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Review by: Gavin Carter
Published: March 22, 2002
StarCraft remains a genre-defining title, even years after its initial release. Other companies actively seek to emulate it both in look and gameplay. StarCraft has spawned more than its fair share of impersonators, ranging from the truly terrible Thandor: The Invasion to the stellar Ground Control. Next up in the long line of StarCraft clones is Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis. With Dark Planet, developer Edgies seeks to improve on the StarCraft theme by moving it to full 3D with more glitzy eye-candy than you can shake a Zergling at. It may be easy to write Dark Planet off as just another clone, but I set out to determine whether or not this title could hold its own in the fiercely competitive real-time strategy genre.
Only the slightest wisp of a story holds Dark Planet together. The plot revolves around the title’s namesake planet, Natrolis. Three factions vie for control of the planet’s resources: the human Colonists, the lizard-like Sorin, and the crustacean-like Dreil. The Colonists came to Natrolis seeking to harvest its plentiful resources, but came into conflict with the native Sorin race. The battles between the two factions awoke the Dreil, who only seek destruction of the other two races. That’s the full extent of the plot. There are no specific characters, no intriguing plot twists. Every once in awhile there’s a pre-rendered cinematic that shows a particular unit or battle being played out, but they serve no real purpose other than to look pretty. Dark Planet ends simply when one race defeats the others.
The factions of Dark Planet closely parallel StarCraft‘s. The human Colonists are virtually identical to the Terrans, and the Dreil might as well just be called the Zerg. The Sorin are original, however. They are a faith-based race that resembles feudal Japan in look and unit type. Sorin units prefer samurai-type weapons and armor, and they build structures that appear to have come straight out of a good Kurosawa flick. The reptilian look carries a “been there, done that” feel, but the detail of each unit is so fine they still manage to feel novel.
The tech trees and unit types available to each race are nearly identical. The Sorin’s Stomper unit is devastating when employed against enemy structures. The description of the Dreil’s Mantis is comparable, recommending that it be used primarily against buildings. Each race has four distinct levels of advancement, each accessible by upgrading the faction’s main command center building. Each upgrade provides access to similar units and structures for each race. For example, all races can build guard towers (with matching damage, attack speed and attack type) only after upgrading the command center once. The Colonist units contain a few notes of innovation, most notably in their vehicle loadout. The giant mech, Kooot, for instance, isn’t analogous to any other unit. In addition, all three races have a leader unit that increases the movement speed and combat ability of nearby units.
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