As the four-hundredth entry in the never-ending line of Souls-inspired RPG’s, Immortal Planet isn’t too shabby an effort.
In Immortal Planet, you take the role of the titular lone warrior, cast out into a mysterious world, for mysterious reasons. Apparently, you are one of many immortals, stirred from your cryo-sleep in order to fulfill some vague destiny, which involves bashing hordes aliens, nightmares, and your now mind-warped brethren. It isn’t the most original setup to a “Souls” game, not by a long shot. Hell, just replace the word “immortal” with “undead” and the similarities are unmistakable. However, the striking art direction for the characters and environments, as well as the slick, satisfying combat, make up for the storyline’s initially weak grip.
The setting’s aesthetic is clean and unembellished, yet still very clearly portrays a cold, technological mausoleum quite well. A few of the different stages could use a tad more diversity, but their strong theming does enough to keep you from wondering if you’ve already been there before. Both goodies and baddies are drawn as faceless, lumbering champions, all comfortably armed with glaives and guns. Their sleek steel masks veiling any intent other than rampant murder, and I contend that masks, in any fiction, will never not be cool. The whole thing looks very comic-book…and very good.
Beginning the game, you’ll be given a few key choices for your budding immortal. Immediately you’re given two choices that will shape the way you fight. You get to choose between three weapons, each of which has its own special technique. Each weapon has two modes, one generally being quicker, while the other, the “ascended” form, is slower but stronger. In addition, transitioning a weapon into its ascended form creates an effect. For instance, you’ll unleash a skewering charge when ascending a sword-spear. Ascending an assault blade though, will rejuvenate all of your stamina in an instant. And that’s not including the various other instruments of war you’ll eventually come across.
You’ll also need to choose a character trait. These are a bit more straightforward, one giving you the Bloodborne ability to steal life back on hits, while the others grant access to perfect dodges and blocks, which conserve stamina. These early choices allow for some unique combat styles when first starting a new game, and it lets the player decide whether or not to focus on dodging, parrying, or furious offense.
The gameplay isn’t much different from what you might already know, marching through dark techno-dungeons and squaring off against demented foes, one blow at a time. If you die, you guessed it, you’re hurled back to your last checkpoint, and have to reclaim your lost experience points. What is different, however, is that you’re only given one health injector to use, and it’s up to you to stock up on more at designated item pads. This gives you the interesting decision to either barrel through a pack of enemies blocking the nearest pad, hoping that you lose less health than what you’d gain from another injector, or ignore it entirely, relying on your innate ability to never, ever get hit. Aren’t you amazing.
These injector pads are always in the same spots, but at times, they’ll also spew out an enemy when you open it, taking you by surprise. The random nature of this seems a bit cheap. If I fought hard enough to get to the pad, I should be rewarded with another injector, and not sometimes also juiced-up sonsofbitches.
Trading blows is a methodical process, as you wait for openings or abilities to pop off before going in for the hurt. Much like you, all enemies, including bosses, have their own stamina bars which can be seen above their heads. This lets you plan around your opponent’s stamina consumption, backing off and baiting strikes when they’re full, or going in for the sweep when they get worn out.
It’s straightforward, but still a little tough to get used to. Your own stamina bar often feels marginal compared to other, similar bar based games, and if you exhaust all of your stamina, you end up helpless for a few seconds. Getting hit can also stun briefly, causing situations that leave you staring blankly at the enormous sword barreling down on your head, arms wide, as you embrace the shadow of death. When your stunned, you might as well be dead already.
As per the unofficial Souls handbook, Immortal Planet isn’t easy. Any laser blast or knife swipe can deal tremendous damage, with most larger enemies taking up to half of your health in one brutal strike. It’s imperative that you avoid taking hits, and fortunately, you’re also gifted an array of items and spells to help even the odds. Though they have limited uses, they can be immensely useful, so much so that they make Dark Souls’ equivalencies look like children’s toys. Items such as guns, bombs, and mines are mostly for utility, used for picking off weak enemies or zoning out sections of the battlefield. But spells are the real game-changer here.
In the Dark Souls series, I feel like I’m going to die every time I cast a spell. It’s stiff and unreliable at the best of times. I never know if the magic is going to clip some pottery and dissipate, lose its tracking on the enemy, fly into the floor, or whatever. This is a consequence of playing in a three-dimensional space. In two dimensions, however, spells work much more reliably. In Immortal Planet, spells are big, impactful, and will swiftly take care of your bigger threats. Whether it’s freezing your enemies and sapping their stamina, or firing off pyroclastic lasers, it feels good to approach any situation with this magical utility in mind. To keep it succinct, Immortal Planet might be the only Souls-like game that made me excited to specialize in wizardry.
Again, the game can be tough. The immediacy with which attacks are performed means that there are only a few frames between an enemy’s wind up and the inevitable hurt. Most attacks are executed instantly, with the exception of bigger, choreographed moves that give you slightly more time to react. Sometimes the instantaneous damage that you take from multiple sources can be exasperating. Make one mistake and get thrown right back into your tomb. Remember to keep in mind that you only start with one healing item. Where Dark Souls can be seen as a game that merely asks for endurance, Immortal Planet is all about practicing perfection.
My biggest qualm with the game is that the stamina system feels a bit too harsh. The way the player regains stamina is stilted, as you wait a second or two for the bar to start regenerating; and enemies rarely have to worry about their stamina unless it almost depletes entirely. If you manage to stun an enemy, you’ll only get a couple of hits before your resources are totally drained…which means you’re now defenseless against any other potential threats in the room. Even upgrading your stamina fails to solve this problem entirely. Eventually you learn to ration your actions wisely, as your brain recalibrates. Even so, later stages are as tough as the nails in your inevitable coffin.
If while playing, you’ve yet to experience a stroke, you’ll eventually be able to access challenges; these are short, three wave arenas that test your absolute combat prowess and suicidal tendencies. As sadistic as they are, it’s worth your time to beat them for the rewards, which increase your starting health injectors. Good luck with that.
If you’re into the whole Souls thing, Immortal Planet is worth your time. It’s simplified, straightforward, and gratifying, if a bit frustrating. It boils down the elements of traditional Souls games and distills them into something more cleanly presented and executed. There are even some elements (like items and magic) that improve upon the original ideas. A couple of years from now I don’t know if I’ll remember Immortal Planet, or how much of an impact it’ll have on me (just look at all of the Souls-likes on the market right now). But it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s trying to be an entertaining, if unoriginal, action RPG. And that’s what it is. What else is there to say?