updated 08:19 pm EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
Real-time strategy game focuses on core unit control with finite resources
The real-time strategy (RTS) world has been straying further from the core of games like Command & Conquer and Starcraft in the last few years. Many games now take an approach that focuses on limited units and smaller resource pools to make players think deeper about the strategy, rather that depending on low-cost units to force a victory. Infested Planet from Rocket Bear Games is such a game, harnessing the power of a small number of elite soldiers to eradicate a seemingly endless army of aliens.
While there is a story element to Infested Planet, it's shoestring at best. Missions are tied together through a story branch, giving some indication that the forces backing the soldiers want to know more about the aliens they found in caves. As things progress, scientists get involved to demand that the soldiers press onward in the name of knowledge. This injects some new events into the game, like taking over a large entity to learn more about the species, only to have to turn around and defend it.
For those thinking that a group of five soldiers can take on a massive horde of aliens on their own, the game makes it so there are limitations to what they can do. All soldiers start out as machine gunners, which offer small damage numbers, but are effective enough to dispatch a single alien group from a hive. Once soldiers die, they are revived at the nearest base, making replenishment and unit management minimal. It does, however, cost time that is much more valuable in Infested Planet.
Soldiers also carry ammunition, which is a shared pool of rocket propelled grenades, to give a burst of firepower to structure damage. The ammo can be spent in a single load, and regenerates slowly over time. Some missions utilize crates to replenish them at a faster rate.
The game introduces strategy elements into the top-down RTS game by giving users the ability to armament their soldiers for destruction. A number of unit upgrades can be granted, including giving out shotguns, flamethrowers or promoting them to commanders. Each unit type is effective at different levels, such as a sniper being strong against some alien units, but weak against buildings. Players spend resources to upgrade to one of the specialized units, which are earned from taking over capture points or hauling back purple crates to a base.
Because of the upgrade costs, a super army cannot be made to use the best weapons and summon the greatest tools. Instead, players need to analyze the situation and make the best judgment call for their play style. Better yet, there is always more than one way to tackle a mission. This not only expands the ability of the player to handle scenarios, but also adds to the replay value of the game. Sometimes it may be effective to bulk up on shotgun-wielding soldiers, while other times it may seem like a wise investment to call on additional units for a multi-point attack.
There are also buildings and defensive weapons to help fight off a massive surge of bugs or defend a lane that players can't afford to use soldiers to cover. Some technology buildings come into play as well, giving players a way to take out a hive with the use of a helicopter strike or give concussion grenades to soldiers for a means of controlling the war on the ground. With these elements, the strategy of Infested Planet comes alive. It begins to fuse the RTS gameplay with that of a tower defense game.
Mortars and cannons become key in defending areas that can't always be watched, but they can also be used offensively. Unlike many games where structures have to be made in the cone of influence or are limited by number, Infested Planet doesn't force that kind of management. Since the resources are finite in every level, players run out well before they've produced a wall of turrets. Instead, defense is a weaker part of the game, causing the soldiers to go on the offensive to win the day. Turrets can be placed in choke points or in the middle of a swarm to give players the extra firepower they need to decimate the alien ranks.
Players earn money from the completion of each mission, with the game path forking after a certain point to go down two paths of randomly-generated missions or scenarios to earn bonus cash or progress through the story. Technology upgrade paths are purchased with money, giving players an incentive to earn more in the game. Purchasing unlocks things like different unit weapon upgrades, new kinds of structures and single use perks for a mission.
Infested Planet utilizes a few different types of alien units as well, making players think about how they handle each level. The bugs range from the standard ground crawlers to units that spawn walls that must be destroyed to get at what's behind them. Part of tackling these different units plays further into the hand of resource management. Rockets may take out the walls quickly, but if there is a larger wave of enemies coming, those rockets may be better served making quick work of the hive the soldiers have been fighting toward instead.
If there are any faults in the game, it comes down to its repetitive nature. With each level things don't change much, leaving players to mow down wave after wave of alien masses and exterminate their hives and take over capture point. There is some variety in the types of units and structures, but it doesn't change the basic purpose of the game.
Using the interface for the upgrade path and structure building really could have been handled better as well. The organization of the bar makes little sense, offering a split only in the types, rather than any sort of progression. All of the unit choices are there, even if they haven't been unlocked.
Even if it's repetitive by nature, the game itself is fun, as it challenges players by constantly changing the tide of the battle. One minute the soldiers may be plowing through and capturing point after point, only to have aliens gain perks like regeneration or rapid counterattacks to keep things interesting. Some of the missions in Infested Planet can force players to lose ground in order to reclaim it later. It gives a dynamic feeling to the battles, rather than pigeonholing players into using brute force.
For a Steam price of $15, there is a good deal of play between the randomly-generated areas and competing in daily missions for glory on leaderboards. Infested Planet is a fun little game that can be jumped into at any time, giving players the flexibility to come up with strategies without frustration.
Infested Planet is best for: Players that like a fast-paced game they can jump in and out of with strategy elements.
Infested Planet is not for: Players looking for a deep story, or those that have problems with repetitious game play.
By Jordan Anderson