Planet's Edge. (computer adventure game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Cast your fate to the stars in this tantalizing sci-fi adventure from the creators of New World Computing's Might and Magic series. Though light years from perfection, Planet's Edge is a minor masterpiece of size, imagination, and diversity of play.
The game's premise is typically far-flung, but engaging. In the year 2045, the earth is visited by an alien vessel of mysterious origin. Nervous military leaders, fearful of the unknown, launch a preemptive strike against the orbiting ship. Though unsuccessful, the attack precedes a violent burst of electromagnetic energy. When the static clears, the alien ship is destroyed, but the earth has vanished.
Scientists stranded on a small lunar outpost scramble to decipher clues found in the alien wreckage. They determine that the earth remains intact, trapped in a cosmic wormhole, victim of a bizarre experiment code-named the Centauri Device. To reverse the earth's enigmatic fate, a duplicate of this mechanism must be assembled. You command a crew of four, searching the stars for eight pieces of the device, scattered throughout eight sectors of deep space.
Gameplay is divided into three basic sections: Moonbase, space travel, and planetary exploration. Lunar facilities include shipyards to custom-design increasingly larger, more powerful rockets. Because supplies are limited, raw materials must be mined or traded and then sent to Moonbase for processing into ship parts, weapons, and medical supplies. If a crew member is killed in action, don't fret: Moonbase cloning chambers will fashion another one to your exact specifications. Although rated in 16 attributes, characters cannot increase their skill levels with experience. Character development is one of the most endearing qualities of role-playing games, and its absence will strike many as cold and emotionally distant.
Space travel employs simple, menu-driven interaction among the ship's science officer, engineer, navigator, and weapons/communications station. A central display screen provides a window for manual navigation, planetary surface scans, realtime space combat, and dialogue between ship captains. Diplomacy takes a back seat to firepower, when all hostile alien encounters result in combat.
In the early stages of the game, this questionable tactic is usually one-sided and lethal. Another caveat: Space travel can be dull, especially on repeated trips to distant planets. The ability to multitask navigation with other shipboard duties would add atmosphere to the game and eliminate cabin fever.
Planetary exploration features a three-quarter topdown view of the massive, intricate alien landscapes and mazelike architecture. Here, you must avoid traps, solve puzzles, participate in elaborate schemes, gather information, retrieve items, and engage in tactical combat. The longer you follow the story's delightfully twisted plot, the larger and more challenging the game becomes. Set among approximately 100 star systems, each containing as many as a dozen planets (not all of which are accessible), your quest can be daunting in its magnitude. This section of the game is superbly designed, marred only by a clumsy, limited character interface.
Graphics are tastefully drawn from a 256-color VGA palette, obviously inspired by such groundbreaking titles as Starflight and Breach. Of course, there's always room for improvement: Alien speech, more dynamic combat effects, and even rudimentary character animation would help.
Just to be clear: Computer role-playing zealots need not apply. Those with imagination and tolerance for a few rough spots will find a universe of depth and challenge in Planet's Edge. I can't wait for the next voyage.