By Christopher Livingston on March 24th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, exploring a planet in the appropriately named Planet Explorers.
The title of the game is direct, to be sure. In Planet Explorers, a planet exploration game by Pathea Games, there is a planet, and you explore it. If that doesn’t sound like enough, there’s also resource gathering, crafting, building, and tons of alien creatures to discover, by which I mean “slaughter and turn into money.” Get ready, innocent alien planet! Humans have arrived, and we’ve brought hunting, real estate development, and capitalism.
There’s a little movie explaining the game’s central predicament, but here’s the abridged version: some colonial spaceships have crashed on an alien planet, so get out there and start exploring! Well, start exploring in a bit. First, there’s my shipmate, Gerdy Hooke, to attend to. She’s injured, see, and needs me to do her a bunch of favors, like chop some wood, fetch some water, and make a campfire, all in service of introducing me to the game’s crafting system.
Using a tool to chop down a tree and using the tree to make a tool to chop down trees better is a perfectly recognizable activity in today’s crafting games, but there’s something a little odd about it in this particular case. Here I am, an astronaut from an advanced civilization that has mastered space travel, and yet I’m whacking trees with the most primitive of whacking instruments. Does our colonization ship not have a compartment full of wrist-mounted laser cutters? Do I not have a cybernetic implant that allows me to summon a swarm of hovering robotic lumberjack drones? Just because Bones from Star Trek got marooned on a distant planet doesn’t mean he immediately resorted to leeches and trepanning, right?
At any rate, I’ve soon crafted a primitive sword and shield and I can begin my true mission: exterminating every single alien lifeform with medieval violence, like a real explorer. And there are so many to kill! Lobster-like creatures scuttle from the ocean. Bipedal lifeforms stroll casually across the plains. Gentle herbivores waddle through the alien grass. And I run from one to the next, wantonly slaughtering them for their inside-parts.
The reason I need to kill and harvest so urgently is that my injured shipmate, Gerdy, has a number of things I need, like crafting recipes, food, tools, and space-bandages. Another thing Gerdy has is the sheer fucking temerity to charge me for those supplies like she’s running an interstellar Rite Aid [Boots. --British Ed]. The currency of this planet has already been decided upon, and that currency is hunks of alien meat, which seems presumptuous considering we haven’t been here long enough to even try a mouthful. To afford Gerdy’s goods I need the freshly-hewn flesh of alien beings, and so the callous slaughter begins and continues until I begin stumbling across a few aliens who are considerably better at killing me than I am at killing them.
Given my deserved comeuppance by an angry alien birdbear, I take a break from attacking everything and expend a little spaceboot-leather locating the survivors of other downed colony ships. They’re doing a lot better than I am: instead of just a simple campfire, they’ve set up an actual camp which becomes our home base. Once again, despite the catastrophic crash and reversion to wooden tools, my civilization’s rampant capitalism has survived, and I’m able to spend my grisly meat collection on improved armor and a new sword from another colonist’s shop. Naturally, everyone has errands they need me to run, but I’m feeling restless and want to do some unfettered planet exploring, as promised in the game’s title. So, off I run to let these greedy merchants pace around, wallowing in their uncompleted tasks.
The alien planet stretches out before me, quite a massive bit of map to traverse on foot. There are interesting rock formations, alien plants to pick and pluck, and an eye-popping selection of lovely space-dinosaurs ambling along. I run among them, gawping at the larger ones and attacking the tiny ones that look defeatable. The sun is shining, the grass is waving, the wind is OH GOD A GIANT ALIEN DINO-BIRDMONSTER LANDS ON ME AND MONSTERS ME TO DEATH
I barely had time to get a picture of it (too busy dying and being terrified) but you can see my tiny, incapacitated body below the word “Revive” and above it, only the lower half of a simply enormous winged, beaked, clawed flying screeching dino-nightmare. This development is both troubling — my exploration will clearly be quite fettered after all — and awesome, because holy shit! Giant flying dinosaurs! I am so down with that.
I respawn back at camp and immediately run off again. I’ll be more cautious now, but I’m also excited to see what other alien beasts prowl the planet, scour the skies, and do something that begins with ‘O’ in the oceans. Occupy? Occupy the oceans.
There are plenty of interesting creatures to find and to be found by. Some tall, slender, and peaceful unless attacked. Some fast, vicious, and attacky, even when not attacked. At least one, a giant crab-spider, only comes out at night. Some are even actively friendly: the little biped, like the one I callously slaughtered in an earlier screenshot, actually rushes over to help me defeat another fuzzy birdbear. Others are unending in their desire to kill me to death, such as the one that appears to be part musk ox, part flamethrower. It spits fireballs and pursues me relentlessly for miles until it accidentally hits and angers a lumbering green rhino-dinosaur the size of a Panzer tank. I use the distraction to flee out of range.
I also come across other survivors. A guy named Chen Zhen says he’s a weapons specialist, and attempts to tell me more but I interrupt him because SELL ME WEAPONS IMMEDIATELY. I’M GETTING MY ASS KICKED OUT HERE, ZHEN. I’m excited to find he has guns and ammo for sale, and I buy some, and then try to kill him so I can take everything else he has. Tragically, I cannot kill the human gun store that is Chen Zhen, so my bloodlust will have to remain confined to aliens.
After a day spent running around the grasslands, I’m keen to check out some other biomes, though typically when I travel a great distance from camp I run into more powerful and hostile aliens that I have not done nearly enough crafting or buying to defeat. Nicely, though, the game also has an adventure mode, which lets you select the type of planet and climate you want to visit, and starts you out in an established colony where you can quickly buy goods, enlist AI squadmates, and get to essplorin’. There’s multiplayer available if you’d prefer to get your ‘splores on with friends or strangers.
The game also has a building mode, which I only briefly toyed with, which you should thank me for because I have no talent for construction. If you saw pictures of my Minecraft crap-shack your eyes would burrow backward through your skull in revulsion. You can drag the blocks you’ve mined and place them right into the world in 3-D space, which is pretty nifty.
Finally, there’s a mode that lets you create custom items like weapons and vehicles which you’ll then be able to craft in-game, though when I tried to build a car out of a giant gold brick, four tires, and a massive laser cannon, it didn’t recognize it as a working vehicle. Gee, I can’t imagine why.