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

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