January 04, 2010
Movie tie-ins had a rough year in 2009, so we can only hope that they go out with a bang. Sadly though, thanks to SEGA's Planet 51, it seems like we may well be stuck with the whimper sound effect to end a year of tie-ins we just want to forget. Planet 51 is the latest in a long line of games that's intended to cash in on a successful film's hype and imprint themselves on the minds of parents during the festive rush for presents. Unfortunately as the film itself got a bit of a critical hammering, the game really has to stand on its own two feet. No doubt you can see where this is heading... over the waterfall my friends.
Planet 51 at least has a fun concept. The titular space rock is the home to a bunch of green skinned fun-loving aliens - very much like ourselves - who like to entertain themselves with fearful stories of Humaniac invaders. Their entire culture is based on a fifties themed society, with the usual array of in-jokes and references to jolly things along the way. Now you can imagine the scenario when an actual alien (well, human) lands amongst them and that's what happens here. Chuck the stranded spaceman soon finds himself in over his head, and it is down to his newfound chum, Lem, and his dubious rock collecting sidekick, Rover, to help him get out of dodge.
While the story is obviously E.T flipped, it really does not do that good a job of translating itself into a game. The first major issue is the fact the developers saw fit to make the whole affair into a GTA lite, or kiddie sandbox title if you will. That in itself is not too big a deal, though it does seem an odd choice as sandbox games are usually big sprawling affairs with any number of out-of-the-way Easter eggs to find and delight the player with. Such a play style is hardly what I would expect to interest kids who are more likely to enjoy fun and exciting gameplay than trudging around a giant map looking for collectibles. That aside, the main issue is that the large play area just seems so... empty. While you can take part in a number of missions and tasks, aside from that, there really is nothing to do.
Even navigating the planet is a chore at first, as the initial vehicle handles as if it was built out of spaghetti. Thankfully you soon gain access to a more superior ride which makes things much more enjoyable, but considering the amount of driving about you have to do, it does not offer that much of an improvement. Each area allows you to take part in missions that, allegedly, tie in with your ultimate goal. It seems like the odd jobs and tasks where designed before the developers were made aware of the plot, as it is confusing to see where mowing lawns and delivering papers can justifiably fit into the grand scheme of things, however, each task is mildly entertaining in its own way.
The majority of your time is set behind the wheel and at least the racing events are some fun, as you can strafe, hover and bash your way to glory. You can also return to certain events and take on more difficult challenges. More difficult that is, until you realize it is the exact same challenge only with a smaller time limit. Doing that once or twice might be fun, but ten times for each task is asking a bit much of even the most patient amongst us. I think Mother Theresa would have blanched at such mindless repetition. That is the real crux of the game's problems, as, aside from repeating the same old tasks and hunting for collectables, there is really nothing else to do. It does not really help matters that even the main tasks are dull affairs either, if anything, it makes it more likely that you'll never actually have the willpower to sit through and play it through to the finish.
It's not all bad here though and at least the game looks nice enough with a vivid feel to it and plenty of areas to explore. All of the characters look decent, but not great, and the movie footage really does show the difference up at times. Still, except for some very obvious pop up at times, the whole thing runs trouble free, until you come to the voice work. Now there is very little doubt that some people do voice over work just for the cash and sadly this seems a prime example of that. Having to watch stilted dialogue that doesn't even lip sync properly... or suffer through the same few lines being uttered time and time again, at the end of the day it does not make for a fun gaming experience.
Obviously the only reason anyone over the age of ten will feel the slightest compunction to pick this game up at all is down to the achievements and, in typical movie game style, they are all easy enough. Though that is not to say that they are not dull and time consuming, as you will be required to perfect most of the mini games, grab a whole bunch of collectables and suffer through the mindless story to snag them all. The real irony is that the most difficult tasks offer the worst rewards – with all of the moderately diverting five point achievements being the offenders. Still, the whole list is attainable to anyone with the patience to devote to it, though it is full of the same generic tasks that make up most similar games. What happened to variety?
This is certainly not a terrible game, but it is by no means a good one either, in fact it is decidedly average in most aspects. The graphics are ok, the story is alright, the missions are inoffensive – you see where I am heading with this. Certainly it will do a job of entertaining the kids for an hour or two but even they might not have the spirit to see the whole thing through and that is the real problem. A family game is meant to be fun, interesting and sometimes even good enough to make the adults want a go, and, try as this game might, it just does not do enough to draw people in and keep them entertained.
A painful assault on the ears sometimes and developers need to learn that having characters repeat the same lines over and over and over and over again is not a good idea.
Probably the best aspect of the game... and that is not saying much. Some of the characters look good and barring the odd case of pop-up, it all looks pretty smooth.
Easy to pick up and play, but far too easy to put down again. Driving seems finicky at first but improves when you find a better ride, other than that, this is all very much by the numbers.
As a kids game it is far too repetitive and dull, and as a sandbox game, the world is just too devoid of interesting tasks. The story does not help matters either.
A list that seems more like a manual of what is in the game rather than a challenging set of interesting tasks. One for points junkies only.
A mediocre game at best and one that will not even appeal that much to the target audience. Kids want a game that offers fun and excitement and this drawn out sandbox affair has very little of either.