I think Planet Explorers and I would have gotten off on a much better foot if it hadn’t inexplicably crashed my computer every time I tried to run it for a week.
I have no idea why it suddenly started working when it did. Patches. Godly intervention. Who knows. But it did – and for the less astute among you, Planet Explorers are… pretty much a game about exploring a planet. No prizes for creativity there.
For those of you who haven’t had Planet Explorers show up on your radars yet, it’s a weird cross between Minecraft and a generic Korean MMO. It’s… strange. Fun, with endless possibilities, but a bit disjointed and static. It’s a living world, and a beautiful one at that, but in its early alpha stages, it just seems a bit janky.
The story starts you out stranded on a planet after your ship crashed. To survive, you have to bounce around bopping lizards on the nose and chopping down trees with small knives. It takes the generic MMO quest structure, but adds in a crafting/building dynamic which actually seems like a blindingly obvious pairing. There is, of course, a “creative” type mode, which lets you loose to build whatever the hell you like, but during my time playing the game in early access, I decided to focus on the story, in the hopes of learning the ropes a bit before leaping headfirst into building giant penises out of animal corpses.
So, you crash on this unexplored alien planet, and your first port of call is to begin butchering the local wildlife with primitive tools. It’s like Columbus and America all over again. What really boggles the mind is that you have a replicator at your disposal – a thing that creates tools and supplies if you feed matter into it – but you still end up wandering around with a wooden sword and shield like a ten year old who’s just left a Renaissance Fair. Sure, your prospects improve as you progress, but some of the story just doesn’t make sense. And it seems a bit odd that your first act on this unprobed, unexplored planet is to go on a merciless killing spree for animal fat to make torches. Seriously? Explorers, don’t have to do that now – surely there’s an emergency pack of flares in this hyper-futuristic escape pod?
For a game about building and taking in beautiful environments you sure do a lot of killing. It’s much like how your first action in Watch_Dogs, a game initially promising to be a more clever affair, is to pull a trigger. It would have been much more fitting to just start you off with a basic pack of supplies and maybe have you avoid some wandering creatures that could kill you in an instant rather than just farming stupid herbivores for their parts like the cyborg from last night’s Doctor Who (Aha, topical reference). There’s no survival to it, and at its worst, it just feels like an MMO farming simulator. Go here. Get ten bear kidneys. Marvel at how some bears don’t have any kidneys. Repeat until you throw up.
It does a fantastic job of pushing that survival element and sparking the same childlike wonder Minecraft did all those years ago, but there’s just too much guess work at this point in its development for all the complexities it’s eventually going to possess. Is the flaws, something that’s going to be addressed or is it going to be shipped much like this with a few buffs and shines? Minecraft’s basic animation is fine because that’s all part of its charm – but the combat and resource farming animations are just weird and weightless. It looks like you’re having an epileptic fit at the tree until it falls down out of shame. Nuts and bolts need tightening all over the place before it can be as heartily recommended as it could be.
I love charging headlong into a world with having next to no idea with what to do – it’s what makes games like this so much fun, but Planet Explorers are just missing some kind of vital life force at the moment. Something’s missing and I don’t know what. It could be that the real joy in the game is found outside of the story mode – after all, Minecraft and Don’t Starve eschew a story in favour of the power of imagination, which goes much further. You can rest assured I’ll be revisiting it at full-on release time, but right now, I wouldn’t rush to get into Planet Explorers’ pants. It’s too young. Promising, and has all the potential to be an excellent title, but it just goes to show – there is such a thing as too early access.
Also – meat is currency. What’s up with that?