‘Shattered Planet’ review: burn out in the atmosphere (iOS/Android)

April 3, 2014
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You are a clone. You are going to die. The first five seconds of Shattered Planet convey what the 2010 film Never Let Me Go, in which intelligent clones are born and live only to be harvested for their organs, took 103 minutes to say: life is tenuous, so you have to make the most of it. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

Your primary mission is to explore, document and map this mysterious planet, your green alien buddy informs you. It's not a very realistic goal, considering the world has been shattered and is landscapes shift every time you die. They float in space, not unlike the fluid terrain in Bastion. You search and search, all with the goal of filling out the Galactic Union's universal data log, which happens automatically as you discover new creatures, items and more. Knowledge is power, and that's worth some scratch—enough materials to keep you going, at least.

Tapping a tile moves you there, and tapping an enemy attacks. A strange purple blight spreads slowly as you explore, preventing you from staying in one place too long. Not everything is out to kill you though—you can recruit friendly creatures to fight with you, while others will ignore you entirely. You take turns trading blows and moves with the planet's inhabitants. It would be nice to be able to pan around the world freely, but to look back you need to go back, which presents its own challenges.

A pounding soundtrack keeps you tapping. It sounds like something out of an early Unreal game—the ones where you explored alien landscapes, not the Tournament titles. There are some finite levels with specific goals and punishing difficulty, but the main mode is endless (well, it ends when you die, though it could technically go on forever).

And golly do you die. You die often. When you die, you lose all your items, but that's OK—you'll make more. You keep your skill points, exchanged for the scraps you find scattered around the shattered world, as well as the scraps themselves, and that's what's really important.

The free-to-play economy in Shattered Planet is fairly typical. You can buy packs of the currencies used to create items and level up, plus a few extras like extra characters and companions. You receive periodic "gifts" as you play. Meh.

That said, the only time I opened the store menu was to take a screenshot of it. I'm not the type to succumb to this sort of pressure—I'd rather work through it, even if progress in Shattered Planet is slow. At least you're always exploring, and not waiting around like you do in other free-to-play titles. But beware, ye of weaker wills—Shattered Planet is no stroll through a floating, cosmic park. The in-app purchases may prove tempting, and they range in price from $1.99 to $99.99.

Unfortunately the game was plagued with issues on my iPad mini. It stuttered frequently and crashed every five to ten minutes, causing me to lose progress repeatedly. It was enough to burn me out after a few hours. The game also bugs you periodically to rate it in the App Store, an irritating reminder that can't be turned off.

Between deaths you visit the ship, which houses an equipment generator for crafting armor and weapons, a stash with all the items you've created (always take some with you to the planet, the green guy warns you), a "clone vat" that lets you change characters, and a virtual shake weight where you level up. Items are generated more or less at random—you spend more for better items, but you can't choose what you get. That can become irksome when you run out of currency generating five helmets in a row when all you needed was a weapon.

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Shattered Planet is a satisfying sci-fi "roguelike" RPG with an unforgiving difficulty curve typical of that niche genre. When you get down to it it's actually fairly boilerplate as far as roguelikes go, but it makes up with atmosphere, humor and solid level generation what it lacks in complex systems and innovations.

The technical issues, on the other hand, are difficult to forgive. There's nothing quite as frustrating as discovering something really awesome only to lose it when the game crashes seconds later and sets you back several minutes. Your experience may differ, though, and with the entry fee of zero space bucks you might as well give Shattered Planet a shot.

  • Shattered Planet
  • Developer: Kitfox Games
  • Platforms: iOS (played), Android
  • Price: free
  • In-app purchases? yes

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