Planet 51 Xbox 360, PS3
How many movies and games have there been about aliens landing on Earth? Countless amounts I’m sure, but how many times has the shoe been on the other foot? Hardly any. In Planet 51 this is the case though, it takes the story of sci-fi classic ET And turns it on its head. Here hapless astronaut Chuck is the alien hunted by the authorities and you play the part of Lem, the boy who helps him evade entrapment.
The game starts prior to Chuck’s arrival, with some menial tasks such as mowing a lawn and delivering a comic book on your hover bike. It’s not long before your mother gives you her old car though, which makes getting around the city a lot easier and quicker. Yes, you guessed it, it’s another open world sandbox game, but being based around the latest computer generated children’s film you’ll find it to be a lot less violent than your average video game sandbox. The format is pretty much the same though; travel around the map, find tasks to do, complete task then repeat. This does makes a change from the usual structure associated with movie games. Once the story progresses to Chuck’s arrival you’ll also find a bit more variety in the missions at hand, with you controlling Chuck, and his robotic dog Rover, in several story missions.
For the most part the mission types are pretty much what you’d expect, some racing, following people, delivering items, that sort of thing, but there are some that are less expected. There are several demolition derby events that are quite fun, smashing up the opposition, and hoovering a big top, which was extremely dull. You’ll also find things like collecting lost dogs from the pound, delivering a giant ape to the circus without getting it angry, but the biggest variety missions come when you control rover. Rovers missions are split in to two types: first are simple search and collect missions, but the others are stealth missions, which add a little variety.
Chuck’s missions aren’t too different to Lem’s, but there are a few on foot sections where you have to get to a location within a time limit, these are quite dull though. So, the missions are reasonably varied, but unfortunately in their quality as well as the mission types. A bigger problem is that, although some missions can be replayed, you probably won’t want to with most.
Aside from following the story there’s not a lot else to do, well there is, but little incentive to do so, apart from some meagre achievement points. This brings us to another problem, because the game’s story follows that of the film, albeit with a few added extras, it is more than a little on the short side, and could probably be completed in a day easily enough. This is offset by some local multiplayer game modes that add to the longevity a bit.
These are all vehicle based, and give you a chance to race, play demolition derby, and a hot potato style game where you have to hit each other to pass a ticking bomb before you die. These are all quite fun, but with only two players and no online functionality it will be put aside soon enough. These do showcase one of the game’s finer points though, and that is the vehicles.
Despite being set in a world that is a dead ringer for 1950s suburban America, this planet must have invented hovering instead of the wheel. All the vehicles hover, and when mentioned by Chuck, Lem has no idea what a wheel is, this makes the handling different from a wheel based vehicle. They take a little time to get the hang of, but when you do they handle very well, with the car’s ability to turn on the spot this makes handbrake turns a doddle for instance. The car also has the ability to jump, which comes in handy for avoiding obstacles, and to strafe, by use of the right control stick. This may seem a strange option to include, but it works well, and allows you to avoid objects on a straight without losing speed, or to barge your opponents off the road in a race.
This isn’t exactly a saving grace grace though, the game just has too much going against it and is swamped in an overwhelming feeling of mediocrity. With dull events, terrible lip synching in the cut scenes, short story and just not enough to do for a sandbox game the few fun vehicle parts just aren’t enough. If you have some small children who enjoyed the film it’s probably worth picking up just to keep them quiet for a bit, but for anyone else it just isn’t worth it.