Roguelikes have consistently been a niche sub-genre despite their fervent fanbase, but their popularity has exploded with recent titles such as FTL: Faster Than Light, Rogue Legacy, and Dungeons of Dredmor. Joining the ranks is Shattered Planet, Kitfox Games’ debut title. With smooth, vibrant graphics and an isometric layout, the game certainly holds an appeal its less graphically-inclined predecessors lack, but how does the gameplay hold up?
Shattered Planet aligns itself more as a roguelite rather than roguelike, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In Shattered Planet, you play clones that have been created to explore alien habitats for science. Each area is randomly generated and has a teleporter that leads to the next “distance.” You can choose to map out the entire location or move on as you see fit. In dire times, it’s possible to jump down to the next distance from certain spots on the map, but at a high health cost. A blight grows from each spawn point per turn, and it threatens to consume the entire area. Blighted tiles deal damage when you walk across or stand on them. This creates a time factor to consider, as they can cut off paths. Enemies touched by the blight morph into more difficult versions, and they likely take the closest path towards the clone.
You can go on general explorations to discover new locations, enemies, items, and events. Unlike the other missions, where dying results in the loss of all items, daily missions let you retain the provided starting gear if the clone makes it to distance 10. The galactic federation provides item boons as knowledge of the various worlds is unlocked.
While traversing the land, the clone collects scrap and crystals, both a form of currency for different benefits. Scrap, often lying around or gained from killed enemies, enables upgrades to the Attack, Fate, and Health stats of clones across missions. Additionally, each of the five clone types has unique powers and a special activatable ability that can be upgraded for power or frequency of use. For example, the robot’s abilities are: cross bridges for free, items are cheaper, and send an item back to base during a mission. Crystals, which are rarer, are used to roll for bronze-, silver-, or gold-rated headgear or weapons for future missions, to buy discovered items from the shop, or to bring an enemy clone as an ally on the next mission.
Limited to one headgear, weapon, and three additional items per mission, it would be wise to choose carefully. Healing items are rather rare, but locations spawn potions of different colors, and their effects are a random roll each mission. They run the gamut of healing, damaging, buffs, and utility, and the effects are unknown until at least one use. So, the clone or an enemy could be a test subject, but my favorite choice is the ground. Events, which are often clickable objects that look out of place, provide two decisions to choose from, and often result in an ally, buff, or item. A shop is also available on each distance, which offers one fixed and one random item for scrap. Ultimately, the game is a gamble between how far the clone can survive exploring while coming out on top in items — losing too much health is an inevitable death sentence, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a healing potion right around the corner from that big, nasty plant… only one way to find out!
As Shattered Planet operates on an isometric grid, players click on the tile they wish to move to, and each tile advancement counts as a “turn” in the tactical meanderings of the Blight and enemies. The game automatically paths and displays the clone’s potential movement from point A to B, but it is so poorly calculated that even if the same number of steps in a different manner will result in avoiding a blighted tile, the pathing will curiously land the clone right there. The alternative is to carefully plot points when such hostile environments exist; certainly not game breaking, but this could result in unintended damage when accidentally or hastily selecting a tile. Precisely because the game is reliant on clicking, rather than arrow keys, there lies a tendency to click on the furthest visible tile in a straight, clear line rather than inching forward, during which an enemy may spot the clone from the revealed shadows and attack before the pathing is even complete. Certainly, these gripes can be avoided by simply playing cautiously at all times and bludgeoning the devil in your head that goes “LEEEROYYY JENKINSSSSS!!!”
My biggest issue with the game is its lack of data for practically everything. An accessible compendium provides generic descriptions and occasionally amusing blurbs regarding all maps, items, events, and enemies, but it has little to do with gameplay. Does an enemy do electric damage? What kind of enemies spawn here? How long does this effect last? It’s thematic that no “information” will be collected until an enemy is killed (for dissection, I suppose), but when the game provides items that give elemental damage and resistances, it would be nice to know exactly what they are useful for. Considering that the clone doesn’t start with or come across many weapons or armors in a mission, there is absolutely no way to try to engineer a better solution. Granted, the advisor on the ship occasionally quips helpful advice like, “crablets are sensitive to blunt-type damage” but he doesn’t cover them all (I tried), and weapons are not categorized as blunt or sharp (surprise!). Item descriptions are fairly straightforward aside from those finer details, but everything else is a hit or miss.
In spite of these shortcomings, the game is an addicting, enjoyable experience. The graphics are pleasing and the enemies so thematically crafted for each background type, such as grasslands, deserts, and tundra, that it barely matters that both background and enemies are frequently reused for different “locations.” Each attack lands with a satisfying chunk, and I love the sweet, futuristic whir of the teleporter whisking the clone away from danger. Generally pleasant but forgettable, the background music fits the location’s theme, and is often overshadowed by the sound effects.
Shattered Planet aligns itself more as a roguelite rather than roguelike, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With polished graphics and engaging gameplay, it warrants an exploration for science. After all, who needs to live forever when you can just clone yourself!