In space, no one can hear your cries of anger as an asteroid is rammed into your base, annihilating you from the face of the world.
Planetary Annihilation is a revolutionary RTS. The idea of being on a planet might be viewed as heresy by die-hard starcraft fans, but I see it as a welcome addition that increases the level of strategy to levels unseen in other games due to one simple affect of this: You can be attack from any side, always. Think you're safe? You aren't.
The game revolves around destroying your commander. Each player spawns with one at the start of the game, and losing yours will cause you to lose. The commander produces a substantial amount of economy and is fairly durable. He also posesses the energy based uber-cannon weapon, which destroys a substantial amount of units in an area with its splash damage.The commander is able to build your basic structures and get you into the match.
The economy is streaming, meaning that resources are both gained and spent over time as a unit or structure is made rather than all at once a la starcraft. Having insufficient production compared to what you're spending will lower the rate of what's being made. There are two resources: metal and energy. Metal is gained by building extractors on metal spots scattered across the planet nd by reclaiming trees (Because sense of course) and wreckages, and is used to make units and structures. Having insufficient metal will reduce the build speed of units and structures. Energy is used to power the nanolathes on your fabrication units and factories, as well as power radar and reload some weapons, particularly bombers and SXX laser satellites. Insufficient energy will shut down radar, reduce the reload time of weapons that use it, and reduce the usage of metal by your nanolathes (reducing the build speed of units in the process).
There are five types of units: Bots, Vehicles, Air, Naval, and Orbital. Bots are weak but cheap and fast raiders, while vehicles are slowish but durable frontline assault units. Air is fast and mobile and capable of quickly killing several units at once. Naval is slow and fairly useless. Orbital is boring and binary, and also impractical most of the time.
Combat is one of the game's weakest points. Bots die after a single hit from a tank, and your basic tank dies after 3. This means that battles are over very quickly, leaving very little time for controlling your forces. The general result of this is that whoever has more forces wins. This means that the game becomes a macro game to the extreme.
In starcraft this would be extremely painful to manage, but this game makes managing massive production complexes a cinch through several features. Firstly, there is no restrictions on the zoom level, allowing you to view half a planet at once. Secondly, the mini-map, called Picture-in-Picture, can be adjusted to give you a view of the whole solar system, or to view a particular base. It can also be interacted with in the same way as the main game screen; it is essentially a smaller game screen whose flexibility will be instrumental in your control. Thirdly, every single command in the game can be put in a queue, and factories can not only have an infinitely large number of units added to the queue in any order, but can also be set to loop the current queue indefinitely. No more babysitting buttons, no more making sure that your barracks is always making marines. Just three clicks (Select the factory, select the infinite queue button, and select the unit you want the factory to make) and you never have to touch that factory again.
This game's single-player is admittedly fairly lackluster. It comes in the form of a "Galactic War", in which you play in a randomly generated galaxy, gaining new technologies (all of which are unlocked from the start in multiplayer) and annihilating enemies, until you've destroyed the leaders of the 3 other factions in the galaxy. Unfortunately, the limited number of units means that the level of strategy is even less than can be found in multiplayer. There is a skirmish vs ai option, but it is ruthless and oftentimes the players you find in multiplayer are quite a bit worse than it, making playing multiplayer a better option for the newest players.
Map size in galactic war is fixed, but there is a system editor that can be used to create much larger planets. Keep in mind that the larger the planet and the more planets, the more ram that's used. I wouldn't even think about playing on anything bigger than size 900 if you have less than 8 gigs of RAM due to the lag entailed. You can even do some wacky stuff with this system editor, like making planets without metal, making planets with only one small land mass surrounded by lava, resulting in a close quarters type of game called commander boxing. Another, even more devious thing you can do is making planets with elliptical orbits cross into the path of other planets, resulting in the two smashing into each other at some point in the game, annihilating one or both of the planets.
The graphics of the game are decent. The game itself looks great, but skyboxes look bland, as do many of the projectiles. This is a fixable thing however, and I will detail how below.
The game can get somewhat laggy, but this depends heavily on the size of the game. Generally anything larger than radius 900 is going to lag significantly, as are planets with lots of obstacles, such as lava, desert, and, to a lesser extent, tropical and metal, and games with lots of planets. This rarely is a huge issue and the game should be playable most of the time. The game is RAM intensive so you will find performance being less if you don't have at least 8 gigabytes of it.
While the game is great, there are some features noticeably missing. Unit wreckages are probably one of the biggest as it reduces the strategic depth even more than it already was.
The UI has some issues as well. The hotkey system has two key presses to make a unit rather than one, and there is no way to share systems which you have made. There is no matchmaking system, which has the effect of making you have difficulty finding players of your skill at times. The strategic icons are fairly confusing and are difficult to tell apart from each other.
There are enough bugs that you're unlikely not to find them, but the vast majority are far from game breaking, such as the stuck command queue view (fixed by pressing shift), and the stuck building silhouette (fixed by clicking on another building). I haven't encountered any game breaking bugs on the most recent build of the game.
All in all the game is a decent experience that is most marred by poor strategic depth and a couple UI issues as well as essential meta features that aren't present. Overall, the game deserves a 7.0. It is a revolutionary entry into the genre with some big issues that will hopefully be ironed out as time goes on.
Oh, you thought I was ending the review there? Sorry to disappoint you there.
Despite its major issues, the game has an ace in the hole that can negate them. The UI is the most moddable thing that I've ever seen, and server mods can also be easily made and distributed. Both UI and server mods can be easily downloaded through PAMM
. Among them, we have Custom Skyboxes, which allows for custom, breathtaking skyboxes, and awesome projectiles (made by yours truly), which replaces some of the more bland effects in the game with better ones and improves on many others. In the more functional department, we have PAStats, which records your games and uploads graphs of them to its website along with implementing a 1v1 matchmaking system and a ladder. There's also Hotbuild, which allows for proper 1 button hotkeys, (continued in comments due to the annoyingly small character limit.)