Space; the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Money Inc. Its continuing mission: to plunder new star systems, attack unsuspecting aliens, and to gain as much profit as no man has done before. Am I a Ferengi or something? No, instead Planets Under Attack has been warped into your living room, developed by Targem Games and published by TopWare Interactive. This sleek and to the point strategy game tries to fill a niche left hungry in the wake of big budget games.
Planets Under Attack is a very streamlined, simplistic strategy game where the player starts off with one or more planet and must win a variety of game modes by taking over other planets. Capture, king of the hill, domination, and the classic elimination modes are staples in the game, with a new interesting mode called payback, which I will explain later. Each planet has a population which is used to make ships to attack other planets. There are three planet types to add some strategic depth to the gameplay: City, Bank, and Fortress. City planets give you more population and more population means more ships at a 1 to 1 ration. Bank planets give you an influx of cash at regular intervals. This is very important as it costs money to attack other planets. When attacking, your income from non-bank planets freezes. Your total bank roll also counts as your attack and defense stat. Fortresses are stationary turrets that shoot any non-allied ship passing by it. Lastly, only city planets produces a population, meaning the other two will never regenerate people unless you send them there manually.
The entire game is essentially a test of risk and reward. As it is a real-time strategy game there are no breaks, and the gameplay offers very little time for breaks to recollect your thoughts if you suddenly start being on the losing end of the battle. Every time you attack it costs money, and as mentioned, your money bar is also your attack and defense stat, making the gameplay very simple to learn. Each attack sends waves of ships against the target, reducing the population of your planets. When a planet reaches zero population, it is taken over. When you are not attacking, or while moving ships to allied planets, your money goes up until it reaches a limit based off the number of planets and upgrades you control. More planets and upgrades mean a higher population, and a higher bank account. Sound simple? It is, but don’t let simplicity hide the fun.
The game does have some RPG elements that give it more depth, particularly for online multiplayer, as completing missions on the various difficulty settings nets you experience, with each new level unlocking an upgrade. Each player can equip one tech upgrade from each of the three categories: ships, people, and special. Again, it is all about analyzing risk and reward as most of the upgrades have some kind of drawback to even out the bonus. Make your ships hit the enemy harder than the juggernaut but they are as slow as molasses going uphill in a Canadian blizzard. Have your planets produce population faster but at the cost of collecting taxes at a slower rate. Risk vs. Reward 101 is what the name of the game should be called.
Graphically the game looks like it could be run off of a Sega Genesis, as small ship models and non-moving portraits are not the most graphically taxing, but they are sleek without any frame rate or pixilation issues. The lack of graphics gives it a charm that is refreshing for those whose priorities are gameplay and not graphics. The game does feature some voice acting, and while not worthy of an Emmy, they are not atrocious, just normal and unremarkable. My ear drums were not asking me to rake them out, which is a good sign. However, on a funny note the British actor they hired was entertaining solely because he intentionally said words wrong or the recording studio didn’t double-check. At least none of the British people I’ve met pronounced ‘clerk’ as ‘Clark’ before.
Story wise, this game tries to make an attempt at being humorous but it mostly just services as being better than dead air between missions, and giving you some reason why you are going from stage to stage. The comedy of the story requires the player to literally take their perception of reality and flush it out. You are tasked with paying off your family’s debts. The funny thing is you would have easily been able to pay it off after the genocide of your 200th planet. Seriously, I think even a planet of yakuza loan sharks would eventually say enough is enough and stop loaning the character money; if he was really that much in debt he’d have to brave unknown space to pay it off.
What is fun and unique about this strategy game is it incorporates different gameplay modes as part of the story missions. Ninety-five-percent of all strategy game story mission objectives are destroy everything, and usually if it changes for the 5 percent it is survive for X minutes or destroy a certain target. Planets Under Attack keeps switching between elimination, king of the hill, domination, capture, and payback modes, which keeps the game fresh and your mind thinking as you have to change strategies entirely. Elimination requires you to simply take over all your opponent’s planets. Capture is the same as conquer except you only need to capture the planets with bulls-eyes over them to win, which makes the blitzkrieg option enticing. King of the hill is exactly like it’s FPS brethren, as there is a target planet needing to be held for a specific period of time. This gets tricky. If you get attacked by more than one enemy it is always interesting to see who wins the battle as the planet could change hands a dozen times in a matter of seconds. Domination mode has one or more planets with a crystal icon giving you points. Reach the magic number and you win.
Payback is the new one, and I give credit to whoever thought of the idea as it actually hooks into the game’s storyline. You have a target goal of money you need to pay back to the loan sharks, who have an invincible planet that keeps spawning ever increasing waves of ships to kill you. Every time you pay money the timer extends before the next wave. But for as much fun and adrenaline the mode produces, it again serves to point out how flawed the simple story is as the golden rule of loan sharking is ignored. Dead men don’t pay back.
Overall the game is fun to play. The controls are tight and smooth, the interfaces are streamlined, and it has a chess-like feel where the game is easy to play but takes time to master. Having an online mode gives the game infinite replayability, as the insanity of a 4-way elimination game will definitely have the strategy adrenaline junkies craving more. Buy the game if you are interested in playing a fast-paced strategy game where the average game time is less than making a cup of coffee. However, if you are looking for something to give you a challenge, this might not be your kind of game as even on hard the game is easy, unless you plan to entirely play against human opponents.