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Scorched Planet Preview

Criterion Studio's first title combines loads of heart-pounding 3-D action with a tactical edge


At a time when many developers seem obsessed with creating games that promise to be "something you've never experienced before" and instead produce disappointing results, Criterion Studios is staying away from the hype with its first title, Scorched Planet. In a novel approach, the company has openly borrowed some of the best aspects of classic arcade games and incorporated them into a textured world with full 3-D perspectives.

On the surface, Scorched Planet appears to be just another "shoot the bad guys out of the sky" flying action game. It has all the goodies - combat in the sky, missions to complete, nasty enemies to blast to bits using powerful weapons - as well as the always popular heart-pounding, adrenaline rush so many other titles offer, but there's another component tucked away in this game.

As David Lau-Kee PhD, managing director of Criterion Studios explains, Scorched Planet was created to be more than a great action experience. "Sure, we give you a lot of powerful weapons, but the most powerful weapon you can use in this game is your brain."

As a washed-up fighter pilot named Alex Gibson, you're the sole responder to a distress call from the colonized planet Dator 5. This planet had the unfortunate luck of being in the path of a migrating civilization called the Voraxians, who devour everything they encounter. The invasion of the planet is inevitable so your task is to evacuate the colonists before the planet is destroyed.

It's no coincidence if this scenario reminds you of the classic arcade game Defender. Criterion Studios fully acknowledges that it has incorporated several Defender elements into its title. Just like Defender, Scorched Planet's central objective is to collect colonists who are under attack by the enemy (in this case the Voraxians), and fly them to safety. But in addition to flying, your craft can also morph into a tank-buggy when necessary. To help you get those particularly sneaky enemies, you are also able to instantly turn your vehicle 180 degrees to defend your backside (sound familiar, Stargate fans?).

You might also recognize a bit of TC Choplifter as you land your craft and wait for the often pokey colonists to jump onboard. In another throwback to Defender, players will also be able to rescue colonists who have been captured by the enemy by shooting their captors in the air. Fortunately, this time around, you won't have to live with the deaths of any victims you fail to catch.

Graphically, Scorched Planet is almost guaranteed to be a 3-D masterpiece. Criterion Studios is part of Criterion Software, developer of the widely used RenderWare 3-D graphics program. And after years of watching from the sidelines, Criterion Studios is anxious to join the party and show what its software can do. Scorched Planet's action promises to be a smooth, fast, highly detailed real-time 3-D graphics experience.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Scorched Planet is its strategic element. If you want to win, you'll have to go easy on the trigger and put more thought into completing the missions. Your skill at managing the colonists will ultimately determine how successful you are in the game. Because their behavior is for the most part static, once you know how they respond in certain situations you'll be able to place them in strategic locations to help you. Or you could just throw caution to the wind and play Scorched Planet as a fast-action fighter game.

However, Criterion Studios is betting that you'll get sucked into working through the strategy and discover that this action game is both an exciting fighting carnage-fest and a workout for your mind. Based on the demo we played, they're building up a strong case for the latter.

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