Raiders Of The Broken Planet First Impressions
I’m a huge fan of cover shooters. I played through the first three Gears of War games as they were released—multiple times, even. I played through the first Kane and Lynch game within 24 hours and loved it, even though most people did not. I’ve played quite a lot of The Division over the past year, as well, even though most people quit after the first week or two. Given that, when I first saw MercurySteam's Raiders of the Broken Planet, I was intrigued. A 4v1 cover shooter with full-on campaigns? That sounded like something that I’d be interested in. With a Closed Beta weekend taking place this weekend, today was the perfect chance to take a look at the game and share my thoughts on it.
It was, however, a little unclear as to how the game would work, so let me explain. In Raiders of the Broken Planet, you and upwards of three friends play through predetermined story missions. These missions are broken into several parts, most of which seem to be based around completing some objective or waiting out a timer of some sort as waves of enemies attempt to kill you. Bear in mind, however, that I’ve only played the prologue at this point in time, so later missions may have more variety.
While you are in matchmaking, there is a chance that an “Antagonist,” another player who takes on the role of an enemy character, could be put into the match with you. This doesn’t happen during every match, but if it does, you will have to deal with both the aforementioned waves of enemies and a significantly more powerful player character trying to kill you. It’s not entirely unlike Dying Light’s adversarial matchmaking option.
Once you have been put into a lobby, you are required to choose a character—yes, the game is a hero shooter of sorts. Each character has a specific type of weapon, which could be anything from a shotgun to a sniper rifle to a semi-automatic rifle that shoots bullets that explode when they hit something, and an active ability. For example, one character has a jetpack. Another can teleport to any surface and grab onto it. Yet another can create a protective barrier that pushes enemies away. So far, characters seem varied and, although I’ve only been able to see four of them in action, having played as only two of them, I’m rather interested in seeing the rest of the lineup that doesn’t seem to be available at this time. The characters genuinely feel different and you can even augment them to fit your playstyle by equipping different weapons that you obtain during missions.
Unfortunately, ranged combat can be a bit difficult to get used to due to an odd control scheme. When playing with a controller, the left trigger is used to aim and the right trigger is used to shoot, the same controls used in many other games. What makes it odd is that, if you aren’t aiming, the right trigger reloads your weapon, rendering you unable to shoot unless you are actively aiming. When you run out of health, you go into a downed state, similar to many other cover shooters, and can attempt to move into cover to regenerate health; if you take further damage, you will die. The controls mentioned above apply even when you are in a downed state, meaning that you still have to actively aim at enemies that are keeping you from recovering while you are trying to literally hobble away from them. In fact, the game goes a step further and makes it so that you have to deal with your aim wobbling significantly while you are trying to shoot them, making it nearly impossible to actually do any damage while you are in a downed state. This can make recovery incredibly frustrating, especially since allies can’t help you recover and often kill your aggressors far too late to be of any use.
In addition to shooting enemies, you can take part in simplistic melee “brawls.” These brawls consist of either hitting one button to attack or another to grapple. It’s possible for grapples to fail if an enemy dodges, but, other than that, brawls mostly consist of simply attempting to get the first hit and then smacking your opponent until they die, with grapples killing them more quickly. There is some strategy involved in choosing the right moment to melee an enemy—if you hit them while other enemies are around, they could kill you during your brawl—but that’s about all of the depth that the melee system has.
As I mentioned before, missions are broken into several parts. You complete a specific objective as waves of enemies attempt to kill you, you make it to a specific zone within a specific time limit, and you move onto the next zone. If you don’t make it into the zone within that time limit, you are “left behind.”
Here’s where the system fails to make much sense. “Left behind” would imply that you have to sit out for the rest of the mission. You failed to make it in time and there was nothing that the rest of your team could do to help you. But that’s not how the system works. When you’re “left behind,” a red skull and crossbones is put into your status box that is a part of your party status bar. You then have to wait until an invisible timer counts down to zero, after which you are thrown back into the respawn queue. The system creates a sort of disconnect that will leave you asking “will I come back or won’t I? When am I coming back? What’s going on?”
If you die in any other manner, you can respawn, but only if there is currently “Aleph” available. You start each match with a certain number of doses of Aleph and use one dose per respawn. Once the counter reaches zero, at least one person on your team has to survive a specified amount of time while the pilot of the dropship that is monitoring your missions goes to get more. While the minute or so that the pilot is gone can be stressful, it’s a far more forgiving system than I anticipated. Upon starting my first match, I thought for sure that the eight doses of Aleph that we were given at the beginning of the match were all that we would get—and it would have been bad if it were because I was playing as a character that I wasn’t good at and had been dying at a rate of approximately once per minute.
Should you manage to successfully complete a mission—or even if you don’t—you will be given a choice of several rewards. You can choose gold, character points, faction points, or an item that is chosen at random from several possible rewards that are listed in the mission’s description. If two or more people choose the item in question, it will randomly decide who gets it. I personally felt that I didn’t get enough time to assess my options and choose one—which is a problem because, if you don’t choose anything within the extremely brief time limit, you get nothing—but, other than that, the system works well enough.
The game also contains an overarching story, but it feels disjointed at best. There’s a team of “Raiders” who are trying to eliminate the human presence on the planet that the game takes place on. And...that’s about all I know. The characters themselves aren’t particularly great and there are a lot of crude attempts to be funny that just completely miss their mark. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s not a game that I imagine that I would ever recommend for the story.
I also encountered a number of issues during play. While the game is currently in Closed Beta, and I am aware that these issues could be fixed, I feel like I should document some of them due to the fact that they were, in fact, somewhat game-breaking.
Perhaps the most prevalent of these issues is the fact that the game is not choosy about when and where it respawns you. If you die during the escape timer at the end of a mission segment, it will respawn you, briefly giving you hope that you can make it to the escape zone even if it rips it away moments later. If you have to escape an area that is about to explode, it will respawn you at the beginning of that area and laugh as you run futilely across the zone before blowing up mere feet from the safe zone. It is not kind in that regard and I’m sure that most of us would rather it not respawn us during the escape timer, instead forcing left behind status on us, than respawn us in a situation where we can’t make it to the end anyways.
I also experienced an issue where I died during the final escape timer for a match and I respawned, only to immediately experience constant rubberbanding as I attempted to make it to the escape zone. The weird part was that I wasn’t just rubberbanding in terms of my character’s position on the map; the animations were rubberbanding in a sense, with the respawn animation replaying every time that my character fell back to a previous position. At one point during my ascent to the final escape zone, mid-rubberbanding, I killed an enemy in melee combat. Immediately afterwards, I was stuck in place, my character completely motionless, for a full five seconds or so. The weirdest part of all of this, though? The Antagonist wasn’t rubberbanding, nor were the AI enemies. My respawn had somehow broken my character.
When I first heard about Raiders of the Broken Planet, I was rather excited about it. Having played it, I am far less excited. The game has great production values and gameplay is fast-paced, visceral, and provides a healthy level of difficulty without bordering on the absurd. The problem is that melee combat is too simple, while also too powerful, to feel rewarding in any way—the only “hell yes” moment I had was when I got the finishing blow on the Antagonist after being wrecked by him multiple times and I got to watch my character grab him by the face and slam him into the ground. Shooting can be difficult to get used to due to the controls. The respawn system is rather bad and can force unavoidable deaths on you. The characters have unique designs, but they’re rather unlikeable. To cap it all off, there are major issues that will hinder your experience. Here’s hoping that the developers take feedback like this into account and address at least some of these issues by launch.