Planetary Annihilation Review
Planetary Annihilation is yet another game funded by a Kickstarter campaign. What sets Planetary Annihilation apart from the rest is the fact that when it launched in Alpha via Steam Early Access, it did so with a $90 price tag in June of 2013. The game received an official release in September of 2014, and three months later dropped to the sale price of $5.99 (Editor’s note: the game is now priced at $29.99 on Steam). This has been perceived as a bad omen to many, and the game has drawn a lot of criticism for making players pay a premium price for the buggiest version of the game. Business practices, especially when Kickstarter money is involved, seem to have become a critical component of winning the support of gamers – but of course this doesn’t take into consideration the actual game itself. So let’s do that.
Planetary Annihilation was developed by several people who worked on the Supreme Commander games, and that’s very apparent in how the game plays and looks. Supreme Commander 2 was significantly more streamlined than the first game in the series and in a way Planetary Annihilation follows that direction. The goal is simple; destroy all enemy commanders without losing your own. I will say this upfront, even with a good setup this game is resource intensive. So after turning the settings down I started an AI Skirmish match which crashed for no apparent reason when I encountered the enemy for the first time. After a reboot the second match went smoothly and I was able to take out the enemy in 30 minutes. I did like that combat was viable at a relatively early stage, and the planet we were fighting on was an interesting ice world with pine trees that caught fire when stray missiles hit them. In some multiplayer matches my allies have had to flee to other worlds to survive, but it seems that the map is somewhat undermined by the fact that controlling a starting planet can be very beneficial and striking out to a new one for resources can be too risky.
The idea of fighting over a solar system is an intriguing one, but the execution is somewhat disappointing. In the multiplayer matches I played, people seemed to complain universally about having to click in the middle mouse wheel to rotate the camera around the planet. I found that using the arrow keys freed my mouse hand and was more fluid, but then I was forced to use my left hand for hovering over the arrow keys to use the right shift key of the keyboard – which needless to say I am not used to. The shift key is crucial to queuing commands. It felt like the bigger problem was that the camera didn’t really seemed fixed to the core of the planet; zooming in felt strange. I want to zoom in so I can see what is happening, but doing so seemed to make it evident that the camera was looking at each moon/planet at a slight angle which was irritating.
The combat in Planetary Annihilation is very reminiscent of the Supreme Commander games. You need hordes of bots of varying types, and they will die by the truckload but it’s very satisfying to see massive armies clash on the battlefield. The nuances rest more in army construction and not so much in combat maneuvers on a small scale. Gone is the research system and unique armies of Supreme Commander. This does mean players start and continue with equal footings, operating more like chess where it’s about decisions as much as game pieces. Land and air combat is familiar and rewarding but space fairing units and interplanetary movements were counterintuitive and disappointing. Commanders also felt fairly fragile and it was disappointing to win a game with a simple scouting force catching a commander off guard.
Overall Planetary Annihilation is promising, but leaves much to be desired. Perhaps future patches and tweaks will turn Planetary Annihilation into an enjoyable gaming experience, but it’s just not there yet. For my money I think Supreme Commander 2 would deliver more entertainment value, but Planetary Annihilation is worth picking up on sale if you’re curious or want to have some stilted multiplayer laughs with friends. My condolences to the early supporters that paid the premium to try the Alpha build.
- + Interesting concept
- + Enjoyable combat
- – Performance issues