Planetship Review

You are a planet exploring a 3D psychedelic neon galaxy, switching from one star system to the next via warp gates, collecting chemical elements to craft powerups. When you arrive in a new star system you see a number of planets orbiting a star. The first thing to do is check the star system overview to see what the system has to offer (research, fuel, water, food) then scan the planets to reveal their names and find out which ones to send shuttles to for the resources. Meanwhile there will often be enemy planets and ships shooting at you, so you either avoid them and make a quick getaway through the nearest warp gate or else battle with them if you feel you have enough weaponry – you can pick up weapons or craft them. Occasionally there will be an ‘anomaly’ such as a cosmic jellyfish which gives out a lot of elements.

There is steady progression, crafting powerups regularly using the research and elements you’ve collected. You gradually map the galaxy by arriving in anonymous systems which are then labelled with a name so you can navigate via the main star map. Eventually you discover a way to enter a new galaxy and so on.

You can die either by being shot to death by enemies (following loss of shields then hull) or by running out of fuel, water or food. Dying means losing all weaponry, some resources and all star system labels but you keep all your powerups (in theory – see below). The objective of the game is to find a habitable planet.

The game has been given a 1950s sci-fi theme. In the background there’s constant chatter taken from old sci-fi movies (Shatner features prominently of course) and what sounds like real-life NASA mission control recordings. Incoming Messages pop up regularly with rather absurd and amusing scenarios where you have to choose between two answers to receive a minor good/bad result.

Pros

Clearly a lot of time and effort has been put into this. It has stuff coming at you from all angles constantly and all kinds of new things to discover. There’s never a dull moment.

Controls (controller) are easy to grasp. 3D space can be disorientating until you get the hang of interpreting the axis indicator, which is a good thing as I imagine that’s what it’s really like in space.

When you eventually manage to get some decent weapons it’s a lot of fun blasting all the enemies in a star system.

Quirky, irreverent Incoming Messages are a welcome distraction, although there are a limited number and you get to know them (and the correct answers) after a while.

Visuals are excellent. Interacting with planets orbiting in 3D space is pretty cool, it has to be said. There’s often too much happening on the screen; one moving object obscures another and you lose track of what you were looking at which is not necessarily a bad thing – adds a bit of extra challenge.

Music is good. There are multiple tunes on rotation, the name of the tune pops up at the top each time it changes.

Cons

There is no tutorial whatsoever. I was thrown in at the deep end with a single screen showing what the controller buttons do and a short scrolling list of tips (scan planets, send shuttles…) I was flailing around for hours in a state of confusion, wondering what to do and how to do it, running away from aggressive enemies shooting at me, not knowing how to return fire (and without extra weaponry it wouldn’t have helped anyway). I persevered and the fog gradually lifted but during that period I really didn’t want to play this any more, the only thing spurring me on was that I had a review to write.

The best part of the game is shooting at enemies. However, weaponry is far too difficult to come by. Pickups are rare and weapon crafting opportunities even rarer. The basic railgun is totally ineffective, it’s too difficult to get direct hits on moving objects – it might be easier with a mouse but I’ll never know! Essentially this leaves you defenceless for a frustrating length of time at the start of a session, always running away from overpowered enemies. When you finally get some decent weapons you can’t take a break and close the game because you’ll find all your weapons gone when you come back, even if you haven’t died.

There’s no sense of achievement or milestones within a reasonable length of time, it’s just steady exploration and crafting. After many hours I’ve had not the vaguest whiff of a habitable planet, nor have I been anywhere close to any of the Steam achievements. Check the global achievements for this and you’ll see that hardly anyone else has either.

This software is unstable. My evidence:

  1. Forget about trying to play with keyboard/mouse on Linux (I don’t know about Windows). It will send your mouse pointer all over the place in fullscreen mode, or move your window below the bottom of the screen so all you can see is an unmovable title bar, and finally will crash to desktop. Using a controller is fine.[UPDATE] it seems that the mouse behaves itself as long as you have a controller plugged in, so I’m using a combo of controller for moving around and opening menus, mouse for accurate targetting.
  2. After a few hours of uninterrupted gameplay the screen will start freezing for 5+ minutes. This is a long time to wait but then it does eventually come alive again. However, I’ve learned that this seems to be a precursor to (3).
  3. After you die you get a Continue option on the main menu which saves your powerups so you can push on with your progress. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. Several times now I’ve started the game (after finishing normally without any problems on the previous playthrough) only to find no Continue option, just ‘New Game’. The last time this happened I lost 6 hours of progress. I have good hardware, well above minimum spec, and judging by the discussion threads I’m not alone with this glitch (and other minor bugs) – Windows users have seen the same thing. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem for a game that you could jump into at any point, but this entails long hours of buildup and exploration, so losing all your mapping and powerups and having to restart from scratch makes it very frustrating.

 

Steam

No trading cards. 10 achievements but they all seem to be ridiculously difficult and/or mysterious.

Verdict

I was tempted to give a thumbs-down for the lack of guidance for new players, but when I eventually settled in I started enjoying it and I’m still playing despite the constant loss of progress so I’m giving it a recommendation but be prepared to lose your save files.

One thing I want to make clear is that this game is an acquired taste, you will probably hate it for the first few hours but then it will grow on you.

Good

  • Wonderful 3D movement
  • Psychedelic neon colours
  • Packed with humour, lore and all kinds of interesting discoveries

Bad

  • Lack of any kind of tutorial makes it frustrating at first
  • Loss of progress glitch is catastrophic and unacceptable, it's a crying shame
5.4

Average