Since From Software has moved on from its iconic Dark Souls franchise (at least for now), it’s up to other developers to continue carrying the Souls-like torch for gamers who crave that sadistically hard yet also extremely satisfying gameplay loop. In the past, developers like Team Ninja (Nioh) and Ska Studios (Salt & Sanctuary) have found success emulating the Souls formula, and now teedoubleuGAMES, the oddly titled developer behind the hit stealth/strategy game Ronin, has tossed its own hat into the ring with the isometric sci-fi Souls-esque title Immortal Planet.
After The Fall
Right from the start, Immortal Planet wears its Dark Souls roots on its sleeve both in terms of gameplay and narrative. Precious little information is given to the player about the world they enter when they boot the game up other than that they’re the last of a race of cybernetic protectors who awakens on a desolate planet and must venture out in search of answers. Of course, the various robots and aliens the player encounters would rather see them as nothing more than a bloody smear on the concrete floor, and they’ll do their best to make that vision into a reality.
Much like in the Dark Souls franchise, combat in Immortal Planet feels weighty and deliberate, which is sort of the point. While the controls aren’t terribly complicated (using an Xbox controller, the four face buttons are used for attacking, dodging, blocking, and interacting with the environment while the two bumpers and triggers are how you use items and spells), even a routine combat encounter can be a highly strategic affair since the player can use certain actions in different ways. For example, holding down the attack button can transform certain weapons Bloodborne-style and open up new attack combos, while dodging into an enemy when they’re low on stamina can briefly stun them, leaving them open to follow-up attacks.
Speaking of stamina, Immortal Planet uses a system that’s very similar to Nioh’s in that the player must both carefully manage their own while keeping an eye on the enemy’s. If an enemy overextends and lets their stamina drop too far, the player can dodge into them and get the stun I mentioned above. However, if the player tries to dodge into an enemy that’s not low on stamina and/or gets hit when their stamina is depleted, they’ll get stunned instead, all but ensuring swift retribution (and likely death) from any foes that are nearby. This combined with the fact that virtually all of Immortal Planet’s landscape is surrounded by bottomless pits means that the player never feels fully comfortable dodging around a tense battle, but successfully dodge-stunning an enemy to death always makes the risk feel worth it.
A Barren And Hopeless Landscape
While there is an above-ground snow-covered outdoor hub area the player can wander around, a lot of Immortal Planet is spent in underground areas which, aside from minor environmental color swaps, don’t really look that different from each other. This to me is one of Immortal Planet’s more noticeable shortcomings, it lacks the grand expanses and sweeping vistas that define games like Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, and even Salt & Sanctuary to a degree (despite its 2D gameplay format). Sure, exploration is still a core part of the experience, but it’s hard to stay excited when you enter yet another drab grey room after the five or more that preceded it.
One could argue, however, that Immortal Planet’s drab grey atmosphere is exactly what teedoubleuGAMES was going for. To a degree, the game is supposed to feel sullen and cold, and while its aesthetic may not be as eye-catching as previous Souls-esque games, it does work for the mood that is meant to be elicited. I just wish there was a small iota more of variety, since after a few hours the game’s interior designs do start to bleed together. Of course, since Immortal Planet only has four main indoor areas to explore, I also understand there was only so much teedoubleuGAMES could do.
As for how well Immortal Planet works as a Souls game, in some regards it’s actually harder than the games that came before it. As an example, in pretty much any of the previous examples I mentioned (Dark Souls III, Bloodborne, Nioh, Salt & Sanctuary), overcoming a tough boss encounter is usually followed by the relief of getting to rest at a progress-saving checkpoint and spend all the currency earned from said boss fight, but there are no guarantees in Immortal Planet. I often found it safer to just backtrack to the previously known checkpoint rather than press ahead and risk losing all the currency I’d earned.
On the flip side of that same coin, however, Immortal Planet is also easier in some regards since, as another example, recovering the XP you dropped after a previous death actually refills all of your health as well, which means it can sometime pay to *not* pick up your dropped XP immidiatly upon reaching it (though, if you die again without picking it up, you lose it for good). All of the above is exactly the sort of risk/reward gameplay that Souls fans thrive on, and I would even go so far as to say that, due to its more simplified gameplay and overall shorter length (a dedicated Souls fan could likely beat the entire game in under ten hours), Immortal Planet is a good place to start if you’re a Souls newbie hoping to break into the genre.
Fight The Machine
In some regards, Immortal Planet attempts to do what previous Souls-like games did but doesn’t quite reach the same pinnacles of greatness (its weapon-transformation mechanic, for example, feels mostly pointless since there aren’t many differences between a typical weapon’s two different forms). However, its unique isometric camera angle, punishing yet fair combat system, apocalyptic sci-fi setting, and low system requirements (I ran the game no problem on my three-year-old non-gaming laptop) definitely make it a worthy entry for both Souls newbies and established veterans to check out. Immortal Planet doesn’t really reinvent the Souls wheel that much, but it does bring some interesting new wrinkles to the established status quo.