If you were to ask me what my favourite game was, I’d probably struggle to give a definitive answer.
Having played so many great titles over the years it can hard to pick between them, but when I look back, there have been many occasions in which several favourites have all come from the same creative minds. MercurySteam are one such studio, with them delivering the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series and even having strong input on Clive Barker’s Jericho. Seeing their name pop up once more with the recent release of Raiders of the Broken Planet was more than enough to see me compelled to jump in. But would I be in for another fantastic journey, or does Raiders of the Broken Planet fail to live up to MercurySteam’s past glory.
If you’ve not yet dived into the free prologue of Raiders of the Broken Planet, given the quiet arrival, there’s a high chance you have no idea what it is. Raiders of the Broken Planet is the latest attempt at a four vs one asymmetrical shooter – a sub-genre that has proved rather popular in recent months. Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be, because given my time with the game I’m not sure if that’s completely accurate.
The story is set upon the Broken Planet, a planet physically shattered and now under the invasion of human forces who have teleported in search of Aleph – the mysterious power source radiating from within. In typical human fashion, many invaders have split into different factions and now battle for the control of Aleph, but their time is up, and one leader in particular vows to stop them. Harec is that leader and with the assistance of what is regarded to be the best fighters on the planet, Harec and his team of constantly bickering juggernauts look to send the humans back to Earth with a violent charge of dominance; one they hope will bring peace back to the Broken Planet once and for all.
Unfortunately, as epic as that may sound, the overall execution isn’t anywhere near as exciting and actually leaves quite a lot to be desired.
Most of the story elements within game come from the cutscenes both before and after each mission. At first glance they bring another spark of excitement to the story as every cutscene provides fantastic visuals, but it doesn’t take long before the conversation starts to flow, and our band of heroes-to-be start showing their true colours. With nothing more than petty arguments, sarcastic comments and an unnecessary amount of awkward swearing covering most of the rather dull dialogue, it seems the writing could certainly do with a little more creativity – something which if implemented would probably stop players spamming the skip cutscene option at the start of every mission.
At present it is only the game’s first campaign, Alien Myths, and the free-to-play prologue that are available, with three further campaigns set to arrive in the coming months. So whilst the current dialogue is certainly in need of vast improvement if it’s to be considered in the same quality as the graphical prowess that’s on show, there is still enough opportunity for that to change.
Although quite honestly the cutscenes might just be the best part of this game, because gameplay wise it is nothing spectacular.
Raiders of the Broken Planet plays out as a third-person shooter, and at first feels very similar to Gears of War, with characters often forced to use cover to avoid death. Although the movement and feel to things early on is the closest it comes to being on par with that level of quality, almost everything else is downhill from there on out. That said, to even get to many of the later issues, you first need to get past the early ones; ones that will see you struggle to join the online server in place, and forced to sit through exceptionally long waiting times in order to find a game. Even then you may see a reset if just one person fails to connect to the game properly. These are all issues that should really have been ironed out long before release.
Whilst the game is supposed to be a 4v1 asymmetrical multiplayer game, in which a group of four raiders face off against the antagonist, when you finally get into a game it will depend on which mission you are doing as to whether you actually play 4v1 or not. In the second prologue mission, and the first of the Alien Myth campaign missions, it seems players begin matchmaking with all five players required. But as to whether all are directly needed I’m not sure. During several of my attempts at the prologue alone – something which was way harder than it should have been – my team were forced to replay the mission due to the antagonist player leaving the match, something which in turn kicks you out of the game after a while. Strangely, on the odd occasion that a match would start in which the antagonist had backed out before play commenced, we would be able to play through to the end. What made things more confusing was the latter three Alien Myths missions were played with no antagonist at all, our team instead playing against the A.I. with no antagonist in sight. That is something which entirely ruins the purpose of a 4v1 game.
Another issue that was presented was just how difficult the enemy A.I. is to play against. Whilst I’m not one to back out of even the most hardcore of challenges, the constant enemy presence throughout every mission was certainly an irritation – when mixed with the seemingly overpowering damage they can pull off, some missions often took a lot longer than they should have. The opening prologue alone, in which players have to fight not only never-ending swarms of A.I., but also an online antagonist proves to be the hardest mission of all.
As for the missions in that we did encounter an enemy antagonist, the story took another turn of confusion. Enemy antagonists are the solo players who work against the team of raiders along with the help of the A.I. to prevent them from completing their objectives. However, with the cutscenes posing each character as someone who wishes to help save the planet – albeit grudgingly – it makes no sense to then see one of the playable raiders playing against you in an antagonist role. In my very first match I took the role of Harec, the leader of the raiders, however the enemy antagonist was also playing as the same character. Now whilst this isn’t exactly game breaking, it does ruin the chance for any immersion, raising more questions as to why there were no enemy characters to choose from.
When things get into full swing, it isn’t entirely the worst thing in the world, as the cover shooting techniques and simplistic controls make for easy playing. But the mechanics let things down. Ammo runs out way too quickly, and the only way to get more is to melee an overpowered enemy to death, whilst abilities for each of the raiders prove mostly useless to the point they feel irrelevant.
The biggest issue in terms of gameplay though is how nothing is ever explained very well. Sure you have the typical objectives that point players in the right direction, but with vague descriptions and gameplay that is repetitive, as well as objectives that offer nothing in the way of story progression past the prologue, I can’t help but feel the only real meat of the game comes from the uninspiring cutscenes.
The point of things being poorly explained is the main reason for me questioning one of the key mechanics for so long. Raiders of the Broken Planet is built around the Aleph system and performing any task such as shooting, running, fighting or rolling causes your characters stress meter to raise – something which can only reach a certain stage before the Aleph within your characters can be seen through walls by the enemy antagonist and your health fails to regenerate. Aleph can also be gained up to level five should you manage to melee attack an elite A.I. enemy or indeed the enemy antagonist, and this is then used to activate different objectives throughout the game. This is quite possibly one of the most interesting features within the game but unfortunately, due to very little in the way of explanation, it isn’t very easy to understand.
The final issue is in the lives system. The lives themselves aren’t exactly the problem, with each of the accounted ones shared between the whole team, but when you run out of lives those who are still up and kicking must remain so for a certain period of time before lives are replaced. This time period starts off at sixty seconds, but unfortunately, each time players get to this stage, the timer simply adds a further sixty seconds, despite the fact the mission progress makes for a more difficult experience anyway. That obviously means those left alive will find things near impossible if you’ve spent a few lives already, something which is impossible to avoid due to the A.I. difficulty. One clear example of this was in the campaign finale in which my co-op partner was the last remaining character – he was forced to perform near acrobatic rolls and jumps for near two minutes just to allow the rest of us to return. That can really make getting on with objectives an impossible task.
Should you look past all of that – and I wouldn’t blame you If you can’t – and you’ll probably manage to complete a mission before finally ending up at the rewards screen, and given a rating for the mission. You can then choose from the rewards options, sharing them with fellow players if you so wish, or fighting over them should your teammates decide that is the way to go. This may mean you miss out on a vital weapon blueprint, ensuring that replaying the mission is the only way everyone can get access to the goodies.
Whilst it may not be much of a silver lining, there are clear signs of potential for Raiders of the Broken Planet. There are a vast number of improvements needed before the game could be considered worth playing on a regular basis, but with the right creative direction and some key changes to some major aspects of the game could indeed see it become a great title – eventually. With so many issues at present though, it begs the question as to why Raiders of the Broken Planet wasn’t brought into the Xbox Game Preview Program first.