilation works. I still don’t understand why so many strategy games skimp on the tutorial while FPS’ feel the need to explain how to crouch every single time, but there it is. Fortunately the information it misses out is available externally through Wikis and Youtube videos. Anyway, it doesn't take long to figure out some basic economy and production management, like building multiple unit factories and automating them to constantly build specific units, and ensuring mining equipment is guarded by a network of turrets and other defensive structures.
It's all very familiar, but that's partly the appeal. Watching buildings rise from the ground, constructed from the weird blue uni-spray of fabrication units, is pleasantly engaging, and the bright, cartoon-like visuals are complemented by some wonderfully detailed animation. Everything moves, clicks and whirrs just as a robot base building a robot army should.