TopWare Interactive’s Planets Under Attack has seen a number of cosmetic overhauls since it’s initial announcement, reveal through the spread of screenshots and video footage made available in the intervening period, but with a title as deeply strategic as this one has to winder just how important such appearances are. Of course, for the casual bystander an approachable façade is the only ammunition in a digital title’s arsenal on the virtual store front, but for Planets Under Attack the cartoon characterisation belies the deeply tactical mechanics underneath.
In its most pure form, Planets Under Attack reflects indie project Mayhem Intergalatic, a three-year-old title that failed to reach the audience it rightfully deserved. TopWare Interactive are more likely to find success however, as Planets Under Attack is not only available on three times as many formats with the backing of an international publisher, but it’s also finding it’s self on the major distribution channels for each.
In Planets Under Attack, players take on the role of a commander of a fleet of spaceships attempting to take control of the galaxy by force. Beginning each level in control of a singular planet, players send available ships to neutral planets and capture them with minimal resistance. New ships are developed on each planet owned, and the currency required to send them also increases quicker with more planets. This is important as, while you’re expanding your empire, so is your opponent.
The defences of each planet are noted by a number representing the amount of ships held there. Players can send fleets of either ten, twenty or fifty ships to reinforce their own planets or attack enemy planets where the result of combat is a simply matter of number crunching: there is no skill or aggression to take into account, simply adding an extra unit to your attack will tip the tide of an equal fight. This simple system results in a plan-and-execute series of fights that change in tempo within minutes, or even seconds.
As the player increases their rank by completing missions in the campaign new technologies will become available for use. Selectable prior to engaging in each mission, the technologies are essentially stat boosts that increase defence, speed or attacking power. The choice of which to take into battle will of course depend on your preferred play style, but also the conditions set for victory in the upcoming mission. The typical ‘kill all’ and ‘capture the enemy base’ structures are of course standard, but in addition there are the ‘king of the hill’ matches, which require the player to hold control of a specific planet for a set amount of time, as well as matches which demand you take control of all of the highlighted planets at once.
In addition to the campaign where players are cast as commander of a human fleet, Planets Under Attack features multiplayer and skirmish modes which give players the opportunity to play as a second race: robots. The robots differ from the humans by being able to send ships directly from specific planets, rather than a culmination of their entire fleet. This offers a very different tactical edge to the videogame, another learning curve which, given the variety of mission in the campaign, is surprising that there’s not a separate structure specifically for the robots.
The visual quality of Planets Under Attack is commendable, with every detail of the playfield instantly recognisable at all times. The cartoon aesthetic is a pleasant entry-level design that allows for an inconsequential story to be attached to the campaign in a fashion reminiscent of the 16-bit era. The voice acting however, makes for a significant addition to the experience, as does the surprising and extremely welcome option to play Planets Under Attack in stereoscopic 3D.
As a strategy videogame Planets Under Attack is deceptively deep, with a lightweight tutorial cleverly adding new mechanics to the campaign in a fashion that leaves the player with greater confusion over how it built to such a comprehensive experience as opposed to what each and every item, option and menu command is for. Such delivery is commendable in it’s self, but with the dressing of an enduring campaign and welcome online component Planets Under Attack becomes a strategy experience that any fan of the genre would be a fool to overlook.