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Game Over Online ~ Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon

GameOver Game Reviews - Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon (c) Disney Interactive, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon (c) Disney Interactive
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 450MHz, 64MB RAM, 750MB HDD, 16MB 3D Accelerator, 8x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 88%
Date Published Monday, November 25th, 2002 at 03:04 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Treasure Planet is Disney's ticket this year to dominating the crucial Thanksgiving opening; a period when Disney never has trouble in ruling the box office charts. What ails the media conglomerate is when it comes to creating compelling games to support its movies. Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon is more like a sequel to a movie that hasn't been released yet. Confusing as that may be, it takes place in events after the movie, when the protagonist, Jim Hawkins, has left the life of piracy under the tutelage of John Silver and has taken up on earning his officer's bars through the naval academy. The ties to the movie are apparent but Treasure Planet has the strength to stand on its own as a refreshing and enjoyable real time strategy game. Barking Dog Studios, now Rockstar Vancouver, ably displays flashes of excellence working with Disney material - excellence that has not been seen by me since the days of Aladdin and The Lion King.

Before I get into the actual mechanics of Treasure Planet, something must be said about the backdrop of this game. Both film and game are loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a novel released originally in 1883, arguably near the height of the British Empire. Combining imperial jingoism in the 19th century and sci-fi elements of space-faring futurism, Treasure Planet is a dialectic mix of the two, filling the universe with oddities like solar sail boats, laser cannon balls and space-roving whale pods. It may seem odd to see people rigging sails on their ships in space at first but what a glorious backdrop this is. It reminded me a lot of the ill-fated SSI classic, Spelljammer, where galleons and longboats sailed across the stars.

In its fundamentals, Treasure Planet plays not unlike Starfleet Command or Star Trek Armada. Restricting z-axis movement, its 3D engine is easy to grasp and the camera system is simple to control. The mouse wheel lets you zoom in and out while holding down the right mouse button will let you pan around the ship. Furthermore, there's an option to move your camera to track other items (the ships you escort might be a good idea) and you can move back to your own flagship with ease.

Like most naval strategy titles, there is a great emphasis by Treasure Planet on Newtonian mechanics of inertia. Frigates and Man-O-Wars may dwarf or menace smaller craft but their maneuverability is suspect, unless you slow down their speed, making you vulnerable to enemy fire. Consider this: a bigger frigate chasing a torpedo boat has to spend ten times the distance to make a 180 degree turn while something diminutive can jinx, juke and dodge without any such penalty.

Treasure Planet's developers have kept everything relatively simple. There are four speed settings: full, cruising, slow and stop. Giving orders to your crew to repair and put out fires are done automatically and targeting enemies is as simple as point and click. But that doesn't mean Treasure Planet merely hands each enemy ship to you on a silver platter. In any battle, there's a significant amount of strategy involved to maximize your weapons fire on the enemy by keeping yourself in motion and keeping your boat positioned to make the most devastating strikes. Not all ships are configured in the same manner. Typically, most of your most potent weapons (cannons) face sideways, thereby forcing you to maneuver yourself along the sides of other ships for maximum effect. The smart naval commander will also find a way to utilize weapons on the other side of the ship while the others are reloading.

As you progress throughout the game, Hawkins will come under command of newer ships and you'll even be able to customize ships to a degree. Recruiting specialized crew members will help improve the statistics of ships. Gunners, for example, will help make better shots. A skilled engineer can help improve the maneuverability of your craft. Skilled fighters on board will help prevent your ship from being boarded and captured. Victory points allotted at the end of each mission effectively serve as the currency needed to outfit your naval squadron.

With multiple ships, you're allowed to assign fleet formations and direct other ships to concentrate fire on specific targets. While the fleet command is much simplified compared to a full-fledged title like Starfleet Command, Treasure Planet's modicum of depth helps reinforce a mantra that you'll repeat to yourself battle after battle. If the cry of bricks and mortars marketing is "Location, Location, Location", the cry for the Royal Navy is position, position, position.

Treasure Planet begins with simple missions that help you get a grasp of this. The missions themselves are wonderfully crafted and linked together with an overall storyline. Not all is safe within the Empire. Imperial interests are threatened when strange ironclad ships, impervious to small arms fire, appear on the frontiers but the Royal Navy also has threats at home as an uneasy ceasefire exists with the feline Procyons. The ensuing drama and action has Hawkins rise through the ranks as he tries to unravel the mystery of the ironclad presence, as well as whether his longtime friend, the pirate king John Silver, has anything to do with it.

Save for the prolonged second mission, most of the tasks Hawkins is given to carry out are fun and interesting. He is joined by a cast of memorable characters, including his first officer, a cyborg named Mr. Onyx who reminds the ambitious captain that his first priority is duty to the Royal Navy. The British accents, cannon balls crashing and cries of 'Fire!' are particularly well done. Because of the writing and the voiceover work, even the most prosaic missions, like resolving fishing rights between two villages, are entertaining. No mission is unrelated to the ongoing plot either as the developers try to work the ironclad and pirate menace into every one.

Unfortunately, the game can be completed in one sitting. If not for the long travel times, it might even be less. The second mission, for example, has you locating lost ships in a backwater quadrant. It's prolonged by the fact that even on full speed your ship won't be traveling as fast as you want. I often wish there was a way to accelerate time because moving from one point to another can take a good five minutes. However, the subsequent missions are better paced and during battles, the speed isn't too slow at all. In fact, with larger ships that need slower speeds to turn on a dime, you'll think developer's default speed is just right.

Treasure Planet even has a competent multiplayer component. There are about half a dozen historical maps that simulate conflicts between pirates, Procyons and the Royal Navy. While these don't possess the story elements found in the single player campaign, they're interesting nonetheless. More enticing for multiplayer are the 'open' multiplayer maps. These ones have fewer scenario restrictions and can let up to eight players duke it out with each other. The whole multiplayer interface looks like it was lifted straight from Starcraft and that's a good thing too because it enables computer AI to take over roles where humans aren't available.

The multiplayer maps are typically skirmishes between one side or another. But they aren't purely exercises in deathmatch. Sometimes, there are bases you must defend. Other times, resupply stations are available for you to cast your anchor at for repairs. Some ships, like the Tenders, are mobile resupply ships. And others, like the weapons barge, are stationary platforms that need to be towed.

Besides implementing different interface motifs for each side (Procyon, pirate and Royal Navy), you also have the choice of customizing your fleet by loading and saving personal configurations. Similar to what happens in the single player campaign, you can use victory points (allotted at the beginning of each 'open' multiplayer map) to personalize your fighting fleet. It's also one of the few places where you'll get access to all the different ships in the single player campaign.

The most wonderful thing Treasure Planet did was infuse life into its universe with the Stevenson novel. Terms like the Admiralty, Parliament, Imperial citizens, Home Territories and the Empire are the terms of Victorian jingoism, par excellence. The story, perhaps numbering only a few pages of text, is written and narrated so well that it draws you into the Royal Navy and never lets go afterwards. It actually made me look forward to watching the movie, which, alas, I learnt was more about Hawkins living the life of a rogue than the Royal Navy itself.

With the recent release of the third Starfleet Command title, Treasure Planet is stacked up against stiff competition this holiday season. While it may be strange to see fishing grounds next to gorgeous looking black holes, there's a je ne sais quoi factor about Treasure Planet that makes it work. The quirky combination of stars and sails creates a magnificent backdrop for naval strategy. Throw Hawkins' story in it and it becomes an unexpectedly charming title through and through - one of the most surprising titles that I've had the pleasure of coming across this year.

 

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Rating
88%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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