Dator 5 is under attack from the insect and pterodactyl hordes of the Voraxians. The Voraxians have come to take over Dator 5 and destroy all its human inhabitants by either blowing them to bits or by injecting them with zombie-inducing poison which, after two minutes, causes the infected to literally burst, spurting blood as they wail their final screech. Neat.
You are the only one close enough to respond to the human plea for help. Equipped with a "Type 16" morphing vehicle, which morphs from a tank to a fighter ship, you get to defend the humans by blowing away the Voraxians and by picking up 5 humans at a time. You save them by flying through a space gate. The game, in a nutshell, can be described as Terminal Velocity meets Havoc meets the old classic Defender. Unlike the simplicity of those games, though, Scorched Planet does require a bit of strategy as the game progresses. At first you must simply pick up eight humans and transport them through the spacegate, which kind of reminded me of the training sessions in LucasArts' X-Wing and TIE Fighter. In later missions, things are not so easy. The space gate will malfunction, requiring you to find a space gate crystal you must pick up and fly through the gate in order to repair it. Your fuel tank will be damaged, requiring you to manage your flight time more carefully. You'll have to manage all this while searching for fuel, weapons, anti-venom, and more. Fun? At first, yes, but at certain times you will want to go back to Terminal Velocity for free-flowing simplicity, which leads me to the next section.
The gameplay of Scorched Planet is pretty intense, to say the least. It's definitely a "keep you on your toes" kind of a game. From the minute you start, you feel the tragic need to hurry. If you don't make it on time you lose all your humans and go into "hyperspace" (can anyone say Defender?). (FYI, the Defender comparison has been noted plenty, and Criterion makes no gripes about the comparison, so it is not a bad thing). Scorched Planet is definitely an arcade style action-packed game which is a blast to play -- a 3D Defender with more. You fly around Terminal Velocity-style, find your humans, come down to ground level, morph into a tank (which is an awesome effect), and call your humans to come in. All the while your heart is pounding while incoming fire blasts about you. Once five humans are picked up, you morph back to a star fighter and rush off to the space gate. The whole time you're hoping you won't run out of fuel and hoping you can find that damn anti-venom to get to the rest of your zombified humans before they burst, which is a must-see in itself. The Voraxians unleash giant spiders that traverse the land piercing humans into green zombies that blow up after two minutes if you don't cure them. If you don't get to them in time, they emit a spine-chilling screech and a fountain of blood spurts up three times their height. The first time I saw it, I was flying over a hill. I looked down at a line of green zombies, heard screeches, and watched them burst one at a time. I omitted the reflexive "whoa." This game is pretty cool.
Everything was fun and fine until levels began to progress. One gripe I have with Scorched Planet and a good number of other games is the lack of joystick configurability. I have a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro with buttons galore. Unfortunately, with Scorched Planet I could only program four of them, not including the throttle. Speed is controlled via one of your fire buttons. I set one button to fire, one to morph, one to adjust speed, and one to call my humans over. In order to toggle between items such as anti-venom, turrets you drop for your soldiers to use, satellite dishes that repel Voraxians and so on, you have to use a key on the keyboard. In order to drop these items once selected, you have to use yet another key. A game this intense, which requires complete attention to the screen and control of your craft at all times, should not require you to compromise so much, especially when you have plenty of free buttons on the joystick. An alternative would have been to at least have an option that allowed you to make things easier, like having humans automatically come to you when you land rather than having to call them. If I were running for my life on the battlefield, no one would have to call me to the rescue ship. I'd be there. Fast. (Criterion does offer a hints and tips page which looks to be pretty helpful.)
The second thing that slightly bothered me was the rate at which your craft turns. It's just a tad too slow. Frustrating when you need to make that quick turn, but then again we can attribute that to the flight mechanics of the craft, right. Or can we? I must note that there is a reverse key you can assign that will make your ship or tank do an immediate 180° which is a nice feature. But again, either you have to give up one of four buttons, or fling one hand to the correct key on the keyboard, which is not easy when playing in the dark.
So there is room for improvement in Scorched Planet -- more configurability for joysticks with more than four buttons, especially with a game that grips your attention as much as this, and a slightly quicker turn rate in the flight model. A simplicity setting that would not require the need of more than four buttons could also remedy the above. A "Mindless Fun" setting for the avid shooter fan, perhaps?
I've seen other reviews state that although Criterion and Virgin have praised the cutting-edge graphics on this title, it is not much of an advancement. To those reviewers, I say shell out a little more for the graphics accelerator, pop this baby in and open your eyes. I have a Rendition Verite-based board. Scorched Planet is outright gorgeous on it. Graphics are sharp and smooth. Criterion Studios has done an excellent job on this engine. There is absolutely no pixelation on the Verite version, and frame rate keeps up at an impressive rate regardless of how much is happening on the screen; there was absolutely no slowing down. I have a P90 with 40 MB of RAM and a Verite-based 3D accelerator. Scorched Planet soars on it. I've seen screenshots of the non-accelerated version, and yes they are average, but let's face it, to run games with increasingly better graphics, in time, we will all have to get the hardware to support it. My P90 feels like a dinosaur already, that's why I purchased the 3D accelerator. If you look at the system requirements you'll see that a P90 is the recommended low end.
Anyway, to get back to the point, compared to other games currently out, Scorched Planet on an accelerated system is a major advancement in graphics and gaming. Just look at the screen shots. More importantly though, the frame rate and thus gameplay with these graphics on an accelerated board is incredibly smooth and fast.
I liked the audio in Scorched Planet. It's not Mechwarrior 2, but it is very close and very appropriate. One thing I really like about the audio is that when Voraxian pterodactyls are within range, the music goes into an intense, fast-paced techno loop, which not only adds to the intensity and excitement of the situation, but also works as a killer audio cue that danger is near. When you are not in danger, the music lingering in the background is actually calming, which, in a game this intense, is actually a welcome breather. I've found that there are two kinds of music for most games. Music that enhances the game, that you actually leave on, and music that eventually annoys the crap out of you and must be turned off. I never turned down the music in Scorched Planet -- except of course when I was told to by my omnipotent mate. The sound effects of your ship and tank as you thrust, the firing of your weapons, the sound of you calling your humans are all well done. Simply put, the audio is above par on this one.
System Requirements and Comments
Windows: P60 (P90 recommended), Windows 95, Microsoft mouse and driver, 8 MB RAM (16 MB for SVGA), and 2X CD-ROM drive.
Although I have a 3D accelerator and 40 MB RAM, I only have a P90, the low-end recommendation for the game. Scorched Planet flies on my PC.
The documentation is pretty decent. All weapons, power-ups, items and how to use them are covered as well as a few extra tips, including the behavior of the humans and how you can use that to your advantage. One thing missing, though, was a list of the Voraxians and their behaviors, which I thought was odd.
I found the AI for Scorched Planet to be pretty decent. Everything does what it is supposed to do with only one major exception: the humans don't automatically come to you when you land right in front of them. You have to call them first. This was more of an annoyance than added realism. As far as enemy AI, though, they were right on. Spiders go directly for humans, pterodactyls attack humans until you get in the way, then they realistically come after you. Since you can only take back five humans at a time, you will find yourself cursing the efficiency of the Voraxians as your game goes into hyperspace.
Scorched Planet supports up to 8 players on an IPX/SPX based network. You can play two modes, either Killmatch in which the first player to achieve the selected number of kills wins, or Savematch in which the player who has the most points when the last human is saved wins. Humans are always present, but the Voraxians can be turned on or off.
One really cool feature of Scorched Planet is human AI. Although they don't automatically come to you when you land, soldiers will fight back at the Voraxians with gun turrets you drop near them, and generally humans will pick up power-ups and other useful items for you.
Don't be thrown off by the exploding zombie humans. They are not as graphic as slaughter-fests in Quake or the like. The screech and idea of it all is more disturbing that the graphics and they are not ever-present. I would let my kids play this one.
Patches and Updates
The following update is available for Rendition/Verite based systems. I downloaded it and installed it, but did not notice any difference. http://www.canon.co.uk/studios/patches.htm
If you are looking for a good action-packed adrenaline rush of an arcade-type flyer with excellent graphics and excellent sound, give Scorched Planet a run. Try the demo. If you like it, you'll obviously like the game. If you're looking for a mindless shooter to pop on whenever you are bored, like Terminal Velocity, think again. Although the first few missions are no-brainers, the game does require a good amount of thinking and strategy, and you will be pressed for time. But if time were not an issue, the game would not be as intense and could probably be thrown in with the likes of Terminal Velocity and Hellbender. Remember, the focus in this one is to save the humans, not solely yourself. If you lose that focus, you lose the mission. If you have a 3D accelerator, this game is pure eye candy and will scream even on the low-end system requirements. Do be warned, though: The controls can get frustrating and the levels do get more difficult. This game does require a little bit of multitasking in the old cortex. This is not a Terminal Velocity clone. As with the arcade games of the past, you might find yourself repeating missions to learn and memorize the correct strategy to take next time. Overall, I give Scorched Planet an 80 out of 100.
Download Scorched Planet
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP