Raiders Of The Broken Planet
MercurySteam puts a cat among the pigeon holes
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Like the name of its Madrid-based developer MercurySteam, this genre-fusing 4v1 sci-fi shooter is tricky to pin down. Essentially, four players team up in missions while a rogue fifth interferes. It’s got the invasions of Dark Souls, the asymmetry of Evolve, and the class-based campaign of Battleborn. Ambiguity in an oversaturated market is precisely what made publishers wary.
“I invite you to try and convince a publisher they need a shooter,” says MercurySteam co-founder Enric Alvarez, on the decision to go independent after a fruitful relationship with Konami. “And even more, you can see our track record is not shooter-based. I mean we were coming from seven years working on Castlevania, a medieval hack-and-slash… How the hell are you going to be capable of doing a science-fiction shooter that is able to stand alone?”
Perhaps mirroring MercurySteam’s desire for autonomy, the story marks a fresh start in a new world: Broken Planet. It is here, 25 light years from Earth, that human mercenaries have travelled to harvest the rare element Aleph, which enables faster-than-light travel and enhances abilities in those who consume it. The natives – your side – don’t take kindly to invaders, and so must assemble a team and drive them out.
Each self-contained mission sees four player-controlled Raiders battle dozens of AI-controlled foes en route to completing an objective, while a player-controlled Antagonist joins the bots and, well, antagonises. Both Raiders and Antagonist pick from the same pool of characters, which doesn’t make much sense from a story perspective. Why is an ally in a previous chapter now trying to kill you? Because a mad
space god is handing out prizes for being devious, apparently.
While MercurySteam plays fast and loose with the plot, characters are more concrete, with a bespoke weapon and skill each. Vampiric cowboy Lycus Dion packs a shotgun and shield, for instance, and pilot Hans has a machine gun and jetpack for speedy getaways. We find success with Shea and her lock-on sniper. The longer we target enemies the more damage bullets do, but the more chance they’ll escape the crosshair. At one point we hurriedly use her Bewitching skill to render ourselves invisible to a charging opponent and make a narrow escape. You can modify abilities by unlocking cards with in-game currency, too, for faster reloads or reduced melee damage – nothing too transformative.
Missions test different play styles. Our first involves shooting the tentacles off a giant mechanical octopus while fending off AI robots and a relentless Antagonist. Bulky Russian Konstantin warms up his minigun and wades in as teleporting long-ranger Harec snipes from his perch. There isn’t much interplay between teammates, though. Without any overt healing, buffing, or supporting powers, it sometimes feels like every person for themself. Another involves an arena-based boss fight with a mad scientist who unleashes broad electric attacks and insta-kill grapples. Again, action seems to focus on offense. Friends provide extra firepower, and occasionally offer a distraction, but lack the ability to change a mission’s dynamics.
The third mission we try revolves around the rescue of a key Raider from an airship. We go from fighting waves of mercenaries in a two-storey docking area, to manning turrets and blasting encroaching aircraft, to overloading Aleph-filled tanks and triggering an explosion, all while fending off a particularly cunning Antagonist, who sets up ambushing positions and waits for a fresh wave of AI soldiers to spawn before striking.
Character diversity is underwhelming – all of them are basically humanoids with guns – but mission objectives are refreshingly varied.
Alvarez is surprisingly honest about how difficult that was. “It was Hell on Earth. What sets Raiders apart from any other comparable game was we took the hard way, in the sense that the mission-driven, narrative-driven thing requires that every mission is different. Every mission has different objectives, different events… We adapt game mechanics to every mission, making every level almost a game mode in itself.” Certainly, there are a lot of mechanics at play, and since this is an episodic game, with four campaigns releasing periodically, there will be a lot more to come.
Raiders Of The Broken Planet is a risk, then, but for Alvarez, it’s one worth taking. “The most enjoyable part of development is to see things happen. It’s like when you’re painting or sculpting you start with a blank canvas or block, and when you start seeing it, nothing compares to that sensation. The worst part of it is the same thing.”
“We adapt mechanics to every mission, making every level almost a game mode in itself”
Harec can teleport to sheer walls and hang off them. But you’ll have to keep moving, because Aleph-powered ammo is in short supply, and can only be refuelled by meleeing opponents
ABOVE Here’s a man who couldn’t say no to delicious Aleph. Usually, enemies who kill you will steal your stock and become harder to take down, but this fellow seems to have overindulged.
LEFT There’s a stress system at work. When your enemies’ blood pressure raises, by taking damage or firing weapons, the Aleph in your veins glows, so others see you through solid surfaces
LEFT After a mining mishap ripped their planet in half, natives gave up their dependance on the element they once greedily sought. Now humans are here to repeat their mistakes.
BELOW You’re free to select any character for any stage. You can, for example, enter a rescue mission in which the captive is your own character
The game’s high difficulty forces players to intelligently use their weapons and skills