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Dark Planet (2018 edition review) 
 PostSat Jan 05, 2019 12:51 am
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Holding Enter, occasionally steering.
This is a review of Dark Planet 2018 edition.

Dark Planet (2018 Edition) is an update of a game demo originally released in 2016 by Matthias H. Lamers.

The player assumes control of Officer Jet from the Colonial Security Special Division as he interrupts an attempted bank robbery by a gang called the Vipers, who work for a boss named Big G. Inside the vault Jet battles Baker and Kev, high school acquaintances who now run with the Vipers; but they manage to escape with a high priority top secret Psi-Ops device (stored in a bank vault?) so Jet must go to the gang’s not-so-secret hideout in the industrial sector to retrieve it. Jet arrives at Viper headquarters just in time to witness Baker and Kev sneaking away because Big G has apparently gone mad. Whatever device he’s stolen allows him to psychically control the members of his gang, and for some reason he’s decided to use this powerful tool to make his foot soldiers explode themselves in combat (which seems like an inefficient way to maintain a gang).

The Vipers Grunts in this area usually self-destruct before the player can defeat them (don’t bother wasting grenades or MP on them, it’s fruitless – the few times I managed to kill them, it was because I held Enter as soon as battle started and managed to shoot them a couple of times before they entered self-destruct mode), but at least there are also Beetles to grind for XP and money. There are also lots of out-of-the-way rooms here that are merely dead-ends containing nothing of use or interest.

Big G is easily taken out in a few turns; but when Jet tries to reclaim the stolen device, he is knocked unconscious by a Man In Black from Psi-Ops. Jet wakes up on a table with his head hooked to some sort of machine, but fortunately his boss has showed up (from next door) to reclaim him. Jet’s boss demands Psi-Ops loan the Security department one of their men to be Jet’s partner, and for some reason the head of Psi-Ops complies (is this how law enforcement works?). Jet’s new partner is a lizard-person named Kerad, who doesn’t seem thrilled with his new assignment. At this point the demo ends. I had played for 1 hour 15 minutes, and Jet was at level 6.

The game does interstitial cutscenes pretty well (with some neat animations, panning, etc.). Subtitle screens that establish the setting during scene transitions should stay displayed longer, as slower readers may not have time to process them before they disappear. The game also does pretty cool things with the menus, which generally look good. The enemy data collected in Jet’s phone is a good idea (if not necessarily useful in practice). Informative help menus become available once Jet acquires the Phone item, but these might be more relevant to novice players if available from the beginning. It’s also hard to tell from looking at the Equipment menu whether the player has an item that can be equipped in a particular slot (available slots are highlighted in the same color as the background).

The graphics are mismatched aesthetically. Cartoonish in-game graphics (maps, character sprites, small portraits, battle backdrops) don’t look quite jive with the detailed retro-futuristic sci-fi look of the title/menu screens or the anime-influenced style of the larger portraits. It comes across as a hodgepodge of 2 or 3 distinctly different art styles rather than a coherent aesthetic. The large portraits reserved for major characters are pretty good, but could be cleaned up (Officer Jet’s left eye looks a little weird in some images).

The game has decent if unremarkable music reminiscent of 80s electro pop, with some good basslines and an occasional amusing vocal sample. Some songs are a bit louder than the rest, which can be jarring. Sound effects are loud and shrill in the treble frequencies, but turning their volume down helped a little.

Combat is functional and fast, but not too interesting and a little messy at times. Enemies continue taking new turns even while the player is in submenus, so I was wiped out pretty quickly in my first battle while reading skill descriptions and assessing my options. I later found there is an option for this in the Config menu, but I continued playing the game as intended (in a hurry). Self-destructing gangsters go kamikaze before the player can harvest their delicious XP. Skills are not particularly useful, and holding Enter is the best battle strategy (as long as Jet has plenty of HP).

Many details of the world/characters/events seem contrived to advance the narrative or gameplay (or for no discernible reason), which at times comes across as forced (or at least under-explained). A vending machine in the break room of the bank sells MedPaks and PsiGel (and nothing else). Jet knows two of the Vipers from high school, but this plot thread is never developed (and they eventually leave the gang anyway). Colonial Security Special Division and their rival department Psi-Ops occupy office space directly adjacent to each other on the 30th floor of an Interstellar Resources office building, while the Vipers also operate out of an Interstellar Resources warehouse (who are Interstellar Resources, and why do they own so much real estate?). There are lizard people in this world, which likewise goes unexplained. Also what exactly were Psi-Ops trying to do to Jet in that post-concussion cutscene, and why do Jet and his boss forgive and forget so quickly?!

A lot of little things are missing or broken. The item merchant is unresponsive. Most vending machines simply don’t work. When loading my saved game, I received a warning that it may not be compatible with the current version of the game.

Dark Planet contains some good ideas, and certain aspects of it are executed well; however in its current state, it’s very incomplete and unpolished. With some more work and refinement, I have no doubt it could be turned into a decent JRPG.
...spake The Lord Thy God.
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