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Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis

Developer: Creative Edge | Publisher: Ubisoft
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 03/20/02 | Genre: RTS

Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis gives you the option of commanding one of three different races into 3-D RTS battle. The game engine delivers an astounding stage to wage a smidgen of warfare. While the environment proves to be an amazing backdrop for what could be a truly amazing game, it falls a bit short of being a great game.

The tri-race scheme quickly brings StarCraft to mind. The Terran contingency translates into the Colonists here, and the Dreil could easily be a distant cousin to the Zerg. The third race, the Sorin, manage to break out of the clone mold and leave you wishing that the other two races could have been the recipients of a bit more creativity. With their distinctive look and magic-wielding priests, they seem more like something that you'd find in WarCraft 3. At first glance this fantasy race within a game that sports a futuristic human and otherworldly alien races seems odd, but the Sorin fit and manage to thrive.

The engine brings to life a captivating world complete with trees that sway in the breeze and waterways that ripple with life. The camera view can be changed on the fly by rotating at 90¬? angles, zooming in and out, and lowering to a ground view or rising to an aerial view. Sure, it's neat to zoom in on your units and watch them fight, but it turns out to be hard to keep track of the action. You can also lower your view down and end up trying to see through a ridge at your troops caught in a scuffle on the opposite side. Wishing that the terrain or obstructing structure would turn transparent or that my hidden units would be somehow highlighted, I found myself leaving the camera in the default overhead view most of the time. Even from that angle units blended into the heavily detailed background at times.

Dark Planet does provide a few unit control features that make it easier to implement your battle orders. Groups of units can be hotkeyed to the number keys in the usual manner, but you are limited to only the 1-6 keys. Neither the manual nor experimentation turned up any use for 7-9, but they definitely wouldn't work for hotkeys. In RTS's that sport massive battles, this makes it a bit harder to micro-manage your combat. You can assign the hotkey groups into various formations and even create custom formations to your own liking. Groups or individual units can be given default combat stances, such as setting your primary combat units to aggressive or order your workers to try to flee from the enemy. Neither of these last two features is original (especially if you are a fan of Age of Empires 2), but they do expand upon their functionality to be a bit more useful. "He likes it, he likes it!"

Simply put, the interface is frustrating, until you have a chance to get to know it. If you have a small army selected and right-click on an enemy unit, your troops will usually try to go to that spot instead of engaging that unit. There's no sound or text alert that you've completed an upgrade or created a new unit, unless you happen to be watching the relevant building. If you want to build a particular building then decide not to after you are in the process of placing the structure, you can't hit the escape key to cancel. Before a mission, you are given a briefing window that's against a static background. Once you accept the mission, the load screen appears, and then you are treated to an exact repeat to the briefing. The game speed always turned itself back down to the minimum speed after each mission, driving me nuts with its turtle-like pace. With a bit more polish on the interface, the game could have been a lot more user-friendly and made it easier to enjoy the game.

None of the campaign missions are especially original. They range from your standard building up and destroy the objective to build this type of unit and rescue that particular unit. It might be me, but it seemed like a few of the missions were extremely similar for different races. The multiplay aspect of the game turns out to be fairly fun with a good group of players. Once you are able to distinguish which unit is which, players can fight skirmish battles (deathmatch free-for-all), capture the flag, domination {hold a series of markers for a certain amount of time}, and even play some multiplayer campaigns. This last mode appeared to be original in that the game would expand the world and the objectives to compensate for the number of human players in the game.

Overall the game leaves you with the feeling that it needed a bit more polish to be truly complete. None of the problems that I encountered restricted the gameplay to the point that you couldn't play the game, but they definitely offered their share of distractions and frustrations. Players who consider themselves RTS masters should find the game familiar enough to pick up quickly, but the lack of originality and innovation keeps the game from standing out against the competition.

By Greg Meadors - 04/16/02
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence
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Screenshots for Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis

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