Hucking rocks on a merry-go-round at an Interplanetary scale

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The bright spot in the disappointing RTS Planetary Annihilation was planets reaching out into the solar system and attacking each other. Actual interplanetary warfare, slinging nuclear missiles through space, firing massive Deathstar lasers, and turning moons into sledgehammers. The solar system was your battleground. But to get to this good stuff, you had to wade through a lot of middling RTSing. So imagine my delight to discover Interplanetary, a turn-based game that dispenses entirely with the middling RTSing.

After the jump, may the best planet win.

The basic template for Interplanetary is those artillery games where everyone takes turns aiming their shots. Did you miss? You’ll adjust your aim next time. You know the Worms games? Interplanetary is like that, but with planets in a solar system, and with gravity affecting the shots.

Everyone starts with railguns, which aren’t very precise. Aim them and then end the turn. The railgun fires as the planet continues its orbit around the sun. If you timed the path of your shot to hit where the planet’s going to be, it’ll do damage to the other guy’s cities. Destroy all the cities on a planet to win. Oh, did you miss? You’ll adjust your aim next time. Yeah, it’s kind of like Worms.

But Interplanetary has a tech tree. You earn tech points based on your total population every turn — that’s one reason you don’t want railguns firing into your cities — and you use these to unlock upgrades and new weapons. From railguns, you’ll progress to missiles with a limited homing ability, to lasers which hit instantly, and finally to a couple of endgame superweapons.

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There’s a resource model, where your mines earn the minerals you need to build things, and power plants provide the energy you need to fire your weapons. Telescopes let you see — and therefore target — another planet’s cities and structures. Counter telescopes with “data sentries”. A handy intel screen lets you see exactly how your telescopes stack up against another player’s counter-intel. You can also build defenses around important areas and slot upgrades into your buildings and weapons. Interplanetary has just the right amount of base building and research to make it more than a simple artillery game, but less than a full-blown strategy game that just happens to have aimed shooting.

Because the aimed shooting is still the heart of Interplanetary. It all comes down to whether you can draw the correct line with your shots, without the benefit of any of the actual math stuff that scientists use to make sure things intercept planets (I’ve played enough Kerbal Space Program to know that rocket scientists don’t believe in just guessing). And while I’m sure some players will enjoy using the good ol’ Mk. V eyeball to anticipate the position of a planet compared to the speed of a railgun projectile or missile, it’s a bit much to ask. Different planets move at different speeds and furthermore at various angles to your planet. Railguns and missiles move at different speeds. The gravity of intervening planets will affect projectiles, as you’ll see when you aim your shots. But those planets are moving as well. Why bother showing me a red line, and even twisting it with gravity, when the entire layout is going to change as soon as I hit “end turn”? And how am I supposed to trust the AI in skirmish mode to not use predictive computer algorithms when it’s actually a computer?

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Interplanetary could use a replay feature, not just to help you learn to aim better by letting you see the discrepancy between what you thought was going to happen and what actually happened. But to let you enjoy the spectacle of it all. With up to eight players, each with planets firing multiple weapons, you’re going to miss more than you actually see. As with a Worms game, there’s a lot of entertainment in the missed shots. Yet you probably won’t see that wild long shot where you barely missed player 2’s planet, but the gravity from a neutral planet slung the errant shot around and hurled it right into player 4’s planet. Ain’t gravity a bitch. And orbital trajectories. A replay feature would also let you enjoy the destruction in the same vein as Defcon, another game all about trajectories, raw numbers, and simple graphics. By the way, I didn’t have to aim in Defcon.

I understand the inspiration is classic artillery games, and furthermore that aiming is less important as you progress up the tech tree to missiles and then lasers. But rocket science, orbital trajectories, and gravity wells are a terrible milieu for guesswork. It’s like a bunch of kids on a merry-go-round hucking rocks at each other, and then setting off fireworks at each other, and eventually shooting guns at each other. All the while the merry-go-round goes round. Did you miss?

  • Interplanetary

  • Rating:

  • PC
  • In this turn-based strategy game, players wage interplanetary wars by developing their home planets and firing massive artilleries through the unpredictable gravity fields of the planetary system.
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