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"Interactive entertainment" acquired something of a dubious reputation back in the mid-1990s when the use of CD-ROM started to become more widespread. "Interactive" usually meant watching 10 minutes of impressive graphic cut-scenes with you occasionally getting to press a button which, if you were lucky, might influence the direction of the story in. You can imagine then that I was hardly bowled over when I saw that 6th Planet billed itself as an "interactive comic".
Scientists on Earth are alarmed when the rings around Saturn solidify and the planet itself starts to develop an atmosphere similar to Earth. Believing this might be the solution to Earth's overcrowding problems, two genetically modified chimps are trained to operate a spaceship. The first of these, Darius, is despatched to Saturn to see what he can find.
6th Planet has a really neat gimmick that justifies its "interactive comic" label. The main plot is presented via a series of comic book pages, interspersed with a series of levels where the player is required to take part in a "Jupiter Lander" style game. Here, the player is put in control of Darius' spaceship and must use its thrusters to manoeuvre the small ship to the landing pad, avoiding hazards along the way. The less fuel used, the better the score and Darius will be awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal, according to his performance.
For an "interactive comic", the action is quite well balanced. There are a few pages of the comic book to read, then a few levels of the game to play and this pattern holds for most of the game. This breaks things up nicely so that it never becomes too repetitive, and has been judged well.
The comic allows the game to have a much more coherent narrative. You really feel as though you are making progress and that there is a real point to what you are doing. It's true that there's no direct interaction in terms of branching storylines and the whole game is fairly linear, but at least the comic book gives a solid structure. As such, the game becomes much more involving. Even though you never directly control Darius (only his spacecraft), you still feel bad when you crash, killing him. The storyline is well told and interesting and whilst it might not contain too many surprises (it's pretty standard sci-fi stuff), it's still highly enjoyable.
The comic is superbly presented and a genuinely professional production. It is presented as a standard comic book, making full use of panels, dialogue boxes and all the other paraphernalia that comics use to tell their story. The artwork is of the highest quality - full colour, professional comic book artwork that would not look at all out of place in the books of Marvel or DC. I found myself really looking forward to the interlude both to see how the story unfolded and because the artwork is so good.
In game graphics are a lot simpler, but equally effective. They are essentially vector style graphics, which point to the game's old school influences whilst giving it a clean, crisp look. The various obstacles, cave walls and other elements are nicely drawn and easy to spot, so that of you crash into something it's your own fault. They might not quite have the wow factor of the comic book interludes, but they are perfect for this segment of the game.
Controls are also perfectly balanced. Left and right buttons controls the relevant thrusters to change direction. Pressing the two together briefly slows your craft down (essential for landing safely) whilst holding them for longer makes your craft rise at ever increasing speed. The controls are perfectly weighted and deeply intuitive so that after just a few early levels you should have masters control of your spaceship and know exactly how long to burn the thrusters for.
The in-game physics are also highly realistic so that you cannot just stop your ship on a sixpence. Inertia is built in, so that once you stop pressing the thrust button it takes a few seconds before you ship stops travelling in that direction. Although this is initially a little tricky and frustrating to master, once you get the hang of it, you can use it to your advantage to get out of some really tricky, tight spots and it works beautifully.
Sound is not quite so good. Apart from a rustling noise as you "turn the page" on the comic, the narrative sections are just accompanied by a background tune. Similarly, effects in the game section are fairly limited, although the background tune does add a fair amount of atmosphere.
The game's real problem is its lack of challenge and longevity. To even a moderately competent gamer, most of the levels will not be too difficult. I managed to ace most of the levels in Story Mode on my very first try and the few that defeated me first time around were beaten on a second attempt. Nor is the challenge of gathering medals much greater. I would guess that I got either a gold or silver medal on about 75 per cent of the levels on my first attempt, and once you have done that, there is relatively little replay value.
True, once you have completed Story Mode, you unlock Master Mode which gives you a further 46 levels to explore. Whilst these levels are slightly trickier and will take a little longer to master it still won't take that long for the average gamer to get through them. The blurb about the game in the App Store boasts that it has "over 4 hours of game time", which is not a massive amount really. From my experience, I'd also say that's a slight over-estimation - I completed it in less and I don't consider myself to be a particularly skilled gamer.
6th Planets other potential issue is the lack of variety. Each level is essentially the same from a gameplay perspective. Although the layout of the caves obviously changes from level to level the basic objective (land your craft safely) does not. If you enjoy the gameplay, then this is really not an issue. If you find it a little dull then the game may hold no real appeal for you. Personally, this didn't worry me since I've always enjoyed this style of game, but if you like your games to encompass different elements, then 6th Planet is quickly going to lose its appeal.
This is a tricky one to judge. The lack of real challenge and long term playability limits how highly you can score this title. On the other, the beautiful presentation and well-integrated gameplay work in its favour. There's only about four hours gameplay in here, but then it only costs 69p, so it's not going to break the bank Personally, I think that 6th Planet is worthy of 4 stars. It might be a relatively short-lived experience, but at least it's fun while it lasts.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013