Raiders of the Broken Planet (Xbox One Review)
On first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that MercurySteam’s latest title, Raiders of the Broken Planet was a far bigger property than it actually is. Considering the property is an original one, with a fairly intriguing premise, and hints of a complex and rich universe, it’s no wonder that almost straight off the bat the game feels like it’s punching above its weight. Taking a step away from their most recent turns with the rebooted Castlevania series, Raiders is a 3rd person co-operative cover shooter, with a few asymmetric aspects and a lot of scope for tactical play, as well as some seriously frustrating issues.
Set on the mysterious and half-heartedly named “Broken Planet”, the game tells the story of a group of archetypical shooter heroes, trying to rid their world of pillaging human invaders. Led by the stoic and mysterious sniper, Harec, his ragtag group of playable characters each lend their unique skills and backstories to the experience, as the plot-based story unfolds throughout the series of missions. The crux of the game is that the titular Broken Planet is the only known source of a mysterious biological substance called Aleph, which can be used to power machinery, energise people and… literally whatever else the plot seems to require at the time.
It’s an interesting universe, and the combination of a solid comic-book aesthetic to the look of the game, as well as remarkably cinematic cutscenes which add to the flavour of the game. The distinct, and boisterous characters are all larger than life, suiting the excessively muscled and stylised look perfectly. The personalities of Harec, Lycus, Alica and the rest clash with each other nicely, helping drive the frankly silly narrative forwards, which in turn supplies a plausible reason behind the continuing missions and the unlocking of new characters as they appear. There are even animated origin comics secreted away on the game’s website, to help expand on the lore.
The game itself is broken neatly into story chapters, with a free prologue available, and the first content only a meagre £7.99. But for that price there are only four missions, each with several individual sections. Aside from the tutorial mission-which makes up half of the prologue, and ties you to playing Harec-players can choose any of the available raiders, and build a 4-person squad with others online to play out the various scenarios. Allowing for a broad range of fun with different playstyles and some genuine tactical play, as each chalk and cheese hero’s movement, armour weapons and special powers are very different and must be used judiciously.
For example, Harec’s sniping ability is very powerful, allowing instant headshot kills on most generic enemies, but at midrange he’s pretty useless. However his power allows him to teleport himself in spirit onto any wall or roof surface and attack from there for a short time, before returning back. It’s hugely useful on large open maps, but in enclosed areas with many enemies, he’s liable to get dead fast. In which situation a character like Lycus is more useful, with his shotgun and kinectic shield power to ward off long range attacks. With a full squad, this allows for the aforementioned tactical play, with sniper cover, use of heavy tank players and midrange fighters and all that good stuff. Should you fail and die, it isn’t the end of the world, as there is a bank of lives allowing regenerations, and even when those run out, it’s only a short, but ever increasingly longer, wait till they recharge.
In all cases, there’s a fairly powerful melee system that spans all the characters. Where you can smash foes down with a simple few taps, however, you also have a powered fury kill, that allows you to not only wipe out an enemy with a single move, you also steal all of their Aleph, which becomes an important step in most missions. However, all enemies can do the same roll-dodge the players can, and bads bigger than a basic grunt can also perform the instakill moves, allowing for a theoretical rock-paper-scissors standoff, as rolls block melee, melee blocks instakills and instakills overpower rolls. However in practice, it’s difficult to manage, as the timing seems to favour the enemies in most instances, and it’s better to simply try to surprise attack from behind the well implemented “snap-to” cover.
The cover also has an added effect of speeding up your life recharge, important as the characters are all pretty much glass hammers. Death can come fast, and after only a few hits, the heroes go into a crawl animation until they recharge. A final novel step in the game is that each of the raiders has a level of “battle stress” which varies from one to the other. When this hits a high enough level, the Aleph in them causes them to glow, being visible to enemies through walls. Encouraging judicious use of cover, walking and stealth to keep it low. It’s a novel move, in a game brimming with some really interesting ideas.
So with all this in its favour, why would I say it punched above its weight? Well because aside from the artistic side of the production, the rest of the experience is a spiral into mediocrity and at times unfortunately broken design.
From the ground up, there is a fundamental messiness of design in almost all aspects of the game. The style and general design of the pre-game menus is cluttered, and difficult to read, even on a 50 inch television screen. There is a dearth of information explaining much of the in-game complexity, such as character upgrades, the several distinct in-game currencies, and the exact nature of the combat systems, such as the rock-paper-scissors melee system. While some of these are covered in optional info screens, they do little to make it clear, and the opening tutorial level is frankly embarrassing in both its brevity and clunkiness.
But the biggest issue with the game is that a mere couple of weeks after release, and it’s all but impossible to get a matchmade game going. Not that the menu systems would tell you that, but after literally hours spent over several days of trying to get games running, and only succeeding in getting to play the game a handful of times and then only on the free prologue, it’s clear that simply no-one is playing this game. A fact hammered home by the most popular achievement for completing a mission in an online co-op session has only been managed by 6% of players. I’ll let that sink in. Of course, there is always solo mode, but laughably the balancing for that is almost non-existent, meaning that some levels are a tedious slog through a series of actions designed to be completed by four players. That’s not even to mention the most bizarre and failed idea of them all. The inclusion of “The Antagonist” In a move popularised by Evolve and Dead by Daylight, a fifth player will be assigned the role of a demonic presence, who for reasons utterly unexplained wants to foil the plans of the Raiders. So the antagonist will spawn as a chosen hero, and use their powers to try and hinder, kill and ultimately foil the other players. However, the choice of form the antagonist takes is locked at the start of the round, meaning there’s no scope to change tactics, to suit the foes, or to cope with a different section of a mission. Meaning more often than not, the antagonist player will quit out in disgust, forfeiting the match.
It’s a terrible pity, as Raiders of the Broken Planet could have been a really interesting little shooter experience, and even now on the rare occasions when it works it is still some fun to play. But one does wonder if MercurySteam should just take the property, chuck in the game side and publish the cheesy action comic book they so clearly wanted to make.
Editors Note: We convinced that grumpy old git Graeme to help us on this one and we are eternally grateful for his words.