SGN’s Exo-Planet made its first appearance on the App Store in early April as Exo-Planet Elite for the iPad [$6.99], a few weeks ago Exo-Planet Elite [$4.99] was released for the iPhone, and it wasn’t until a few days ago that the DLC-powered free to download Exo-Planet [Free] joined the ranks. Exo-Planet is an online shooter, somewhat similar to ngmoco’s Eliminate [Free], but with a third person perspective, multiple game modes, and an always-equipped grappling hook.
The game is controlled similar to most shooters, and a brief tutorial tells you practically everything you need to know about playing. Movement is controlled with the left side of the screen, and sliding your thumb around the right side of the screen allows you to look around. Virtual buttons are scattered about that do things like allow you to view the scoreboard, switch weapons, and fire. Every player is equipped with a grappling hook that can be shot at most surfaces, and grappling is as simple as tapping where you want to fire it and waiting for your character to reel themselves in.
Exo-Planet takes place in space, and hopping around and sticking to magnetic surfaces with your boots is highly reminiscent of the zero-gravity extravehicular activity portions of Dead Space. The third person view is actually really nice for all the maneuvering you’ll be doing, as you can really get a great look at both your surroundings and the locations of your opponents with the pulled back over the shoulder viewpoint.
Exo-Planet includes three gameplay modes, two online and one offline. Online modes include capture the flag and deathmatch, and both are 2v2 team based battles. The offline gauntlet mode is substantially less exciting, with players competing in timed sessions shooting a series of moving targets. I suppose this answers the common complaint of most online-only games in giving iPod touch users something to do when they’re not near WiFi, but gauntlet mode doesn’t provide much challenge and really only seems useful for grinding scrip, learning the controls, and killing time.
What’s this “scrip" stuff? Well, like similar games, Exo-Planet uses an in-game currency system to purchase various upgrades for your character. Everything from tricking out your weapons to increasing your run speed or even making your grappling hook reel in quicker can be purchased with scrip. This seems to be the major division between the free and paid versions of Exo-Planet.
If you shell out some cash for Exo-Planet either for the iPhone or iPad, you get something called “scrip boost" which increases the amount of scrip you earn by playing matches and fighting in gauntlet mode. In the free version, you have the ability to buy scrip in increments ranging from 99¢ all the way up to $19.99.
Playing online is a lot of fun, although in my testing the quality of the games I get matched up with varies wildly. Some are fast paced 2v2 matches with little or no lag filled with players who know what they’re doing (capture the flag is particularly fun in these situations) and others are 1v2 lag fests that either end with the timer running out while you return the flag over and over or kill inactive players, or just simply lagging out. There isn’t any Eliminate-like energy system, so you don’t really lose anything but the time it took to load in to the game when you get a bad match… Which oddly enough has made me much more willing to put up with intermittent connection and lag issues.
Few games match the experience Exo-Planet provides when you find yourself in a game with 4 solid players with good connections. Playing with skilled players amounts to constantly grappling while firing, grappling again to avoid incoming fire, and either trying to stay alive or capturing as many flags as possible which can be a lot of fun. Connection issues are a problem, and it remains to be seen how much post-launch support SGN is going to give Exo-Planet, as you can really only play the same maps and use the same weapons so many times before getting bored. People on our forums are really digging the game, and I really recommend at least giving the free version a spin if nothing else– Especially if you’ve found yourself even slightly enjoying games like Eliminate in the past.