Games that strive to immerse their audience rely on factors that affect their experience outside of the gameplay. The first step is typically to familiarize the audience with the background and locations. Introducing them to the characters and the world in general. They frequently rely on openings that completely pulls the imagination of the players and focus on gaining their attention and in this sense, Planet Alpha has derived much inspiration from INSIDE.
It has no visible HUD and the focus is all on presenting the player the best view possible. The gameplay is kept simple with button prompts shown to hint at what to do in various situations. The player is kept evaluating how they can tackle each puzzle by looking at the environment and taking hints from there. This is not a terrible way to approach the design of the game, except here the issue is with the gameplay. Forced stealth represents a vital role in Planet Alpha and with the floaty controls, it never seems to accomplish that well.
Given the indie nature of the development team, this is an impressive and ambitious game and addresses some interesting themes. It features an unknown protagonist in a dream-like scenario set on a remote planet where the focus is on crafting a story that highlights the influence of science-fiction and how it dominates the environment. Planet Alpha is utterly gorgeous, it looks therefore excellent with its subtle use of colors that I had to double-check if it was not using HDR. The game doesn’t offer any HDR support but it nevertheless manages to look vibrant and colorful.
While the game looks pleasant, the art style is something that I feel like it was a hit or miss. At times, the design of some of the creatures that you can encounter in the game seems to fit comfortably within the world, but they can also feel out of place at times. Early in the game, you go through a location with rocks that appear like voxels and this design was in conflict with the aesthetics of rest of the level.
Planet Alpha frequently feels like it lacked a consistent vision but there is no doubt it offers many fascinating ideas, they merely needed better execution. Controls are not as precise, so it is possible you will sometime lose a life due to faulty jumps. Objects that are in the foreground can sporadically be used to climb over obstacles. This is most frequent with the blocks that you push, but the collision detection is terrible so your character won’t always grab on them. It takes some time to get into the groove with the controls. The puzzles are also rather uninspired in design where the focus is more on consuming your time than presenting something that is a pleasure to figure out.
Puzzles feel significantly limited with some block-pushing mixed with a mechanic that enables you to manipulate time. You can accomplish this to reveal blocked paths. It is another segment where the game truly shines with gorgeously rendered graphics and extraordinary lighting all highlighting the day and night cycle, but the puzzles themselves are simply disappointing. They are straightforward to figure out and don’t offer anything thought-provoking. They merely alter the structure of the level so that a blocked path is now visible.
The story makes it hard for me to prefer the leading character, who is apparently an astronaut. Background exposition is used to showcase what is going on in this odd modern world but your character hardly interacts with anyone to make it all meaningful. It is purely a side-scrolling journey that you have to go through to make it to another side. As a game with an open narrative, you are independent to form your own interpretation of what happens in the game, but the conclusion remains a mildly disappointing one for me.
I immensely enjoyed the visuals of Planet Alpha, and I think we need more games with similar visual style, but I couldn’t overlook some of its faults. The stealth segments, in particular, are incredibly frustrating. The reason why they end up more of a hurdle is that of the lack of visual cues. It is hard to sometime figure out if you are performing stealth correctly. This leads to trial and error moments as you keep attempting it in a loop hoping your luck put you through this section.
It might look like that I am overly negative on the game, but this is not the case here. I genuinely often enjoyed what the game had to offer. It is a reasonably good side-scrolling platformer, but it is not exactly mind-blowing as its peers. This doesn’t mean you should miss out on it, but for $19.99, I think it is a competitive price for the stunning visuals that you will witness during this journey. I wish the gameplay was better, but alas it is not the case here.
Planet Alpha Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: PLANET ALPHA, a beautiful alien world filled with mystery and danger. Pursued by relentless enemies, you must harness the power of night and day as you struggle to survive.
Final Score - 7/10
Planet Alpha tickles our imagination with its tremendous beautiful visuals but fails to meet the same quality for its gameplay. It is a trippy otherworldly experience with some faults that prevent it from standing next to the other industry greats like INSIDE and Limbo.