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Infested Planet Review: Not Just Another Bug Hunt

Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Rocket Bear Games
Publisher: Rocket Bear Games
Release Date: 3/6/2014

 

They were everywhere, a mass of wriggling creatures surging forth like a slow tide of death. A pair of turrets auto-targeted the closest ones, slicing through the aliens’ thin skin with a satisfying explosion of red. But there were too many, and the stalwart machines were soon consumed by the horde. We were the only ones left down here. One last radioed air strike centered on the hive; one last hopeless attempt to cut off the head. We shouldered our weapons and charged.

Welcome to the most bug-ridden planet since Starship Troopers. Or maybe Char if you’re up on your Starcraft lore. Infested Planet takes a relatively simple premise from real time strategy games and sci-fi action films by giving you a squad of marines and thousands of aliens to crush under your boot.

infested planet review

Is this really the best path we can take?

The planet is seen from a directly top-down viewpoint, giving you a simplistic but effective command of the action. The maps, both randomized and scripted scenarios in the campaign start relatively small, consisting of only a handful of alien hives. The hives act as control points where the small but numerous aliens continuously spawn from. Capturing them gives you BP, the precious all-in-one resource that’s used to order more marines, change their weapon loadouts, and buy tons of useful buildings and upgrades (once researched from mission rewards).

Although we’re clearly in some distant future, the weapons are completely standard and conventional, from rifles to flamethrowers to the one-man-army minigun. Weapons can be switched and changed out on the fly to suit the current combat situation, and it becomes imperative once the enemy starts mutating. Buildings and upgrades range from a few different turret types to global buffs to unlocking new abilities. The helipad seemed crucial in each mission for calling in powerful air strikes, and I found a nice combo with the life support building (causing all marines to share health) giving my flamers a huge boost to survivability and effectiveness with taking down nests.

A regenerating Ammo resource is also utilized to represent the rocket launchers that each marine comes equipped with – perfect for tearing up hives and towers, but it’s also used for air strikes, the scout’s cloaking, and when using the engineering bay to allow buildings to build and repair themselves. Managing BP and Ammo becomes just as important as your tactics on the battlefield.

After each point captured the aliens respond with a new random Mutation. This global upgrade can easily change the dynamic of the entire map as the aliens gain increased range on defensive towers, spawn deadly cloned marines, or gain turret-eating poison attacks. It’s a brilliant addition that keeps the pace exciting and tense for the length of the map.

Often the end of longer RTS matches becomes a simple coup de grace as your mega army takes out the last pockets of enemy resistant, but Infested Planet keeps the action tight with an interesting balancing act between constant upgrades and power struggles for both man and alien. The action remains just as tense and precarious when capturing that last super powered hive (which is quickly beginning to spread) as at the beginning when numerous weaker hives dot the landscape.

infested planet review

You can zoom all the way out to see the entire map at once.

The two primary modes are both fairly standard in RTS games: skirmish maps and a lengthy campaign. The campaign does a painstakingly thorough job of easing you into the world and teaching basic gameplay mechanics – everything an RTS campaign should do.

Once you get about halfway through, the action really starts ramping up and you’re given two additional side paths full of optional randomized maps (like skirmish mode) that give additional rewards upon completion. These monetary rewards can be spent unlocking either new upgrades and weapons or gaining a one-time extra soldier type for the next mission. This allows you to unlock upgrades as you see fit instead of the game forcing and teaching you to use every single building and unit. The only issue I ran into is one late game mission that absolutely requires you to use the powerful and stealthy Scout class to combat the constant wave of enemy clones. I had to try it half a dozen times before I realized the specific strategy I had to employ – but it’s definitely the exception in an otherwise well-paced and balanced adventure.

The actual story is told through simple dialogue boxes and loading screens and is rote for anyone that’s familiar with the hive-mind/overmind style bug-aliens. You know the drill – super alien intelligence commands legion of critters that are capable of quickly adapting and evolving. While it doesn’t tread any new ground it does allow for some really varied and interesting scenarios in each map.

One mission sets up a terrible ambush in which you must slowly flee the map as the mutations and aliens grow worse and worse (again the difficulty seems absolutely perfect – my first attempt I agonizingly lost with 30 seconds remaining, on a subsequent retry I barely “won” just as the last point was being overrun). Another resembles modern MOBAs as an AI partner constantly pushes against the enemy while the aliens do the same to you, creating a constant pulse-pounding battlefield. These complex late game missions can last a long time by RTS standards, with the biggest taking me upwards of 45 minutes – most of which I don’t even notice when I’m in the thick of battle.

infested planet review

Talk about your two minute warnings!

Unfortunately Infested Planet lacks an in-game save system. It’s not as big a deal as some games as you can refund all your supplies for 100% of the cost, allowing you to drop turrets or change weapons quickly and recycle them to vary your tactics on the fly, so you can’t make major mistakes, resource wise, and it does prevent you from “save-scumming” your way through a tough mission. But the real world implications are still a bummer. If you get called away mid-mission there’s no way to save your progress and quit, and if it’s a random skirmish map – so long!

The optional campaign missions come in two flavors – standard randomly generated skirmish maps, and raid maps. The raids are all about offense – hives are converted to bunkers instead of control points, so the aliens can never regain ground (though they still get stronger from mutations). The catch on these maps is that you’re timed, gaining additional time for each hive you take out but keeping you pressured to constantly push the offensive. Both types have four levels of difficulty that determine the size of the maps and speed of the spawn rates, but since mutations are completely random, some maps can be much tougher than others (spawning spitter aliens early, or replacing defensive towers with the much more powerful guardians), and sometimes your best option is to simply try again.

Randomly generated maps are an awesome addition to any strategy game and perfect for this squad-based style, adding a ton of replayability. On top of that there’s the unassuming Custom option when selecting Skirmish, which is essentially a map editor and generator. Here you can select exactly every parameter of a map, from number of hives, to size of map, starting mutations, marines, etc.

infested planet review

Someone give that marine a raise!

Aside from the aforementioned bummer about mid-mission saving, my complaints were minimal. I wish the action paused at the very beginning of a map to let me check it out and plan my initial strategy before the shit starts hitting the fan. While mutations introduce a lot of variety, the actual alien types are still limited, and it was a shame that we didn’t have a single nifty plasma or laser weapon in a sci-fi action game.

Multiplayer would’ve been a fantastic addition as well, and most RTS titles thrive on it, though Infested Planet’s inherit ongoing narrative with each map and the feeling of tension and desperation certainly fuels a single player experience quite well. There is a nice Weekly Challenge mode that lets you compete on a leaderboard for best times and scores if you feel your bug-stomping skills are particularly effective.

For a relatively niche subgenre of real-time strategy – squad-based and tactical – Infested Planet succeeds with a wonderfully efficient combat system and presentation. With a lengthy and satisfying campaign, randomized skirmish maps with multiple difficulties, and a custom map generator there is a ridiculous amount of content and replayability. Mutations keep the gameplay as a constant power struggle throughout an entire match, and the ability to quickly recycle buildings, marines, and weapons allow you to instantly change tactics. Just like the bugs you must adapt to survive, or die.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.



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