Valerian: City of Alpha

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is director Luc Besson's first sci-fi film in 20 years. Depending on your opinion of his last one, The Fifth Element, that's either a good or a bad thing.

For those looking forward to the new film there's now Valerian: City of Alpha, a mobile game tie-in that also acts as prequel.

It fits squarely into the mobile strategy management genre. It's essentially busywork. A series of tasks, button presses, menus, and abstract currencies. But underneath all of that, there's a telling lack of depth.

At the game's core is Alpha, the space city referenced by both film and game title. At this point in the lore, 600 years before the events of the film, Alpha is a glorified space station on the cusp of becoming something much more important.

You step into this environment tasked with helping establish and grow Alpha, to explore the surrounding planetary systems and make contact with new alien races.

The premise is pretty interesting, and the game does well to give you a sense of purpose. Mechanically, though, it's less intriguing.

Don't leave me hanging

It all starts with a rather attractive map of the galaxy. Here you must tap on areas you wish to explore, and commission a ship and crew to do so. Once this automated process begins you can enter side and story missions for that area.

These missions play out like little narrative adventure games - albeit simple ones. You get three 'decisions' to make in each mission, each with three choices. There are odds ascribed to each choice depending on your level and your crew member's unique abilities.

But there's little flow to these tiny narrative vignettes, and you can spot the seams between the mix-and-match components from a mile off.

There also seems to be little clear reason to choose many of the paths over others.

In space, no one can hear you snore

And mining digital rewards is really all Valerian: City of Alpha is about. There's a bit of strategy to building habitats for new races on Alpha, in that you get certain bonuses for linking up these habitats in certain ways.

I can see how Valerian: City of Alpha might be useful to would-be fans of the film. Presumably the alien species featured here will figure in the movie, so it should be a primer for what promises to be a wild ride.

I should also stress that this isn't an inherently bad game. All of the disparate mechanics work just fine in isolation, and the presentation is solid enough.

It's just that those various elements don't amount to much of anything. And unlike Mr Besson's films, there simply isn't enough style here to overcome a lack of substance.

Valerian: City of Alpha

Lots of bitty components fail to amount to much of anything in this slightly thin sci-fi spin-off
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