Uber’s war of the worlds is one of com­mand­ing scale


The orig­i­nal Supreme Com­man­der took To­tal An­ni­hi­la­tion and taught it a spec­tac­u­lar party trick. A flick of the mouse wheel whipped the cam­era sky­wards, turn­ing a skir­mish be­tween dozens of bots, tanks and jets into a con­ti­nent-span­ning war be­tween hun­dreds of them. From that per­spec­tive, an­other flick would send you crash­ing to ground level, where the wrecks of com­bat­ants were scav­enged by fab­ri­ca­tion units that scut­tled to and from colos­sal bases.

Plan­e­tary An­ni­hi­la­tion is the Kick­started spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Supreme Com­man­der by Su­per Mon­day Night Com­bat de­vel­oper Uber En­ter­tain­ment. It marks it­self out, as its pre­de­ces­sor did, with epic scope. This time, a tap of space­bar zooms the cam­era out to the cos­mic level, where a sin­gle star is or­bited by mul­ti­ple plan­ets. Each is the size of a Supreme Com­man­der map, and each is able to be con­quered by play­ers as they race to seize the power to wipe each other out.

This branch of PC re­al­time strat­egy is de­fined by loose­ness on the mi­cro scale – the place­ment of in­di­vid­ual build­ings and units is less im­por­tant than it is in, say, Star­Craft II – bal­anced against macro-scale pre­ci­sion and weight. Play­ers rush to se­cure the re­sources to churn out units by the score. When ar­mies meet, they grind against each other like tec­tonic plates, the power of vast economies wrestling for con­trol made man­i­fest. Plan­e­tary An­ni­hi­la­tion is, in its beta state, more straight­for­ward than Supreme Com­man­der 2. There’s a sin­gle fac­tion, though more will fol­low, and a hand­ful of units of each type. It’s still pos­si­ble to plan your strat­egy around long- and short-range com­bat as well as naval, air and land units, but less time is spent read­ing tooltips to de­ter­mine how one ar­tillery tank dif­fers from an­other. This rel­a­tive sim­plic­ity is re­flected in the vis­ual style. Uber’s sig­na­ture car­toon­ish­ness makes Plan­e­tary An­ni­hi­la­tion more colourful than its an­ces­tors, es­chew­ing muddy de­tail for ro­bots built out of pri­mary-coloured blocks. That said, an­i­ma­tions are less de­tailed than they could be, and rapid-zoom level changes can cause dis­tract­ing vis­ual er­rors.

It’s that cos­mic zoom level that re­ally sets the game apart, how­ever. Los­ing the early game need not mean to­tal de­feat: pro­vid­ing you can get an or­bital launcher built in time, it’s pos­si­ble to re­lo­cate your com­man­der to an­other world to start over. This in turn leads to a para­noid rush to se­cure the new planet from en­emy in­cur­sion, and ul­ti­mately the con­struc­tion of an in­va­sion force and the tele­porter net­work you need to get them home. Supreme Com­man­der al­ways had a prob­lem with feel­ing an­o­dyne at the ground level, and Plan­e­tary An­ni­hi­la­tion’s additional space for drama is wel­come.

Or­der a unit to travel from one planet to an­other and it will plot its own grav­i­ta­tional sling­shot around plan­ets and stars to reach its des­ti­na­tion. It’s pos­si­ble to build rock­ets that al­low you to move stel­lar bod­ies out of align­ment, the ul­ti­mate aim be­ing to turn as­ter­oids into planet-smash­ing mis­siles. Plan­ets have a day/night cy­cle de­ter­mined by their po­si­tion in the so­lar sys­tem, and pass by each other ac­cord­ing to ran­domly gen­er­ated or­bital paths. Never quite a sim­u­la­tion, Plan­e­tary An­ni­hi­la­tion’s oc­ca­sional nods at real physics nonethe­less help to ground it.

As with Supreme Com­man­der, the scale is more than a gim­mick. Get­ting your head around spher­i­cal maps is daunt­ing at first, then ex­cit­ing as their po­ten­tial be­comes ap­par­ent. Uber has laid a solid foun­da­tion on which to build a cult strat­egy game, but it re­quires care, pol­ish and a healthy num­ber of new ideas to get the rest of the way.

Caveat em­peror

Plan­e­tary An­ni­hi­la­tion may be on sale, but it’s still very much un­fin­ished. Miss­ing fea­tures aside, the AI isn’t good enough to present an in­ter­est­ing threat. Per­sis­tence will usu­ally win the day, but spend­ing an af­ter­noon cracking an un­re­spon­sive foe isn’t a re­ward­ing way to play. Play­ing against hu­mans on­line is bet­ter, but we did ex­pe­ri­ence per­for­mance is­sues in large-scale bat­tles, and it’s pos­si­ble to en­large your ar­mies to a horde that’s be­yond your PC’s ren­der­ing ca­pac­ity. All that said, this paid beta is an op­por­tu­nity to get in­volved with the game’s com­mu­nity at the ground level – and, as with any com­pet­i­tive game, there are ad­van­tages to be­ing among the first wave of play­ers.

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