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SummaryA richly imaginative space RPG!
The GoodThe developer most known for their famous role-playing series came up, during a very creative period of game-making, with an unusual game that combined traditional RPG with space exploration, ship combat, and resource-collecting in the vein of Starflight.
Unlike that game, Planet's Edge has much stronger old-fashioned role-playing elements, which makes it an even richer and more varied experience. The "meat" of the game are planet exploration sequences, where you visit large, complex areas, fight enemies, talk to NPCs, and gather items and information.
The beautiful thing about this game is its completely open-ended nature. Most of the planets cannot be landed on, but that's not saying much, because the game's world is absolutely huge, and you probably won't be complaining about the quantity of explorable locations. There are eight or so space sectors, each with a dozen star systems. Of all those, there are probably about thirty planets you can beam down to and explore. Most of them have crucial importance to the complex, overarching main quest line, which involves meticulous collecting of vital information and objects. However, the player is free to go anywhere right from the beginning and tackle any planet or even attempt to solve any scenario.
This means that Planet's Edge gives the player a feeling I particularly value when playing RPGs: it doesn't force a certain playing style upon you, it lets you play at your own pace and your own degree of care or recklessness. Fancy getting some of the game's most powerful weapons and armor? Explore faraway systems and see whether you'd stumble upon an area where you can quickly snipe an overly tough enemy and get his goodies. Afraid of the risks? Do things by the book, follow the hints, and stick to well-trodden paths. Feel underpowered, frustrated? Take a break from this whole Earth-restoring thing, fly around, take on easier pirates, mine planets, trade with vendors, outfit your ship. It's your choice that matters.
A recurrent problem with open-ended RPGs is a certain "copy-paste" quality of their quests. Not so in Planet's Edge. Among other objectives, you'll rescue an avian princess from an unwanted marriage, prevent an assassination of an interstellar politician (or perform this assassination by yourself!), study the peculiarities of an alien race that has no concept of property, investigate murders, visit a zoo and an underground palace, and more. What's particularly refreshing is the clever structure of the quests. While there are some "beam down on the planet and kill everything" sequences, most quests actually offer free exploration of large and complex locations, and are completed by careful investigation, dialogue, and even puzzle-solving. This grants the game a delightful adventure-like flavor.
Another borrowing from adventure games - which I absolutely loved - is attention to detail and text feedback. Not only are there well-written, informative, unique conversations with dozens upon dozens of NPCs - the "look" and "examine" command can be used pretty much on anything, and more often then not the game will comment on that. Of course, there are quite a few generic "you see a wall" statements, but you can take a look at the screenshots for examples of some detailed, elaborate, and lovingly written text feedback that brings back nostalgic days of traditional adventure.
There are two types of combat in the game: turn-based party combat on planet surfaces (largely unavoidable in hostile areas), and arcade ship battles in space, most of which can be skipped in one of the two ways - bribing the opponent (not recommended), and simply flying your ship at top speed, outmaneuvering the enemies. Space combat seems chaotic and completely unfair at first, so it's best avoided for a long stretch of the game; however, once you've built stronger ships, it becomes much less of an issue. There seems to be a bug in my version of the game that limits your practical arsenal to missiles, but I was able to complete a crucial attack on a heavily guarded planet with a very good ship equipped solely with that type of weapon. Once you get the hang of it, ship combat becomes quite entertaining.
As for the turn-based ground battles, they are what you'd expect from a full-fledged RPG - with the cool addition of firearms. The battles are tactical and very satisfying - weapon strength and accuracy, armor ratings, distance, angle, skill levels of the characters - everything is taken into account. Although your four characters cannot level up, they can be cloned with different skill sets at any time. Weapons and armor play a huge role - there are vast amounts of light and heavy firearms as well as various armor suits to find in the game, and the hunt for better equipment can become one of the most fulfilling aspects of the game. It's refreshing to miserably die from one rifle shot of a mean-looking greenish alien, only to come back with a grenade launcher and show him and his friends what humans are capable of.
The BadThis ambitious space exploration role-playing game was surely ahead of its time, and it's rather obvious how it struggles against technical limitations and gets dragged into some nasty balance issues. While hardcore role-players might frown upon the game's lack of attribute progression for the characters, its open-ended nature coupled with precise plot progression requirements may lead to dead ends, so better have a clue book at hand.
For an inexplicable reason, my version of the game did not allow me to use any weapons in ship combat except missiles, which exacerbates the already high difficulty. Outfitting a really strong ship with several missile rows eventually does the trick, but if things look too grim, I wholeheartedly recommend mild cheating.
In fact, the player is quite tempted to cheat in this game due to the excruciating speed of resource-collecting. I might have missed some nifty shortcuts or whatnot, but building new ships (which you will need) is a painfully slow process, because resources are so rare. Prepare to spend most of your game cruising around, mining everything at sight, waiting for the resources to respawn, and so on. It's like Star Control II, only more so. And, while you are at it, be ready for irritating encounters with pesky pirates, whom you have no chance to defeat in your puny starting ship. It's a great thing you can save absolutely anywhere and, with some skill, outmaneuver most of those criminals.