Raiders of the Broken Planet has just been released by MercurySteam and whilst not perfect, it is showing a fair bit of promise. The game itself is an episodic, four vs one third person shooter that is best when played against other players, but which (unusually) also offers a complete solo campaign. The game features a prologue (which is effectively a demo) and currently, a single campaign called “Alien Myths” which offers three core missions and lasts about three or four hours for a single run, but clearly supports multiple plays.
The game is set to include four campaigns in total, with the remaining three already announced via the MercurySteam website. Each costs about ten pounds in proper money, so the final game will cost about the same as a normal full priced release, or maybe less if you usually pay the inflated RRP for most titles obtained digitally. Releasing a game that for all intents and purposes looks and plays like a big budget release in this way is a bold move that shows the confidence MercurySteam has in their product. Any why not? After all, this is the team that rebooted the Castlevania series with 2010’s superb Lords of Shadow and more recently, Metroid II: Samus Returns for the 3DS.
Whilst not entirely original when it comes to core components, Raiders of the Lost Planet is at least clear about what it wants to provide. The asymmetrical four on one gameplay provides an exciting mix of shooting and melee combat enhanced by stealth mechanics and progressive objectives that help to make levels feel nice and varied. Players can choose their characters from a selection of six at the moment, although another half-dozen are planned for future campaigns. Each character is designed for a specific use, such as sniping or tanking and whilst these differences do show in the weapon loadouts and special abilities, characters in Raiders are nowhere near as specialised as Overwatch, for example.
Which character you choose becomes more interesting once you actually get into a level, which is where some of the unique features in Raiders begin to shine through. Take Stress, for example, which is literally used as a representation of how your character is feeling about the current situation. High stress levels make characters more visible on the map, so returning to a state where stealth is an option means retreating until you’ve calmed down. This is also a wise strategy for managing team resources, as players share a pool of sixteen respawns initially and after that, their ship has to refuel whilst any remaining survivors fight a desperate battle to stay in the game.
Even though most of the combat takes place against AI controlled opponents (especially the rank and file enemies) it is possible for players to drop into each others games as “The Antagonist.” This is effectively a nemesis style of play wherein the solo player has unlimited respawns and is able to see who he is up against before going into battle, which provides the kind of intel needed when heavily outnumbered. Players on the larger team will spend much of their time shooting at enemy bots, but The Antagonist really does need to use stealth and hit and run tactics in order to succeed. The characters become much more interesting as The Antagonist, with snipers and brawling specialists bringing tactical options, and tanks working well to disrupt more fragile teams.
When melee combat is initiated, Raiders presents players with a brief sort of minigame that allows the combatants to trade blows until one is killed. This is achieved via a classic rock-scissors-paper system that uses strikes, grapples and dodges to determine the outcome. It feels quite punishing, as losing a fight will result in death every time, so allowing The Antagonist to get behind the team and take out one or more key players in this way can cause a major issue. I didn’t find much by way of visual cues in the combat to be able to excel at it, but I bet others will find ways to excel at it as the game gains traction.
I said earlier that Raiders looks big budget, and that is certainly true. The graphics are always delivered in the third person and represent the same kind of dusty off-world colony or rig that we’ve seen in games like Borderlands and Bulletstorm. The overall aesthetic is not dissimilar to Overwatch to be fair, although I would say that Blizzard’s masterpiece has better level design and a lot more variety – but that’s not a hard claim to make when Raiders only has three missions divided into mildly varied subsections at the moment. Sound is just as impactful as you would hope with grunts and growls from the characters and big weapon effects. It’s nothing spectacular, but it certainly does the job.
On the downside, I do feel as if I am reviewing only a quarter of a game, which I suppose is also true, so it’s hard to know how Raiders will pan out over the long term. For now, I feel like it’s possible to get good value for money from the game because the cost of entry is so low, but I have no idea whether or not it will have the long term appeal across three more campaigns to retain my interest. The prologue mission can be played for free though, so there is absolutely no harm in me suggesting that you: