Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis Review

Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis is a real-time strategy game that is a bit of the old and a bit of the new.  A great looking 3D graphics engine has been placed on a traditional, "three races battle it out on a distant world" themed strategy game.  Does this combination work?

ScreenshotsThe three races in question here are the Colonists, the Dreil, and the Sorin.  The Colonists are the technology-loving, space-conquering humans, and the Dreil are the insect-like horde that relies on biologically based weapons and structures.  If you're a strategy game veteran, then you've seen these races before, most notably in StarCraft.  The Sorin are a more original race, consisting of sword-wielding, spell-casting reptilian creatures that seem to share some cultural similarities with Earth's Far Eastern cultures. 

Playing each of the three different races does provide a different experience, as they all feature unique units, structures, and tech trees.  These differences even extend to resource gathering, as each race requires a different set of resources.  The resource sites that will be centers of conflict will depend entirely upon the combination of races present in the current game.  The Dreil are also in need of a resource that is guaranteed to put them in conflict with anybody - some units can put enemies in cocoons which can be brought back to the base and used as a special resource.

The game supports single player action in the form of campaigns for each of the three races or in multiplayer games versus computer opponents.  The single player campaigns are a series of missions that are loosely linked by a storyline - completing a mission makes the next one available for play.  The storylines for the campaigns are disappointing, and consist of a couple of paragraphs of text to be read before and after a mission.  There is also a complete lack of any voiceovers or cutscenes, which makes it hard to be drawn into the story.  Most of the time you'll feel that you are merely playing a series of disjointed missions.

The graphics in Dark Planet are noticeably good.  The maps are colorful and very dynamic - trees rustle in the wind, smoke rises from gas vents, fish swim through translucent waters, and more.  One particularly good effect is the way landscape is revealed as the shroud is erased.  It starts out flat and then morphs into the underlying terrain, be it hill, valley, or river, as units push back the edges of the fog of war.

Unfortunately, there are also a few downsides to the graphics engine.  First off, the units are very colorful and combat effects feature numerous spectacular explosions, which makes for some lively battles but also combine to make it difficult to follow the action in heated firefights.  Also, the zoomed-in view gives you a great close-up look at the game's myriad of units, but shows so little real estate that it is not practical to play the game at that level.  Instead, most players will leave the camera pulled back in order to manage their forces, but at this level it becomes harder to distinguish the different unit types from each other.