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PLANET ALPHA (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) launches Sept. 4


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Planet Alpha focuses on platforming puzzles--you'll frequently have to move climbable boxes and figure out how to avoid the hostile creatures and robots that inhabit the planet. There are no real head-scratchers though, and succeeding is mostly a matter of paying attention to your environment and timing your actions well. Getting past enemies usually requires either some rudimentary stealth (like hiding among foliage or behind a pillar until an enemy moves) or luring them into danger. This can be frustrating since the AI patterns of your enemies are unpredictable, but the feeling of relief in finally managing to lure a killer robot to its death is always satisfying. Several sections can be solved through trial and error, and running forward and getting killed is sometimes the easiest way to work out how to avoid getting killed next time--respawning is very quick, and changes you make to the environment persist.


For reasons never fully explained, you also have the power to rotate the planet with the shoulder buttons. At first, you're only able to do this in designated spots, but later in the game you can do it anywhere. This means that you can switch from daytime to nighttime, making use of the day/night cycle and the fact that some elements of the environment change between the two. For instance, during the day, a mushroom might appear as a platform you can jump on, and at night some plants awaken and unfurl, allowing you to use them as cover as you sneak through an area. Rotating the planet can also move elements within the environment, so a platform might rise or shift, or a door might open if you rotate in the right direction. These puzzles are interesting, but they're rarely challenging or clever, and while the world rotation ability feels inherently grand when you first start using it, there are no unexpected twists or new interesting wrinkles in how this mechanic works. There’s beauty in watching the shift happen, though, as luminescent plants glow in the moonlight and the dawning sun casts a glorious light across the planet.


Planet Alpha gets trickier when you're asked to perform death-defying physical feats. Large sections of the game feel reminiscent of Uncharted and its ilk, as you scramble up walls and leap between pillars, or slide down an embankment and jump at just the right moment to avoid falling to your doom. These moments can be quite exciting, and there are plenty of great scripted sequences throughout the game that see you just barely surviving as you run, jump and climb away from danger. But the controls can feel stiff in instances where precision is required, and sometimes you'll fall to your death because your last-microsecond jump didn't register or because you character doesn't grab the ledge for some reason.


This is an especially big issue during a handful of sequences that warp you into what seems to be another dimension, a trippy, dark void full of huge floating blocks where gravity is greatly reduced. These sections are weird, even by "mysterious game set on an alien planet" standards, but their pure focus on low-gravity platforming can be exciting at times. Flinging across long jumps is exhilarating--if you're on a moving block and jump from it right as it comes to a stop you'll be sent flying, which allows for traversal puzzles on a bigger scale than anything outside of the void. But these areas can also get frustrating when the physics aren't quite gelling and you're finding yourself being flung further than expected, desperately wishing you could wall jump off the floating pillars you're smacking into.


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