Awakening atop a geometric platform on the arid face of an alien planet, your nameless little red and white spaceperson stumbles forward into the unknown. Unaware of how you arrived here, you wander through caves of glowing flora and past vast cephalopodic structures in search of life, refuge or a way home.
Planet Alpha’s enigmatic opening sets a tone of intrigue and ambiguity which sustains throughout your six-hour journey across the heights and through the depths of this mysterious and hostile world.
The game’s art design blends the vibrant flora and fauna of No Man’s Sky with retro-tinged robots and minimalist architecture, convincingly transporting you to another planet. Combined with stunning, atmospheric lighting, this bold aesthetic excels at captivating you as you jump and climb across the terrain of this lusciously detailed 2.5D world. Towering beasts and extraterrestrial structures populate the background of each scene, bringing the planet to life with immersive layers of depth and detail.
You soon happen upon a glowing plinth which allows you, with a press of the triggers, to change between day and night. This simple mechanic becomes central to the game’s intelligent environmental and physics based puzzles.
It soon becomes apparent that you are caught up in the colonisation of this planet, with the invading robot machines and native insectoids posing a threat to both one another and yourself. The hostility of these two warring, deadly factions lead to many sudden and gory deaths, should you make even the smallest of mistakes.
Planet Alpha can be brutal and unforgiving, requiring you to figure out platforming and puzzle patterns via trial and error and then execute them with tight precision. Thanks to quick restarts and fair checkpointing, your countless deaths rarely get frustrating. With a messy death via laser, stinger or claw often being the consequence of your mistakes, the tension during, and the relief following, these encounter with enemies is thrilling and palpable.
Rifts in spacetime which lead you to a dark, primordial dimension offer diversity in tone, aesthetic and platforming mechanics. This abstract world shrouded in darkness and occupied solely by monoliths of stone methodically shunting back and forth, up and down is ruled by a looser form of gravity and physics.
This low gravity environment allows you to bound great heights and distances. Scaling the many faces of a stone block as it spins upward or jumping at the opportune moment to ride the trajectory of its momentum is both challenging and immensely gratifying.
For all its hostile foes, exhilarating set piece sequences and bleak otherworlds, I found many moments of serenity on planet alpha. The halcyonic score paired with the awe-inspiring wonder of this alien world lulled me into a sense of tranquility.
The contrast between action and calm works to accentuate one another to great effect, with shifts in ambient audio and colour palettes helping establish these tone changes, making each feel truly distinct whilst maintaining a cohesive look loyal to the planet as a whole.
New environments, dangers and twists on physics and platforming based puzzles keep the game feeling constantly fresh, while environmental storytelling maintains a level of intrigue which sees you through to the game’s revelatory end. Additionally, a handful of smartly hidden secrets hold replay value for completionists and trophy hunters.
With its unique setting and aesthetic, Planet Alpha finds its niche alongside fellow narrative-driven platformers like Inside and Little Nightmares. Inventive platforming and puzzle mechanics paired with a compelling central mystery make this brief adventure consistently challenging, varied and rewarding.
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Reviewed using base PS4.