Developer / Distributor: Edgies / Ubisoft
Release Date: 20 Mar 2002
Rating: ESRB – Mature
The discovery and identification of extrasolar planets have been a hot topic these past few years. In fact in their very latest report, NASA reported that 100 billion planets can probably be found in our Milky Way alone. Now, that’s a staggeringly huge number!
Back in 2003, when I peeled open the cover of the user manual for Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis, little did I know that what was described within would become science fact today. Here were the innocent first two paragraphs from the Introduction on page 2:
From Earth, one can barely make out the star 6Hubley-21. Its glimmer is lost against that of much bigger and brighter stars. But 6Hubley-21 shines in other ways, for it is one of those rare stars that possess an Earth-type planet – Natrolis.
From orbit, Natrolis is a shining sphere of rich greens and blues. The planet is lush with vegetation and rich in water. One third of the surface is a single vast continent; the rest is comprised of oceans and small archipelagos.
See the parallel between NASA’s recent efforts and this little game – why yes, there could very well be a Natrolis waiting for NASA to find in the Milky Way? Where and when will science fiction end and science fact begin… only time will tell.
|Welcome to Natrolis|
You may pause to wonder how such a promising jewel of a planet came to possess the tag of Dark Planet. Well, that’s because three great forces have converged on Natrolis to wreak war and havoc on it’s soil: the technologically advanced humans who make up The Colonist Corps, the relentless and efficient troops of the Dreil hive, and the beleaguered lizard-like native sentient beings known as the Sorin.
Who shall be the ultimate victor in the three way battle for Natrolis? Only time will tell.
|The Colonist Corp, Dreil, and Sorin greet you|
Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis (DP for short) is a science fiction real time strategy game bearing three very different alien races to control. I was very apprehensive about the game back then because it appeared to be a clone of Starcraft. Starcraft also had a race of Humans, a hive-minded group known as the Zergs, and a third group of bipeds known as the Protoss.
Little did I know that all similarities stopped there. Here are two of the biggest differences that DP has: First, DP uses 3D graphics whereas Starcraft (released 4 years earlier) relies on great sprite artwork and animation. Second, DP isn’t too focused on movie theatrics, but Starcraft was literally inundated with lavish movie cutscenes.
|Lots of (ho-hum) text to read|
DP comes with a Campaign mode that feature three paths for you to choose from. After creating a profile (in one of four available slots), you can pick whether you want to run any of the three tutorial missions or to head into the story for the selected race you are playing.
The other two modes in the game are Multiplayer and Skirmish. Both modes of play allow up to 8 players, or you could also set up AI opponents to play with you; your AI opponents come with three levels of difficulty. There’s a bank of fifteen maps to choose from plus a handful of campaign maps made available as well. There are four standard ways you can engage in DP – Capture the Flag, Domination, Deathmatch, and Skirmish.
|Playing a six player skirmish map|
The tutorial missions for each race are straightforward affairs that teach you basics like collecting resources, building and upgrading structures, attacking the enemy, and performing research to give your troops the extra edge over your enemies. It is advisable you play them the first time round as each race has a distinct difference when it comes to resource collection:
- The Colonists require wood, stone, and crystal ore. These are typical resources found on all maps.
- The Sorin need wood, stone, and faith. Faith is obtained by getting your base worker unit to pray at your HQ building (which happens to be a temple), or at an altar.
- The Dreil need wood, crystal ore, and organic energy. The latter is obtained in the strangest of ways — every time an enemy is killed by a special unit, it gets wrapped up a in green cocoon. Get your base workers to collect the green cocoons back to your HQ building. It’s obvious that your tactic for the Dreil will have to be slightly different.
|Lots of green cocoons for the Dreil to harvest|
The buildings and units of each race may be quite similar in function, but the graphical differences between them are very obvious. Here are the similarities – each race has a HQ building type that can be upgraded through four phases; with the Colonist relying on their Control Hubs, the Sorin revering and praying in their Temples, and the Dreil inhabiting creepy looking Hive Mounds.
Each race also has structures for building units of various types. You can field ground troops for scouting, fighting, and/or healing; there are also vehicular and airborne units available to the Colonist and Sorin. You can also research technology to give your army bonuses during a battle, plus there’s a super unit you can build to surprise your enemies with its special abilities.
|Destroying the Sorin Temple once and for all|
Colonists feature armoured humans that are usually accompanied by droids. The Sorin, who resemble lizards ambling around on two legs, have a unique Japanese look to their buildings. These guys even field troops who can wield magic, so watch out. The Dreil are perhaps the most alien looking race in Dark Planet; they generally resemble various kinds of insect bugs, crawling or buzzing along doing their busy work.
Game play for DP is rather typical fare. There’s a fog of war (known as the Mist of Discovery), there are units you can group, there are unit formations to adopt, you can have leaders that help give you bonuses in commanding your units, and there are attack and defence stances you can adopt. Winning battles is most often a case of overwhelming your enemy with the larger force. You’ll probably have some problems sorting out through a mass battle as the little figures can be quite difficult to manage; you could zoom it, but that has its accompanying problems as we discuss in the next section.
|The Colonists busy at work|
Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis may be in full 3D, but it still has one issue – it’s not full 3D. That’s because you can only rotate your view in steps of ninety degrees – 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees. You can also tilt your view angle to zoom in way close to admire the lovely 3D models of buildings and units, however the zoomed-in buildings (or trees) obscure everything else behind it (and you don’t get unit silhouettes like in modern RTS games). There’s no doubt that the 3D detail is definitely lovely to look at, but you’d better zoom out when it comes to battling enemies.
Each race comes with his own user interface. However, the interface is very small and you have to really squint at the higher resolution modes. On the extreme left of the interface bar will be your resources, while the centre is where you select options for building or research. The right side contains a group of buttons for checking your game objectives, and assessing the menu and options. A small mini-map can be found at the right-most corner, but there’s also a larger one that can be turned on to appear at the upper right corner. Tool tips and mission objectives appear in the upper left corner in a rather unprofessional way.
|The Sorins are religious fanatics|
The only music you’ll hear is available at the main menu; it’s typical gaming fare for a science fiction real time strategy game. There’s no in-game music except for a soundtrack that features a wind that continues to howl across every map you play. The sound effects are at least of average quality, nothing too spectacular or detracting to affect your mood during gameplay.
- The game play can sometimes be pretty fun in Dark Planet. In fact, you may feel a slight pang of nostalgia (for Starcraft) just by playing it once through.
- After you’re done with the campaign, you can engage with a round of play using the skirmish or multiplayer modes.
- The strongest point in Dark Planet are the 3D graphics. They look great, especially during close-up moments.
- There’s even a night and day cycle plus the occasional drops of rain to add to the dark mood on Natrolis.
|The overhead view can be pretty useful too|
- After picking a different race to play in Campaign mode, you may notice that some of the game maps are actually being reused. It’s strange why the developer chose to do this and not create different maps to play with for all three races.
- Although we do get a true 3D game, you can only rotate in four angles. You will very likely never play the game from any other view except the front (or from overhead, depending on your preference).
- When zooming in, buildings (or trees) become so large that you can never see what happens behind it.
- You won’t get treated to any cool movies related to the story, and there’s no voice actors reading elaborate scripts to entertain you while between missions; all you get is lots of boring mission text to read.
- You do get treated to very short movie clips, but these aren’t story based; it’s more like showcases for new units you unlock; kind of a disappointment.
Personally, I feel that Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis is quite a let down. There’s definitely some nice ideas and neat game play within, but in my opinion – it’s not enough to save the game from earning a Medal of Mediocrity.
This game is probably for people who love to collect all the real time strategy games out there on the market. The CD installed ok and the game runs well for me on Windows 7, so you might want to consider getting it if you are a completist.
As for everyone else, you’ve been warned!
|Looks like it’s another spiral type map that leads nowhere|