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Just Another Bug Hunt?.. Infested Planet [Preview]

Update: The developer of the game has divulged the promo code ‘STARBEAR’ which drops the price of the game down to $13.

The tagline for Rocket Bear Games’ Infested Planet paints an interesting picture: 5 men against a horde of 100,000 alien bugs. It’s an enticing concept, with strategy games usually presenting more-or-less symmetrical battlefields, with even the Starcraft’s Zerg only outnumbering humans by 2 or 3 to one. I jumped down into the gore-splattered trenches to have a look at the current work-in-progress beta build of this interesting ‘popcorn strategy’ title.

The right tool at the right place at the right time. That’s what Infested Planet is all about. With only five (six, with an upgrade) respawnable soldiers available to you at any given time, and a constantly spawning flood of alien bugs, you need to carefully prioritize, seal off choke-points and balance your offensive and defensive moves. As you can probably glean from the trailer below, Infested Planet is not a massively complex game. While you can equip your soldiers with a handfull of different weapon types, your interaction with them is as simple as you can get – four different orders: Move, attack-move, grenade and build.

Your goal in each mission is similarly simple; capture and hold all the control points around each (often randomly generated) map. If aliens get to a control point, a hive will spawn there and begin churning out more aliens. If you capture/recapture it, you can (after buying the requisite upgrade) build a bunker and fortify the position. With each capture, you earn some Build Points, which you can use to give your troops bigger guns, or build defensive turrets. It’s dead simple – at first, at least. Once you graduate beyond the easiest mission class (the current beta is tutorials and random skirmishes only, with the few campaign missions being very incomplete), the aliens will evolve new defenses and gimmicks as you secure more of the map, leading to some tough calls on what you should prioritize.

If you take a single outlying hive instead of a central cluster, it might be easy now, but it could lead to the aliens mutating upgraded turrets that knock your troops back, and making the assault on the massed turret-wall of the inner cluster all the more dangerous. Focus on the larger group now, though, and you might end up spreading your units too thin, allowing that single fringe hive to pump out enough bugs to capture back some of your previous control points. An additional complexity is your ammo bar – used by the soldiers to lob defense-shattering grenades or by siege turrets to clear large areas of bugs – it slowly regenerates, but can be filled faster by emptying ammo crates scattered around the map, meaning it’s sometimes better to have one man stay behind to farm ammo while the others bombard a target.

It’s definitely fun, and the length of the levels lends it well to coffee-break gaming, with a single mission taking a mere 10-15 minutes to burn through if you don’t get stuck in a stalemate, and your end-of-level cash reward allows you to unlock new unit types, passive perks and defensive structures to build, leading you to missions in higher difficulty ranks. At the moment, I’ve only seen one background/tileset used so far, meaning that extended play can feel quite monotonous. The game is still heavily in development, and a lot can change at this point. I do hope that we see more varied environments later on, such as perhaps base interiors or urban sprawl and perhaps a little more story to tie it all together.

Most of this might sound very familiar to you. If you had your ear to the ground last year, you might have heard of a little freeware indie game called Attack Of The Paper Zombies, which shares a nearly identical design to this. Unsurprisingly, it’s by the same person. Essentially, AotPZ was the alpha prototype version of the game, and Infested Planet is it’s more polished, fleshed out progeny. While Infested Planet does look a lot nicer, and adds a fair few additional gameplay elements, it possibly hasn’t evolved quite far enough past it’s freeware predecessor yet. In fact, if you want to get an idea of how Infested Planet plays, you’re not too far off the mark just playing AotPZ for the moment.

While I’m definitely enjoying the game at the moment, and am looking forward to further updates and refinements, my main concern at this point is the viability of the price-tag. While the game is light, fast and accessible even for more casual RTS players, the current $20 planned launch price ($15 if you preorder) seems surprisingly high considering the comparatively simple, arcade-esque nature of the game and comparatively low production values.  While the graphics are sharp and clear, they’re also fairly simple, in large part due to the purely top-down perspective, and it’s hard to deny that you can get a lot of very fancy strategy games for under $20 these days – the genre has hardly been struggling as of late.

Worries aside, Infested Planet is already quite fun, and the current beta is being very actively expanded, refined and tuned. If you’re into strategy, this might well be worth keeping an eye on. After all, who knows what it could mutate into?

[Infested Planet, Attack Of The Paper Zombies]


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