One of the best strategy games in history was released in 1997: Total Annihilation. Long-defunct developer Cavedog created a title that spawned a legion of fans and a few well-received spiritual sequels. The most recent, and most troubled, of these sequels is Planetary Annihilation. Today sees the release of a new stand-alone expansion, Planetary Annihilation: Titans – and it just might turn the franchise around.
These games, at their best, truly make the player feel like a commander – a general of armies – with warfare on a grander scale than other contemporary RTSes. Even in the original TA, players managed hundreds or thousands of units without feeling overwhelmed. It was one of the first ever 3D RTS games, where terrain really mattered and projectiles were true objects. In an oft-cited example, a shell from a Big Bertha artillery piece, flying across the map, could vaporize an aircraft that happened to be flying through the shell’s trajectory. Stuff like that can’t happen in Starcraft.
A sequel (in spirit) wasn’t released for ten years, but Supreme Commander eventually came out in 2007 to almost universal acclaim. Once again, it debuted features we take for granted in most strategy games now, the fully zoomable map being the most prominent. Supreme Commander 2, though worse than SupCom, continued the tradition, and is a fine game on its own merits.
Then Uber, a new developer with lots of old TA and Supreme Commander vets at the helm, announced a new title: Planetary Annihilation. This was one of the first big Kickstarter projects, and it soaked in cash from the legions of fans looking for a modern take on the old formula.
Upon release, my experience was similar to that shared by many old Annihilation/Commander fans: extreme excitement, followed by confusion induced by the poorly-written tutorials, followed by disorientation and disappointment. The “fighting across multiple planets in a solar system” thing is a great advance in theory. In practice, the planets are tiny, making battles feel cramped and their consequences swift. There’s no space to trade for time, and managing multiple bases across multiple planets and moons quickly became tiresome. The key selling point of the game just didn’t work.
A few years passed, and the developers at Uber patched and updated and patched again. By all accounts, Planetary Annihilation has become much more playable. Today, Uber capped this all off with the release of Planetary Annihilation: Titans, a stand-alone expansion.
Titans looks interesting. It adds the titular Titan mega-units (similar to the Experimentals from SupCom) along with a hodgepodge of other new toys. Multi-level terrain, which was shockingly not part of the original PA release, is finally implemented, as well as a totally rebuilt tutorial experience. Titans is priced at $40 for new buyers, with a 66% off promotion available for previous owners of some version of PA (bringing the price down to $13.60). Additionally, those who backed the original Kickstarter will receive Titans for free.
For those of you – like myself – who felt burned by Planetary Annihilation, now might be the time to give it another chance.