Oh, I do like an RTS where the odds are overwhelmingly in my favour. Which is not to say that I can’t get my scabby little bottom handed to me in Starship Troopersesque killathon Infested Planet, but it is such fun to be in control of five little men who can mow down 5000 little aliens without meeting their own maker.
A beta version of Rocket Bear’s top-down squad game is on Steam Early Access now, and while I’ve not played enough of it run headlong into any showstopper flaws or abrupt halts (all I’ve noticed is a few grammatical wobbles) I’m having a good time with what I’ve seen so far. While Heart of the Swarm meets tower defence is probably the best/laziest description, there’s perhaps even a touch of Cannon Fodder to it, though the emphasis is on epic massacres akin to Zerg battles rather than sudden skirmishes, but the beats of a small, fixed squad with limited armaments are in evidence. As are bloody thousands of bug things, which will regenerate endlessly and at the speed of bunnies on a steady diet of methamphetamine sandwiches until you manage to take out their bases.
Your five guys can kill at high velocity, but don’t last long if the aliens get into melee range, so it’s a matter of slowly creeping forwards as you spray murder in front on you, forever keeping the horde at arm’s length and striving to get close enough to take out the spawn points. More deadly foes such as turrets and bigger, uglier beasts do their level best to stop you, but meantime you slowly accrue helicopter strikes, shotguns, medics and assorted other tools of death and defence.
It becomes a little tower defence-y, in terms of you have a fairly limited pool of build points to share between unit upgrades, special attacks and buildings, but you can sell anything for a full refund at any time. So if your chaps are getting torn to pieces on the front line, you could flog a defensive turret back at one of your own spawn points, use the proceeds to buy a shotgun and hope the aliens don’t invade your home turf while you’re busy sowing heightened destruction in theirs.
The meat of the game, other than the crazy headcount, is in managing spawn points – capturing and defending as the indefatigable swarm marches here, there and everywhere. Your guys are deadlier than the average bear, but one thing they can’t do is sprint across the map at high speeds. Separating them into smaller or solo groups is viable, but take one soldier out and your ‘main’ group’s firepower is reduced by a fifth – often more than enough for the aliens’ weight of numbers to overwhelm you.
At the same time, I’d be lying if it wasn’t ultimately a bit of a power trip – it’s Aliens or Starship Troopers, but where the marines have the upper hand. The enduring pleasure of the game so far is seeing my tiny squad of grunts slowly but surely pruning back what initially appears an infinite, impossible rush of aliens into something manageable, until the point where, suddenly, you can see a few patches of ground and you’re safe to move forwards.
Underlying Infested Planet is, I think, a fairly clear-eyed sense of what is satisfying rather than what is necessarily highly strategic. (That said, I’m reasonably confident it’s gearing up to humiliate me in the later levels). That’s a difficult balance to strike, but so far Infested Planet gets it right. I am killing thousands upon thousands of aliens, but it feels as though I’m making smart decisions to do so, rather than that I’m just holding down a button, drooling and watching the bodies mount.
There’s also ongoing new toys and new types of devilry to contend with, so as yet the kill everything, all the time, then do it again formula certainly doesn’t feel exhausted. It does look a little samey throughout, and the alien types can be a little indistinct, but I’m not comfortable with haranguing it for that as it’s a mere beta. The important thing is that it’s found a formula and a balance which remixes a glut of RPS tropes into in a very immediate good time.
Infested Planet’s beta is available on Steam Early Access now.