Every Lost Planet game has changed the dynamic of game-play dramatically since the original 2006 release sold the Xbox 360 as a concept to Japanese consumers. The graphics were beautiful, and there was no better way to unleash our current generation to skeptical gamers than with massive monsters and a hellish ice-planet. Lost Planet was also one of the last games I can think of whose ‘tacked-on’ multiplayer was actually excellent. Lost Planet 2 was criticised for veering too far away from the original formula, but with a varied and intense 12 hour cooperative campaign, it remains my absolutely favorite cooperative action game to this day. Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed the Lost Planet franchise since its conception, and although not to many, in my eye’s they’ve been milestone achievements in gaming; the first with its intense graphics and awesome story, and the second with its comprehensive and lengthy cooperative campaign.
When Lost Planet 3 was announced, the first thing I noticed was Western development and Western faces. I was instantly put off, and I crawled under a rock and ignored it until release. I had no idea of the space-cowboy theme, or the valiant attempt at creating something human and with a level of depth rarely seen in this age of gaming. Lost Planet 3 is almost the epitome of hit-and-miss; some people will hate it, because it’s clearly mechanically malnourished and not nearly fleshed out enough, whilst others will love it for its theme, competent voice acting, and genuine human touch. I’m with the latter group, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sing its praises.
We’re so used to characterless lead protagonists in AAA gaming that Jim Peyton is something of a breath of fresh air. When I said the story was a human story, I really wasn’t kidding. Peyton is a sort of mellowed version of Justified’s Raylan Givens. A guy with a Western disposition, Peyton works off-planet doing dangerous jobs in order to send home money to his wife and kid. He’s not a mercenary, or a killer, he’s nothing more than a simple mechanic with a penchant for bug disposal. Traversing the ice planet – at times leisurely – listening to Bluegrass, and drinking coffee, Peyton and the motley crew of other characters are just simple, real people doing real jobs; that’s something Spark Unlimited have done very well.
A prequel to the original 2007 game, Lost Planet 3 comes with its own love-it-or-hate-it host of changes; this is where the poor implementation comes in. Firstly, there’s a “quest hub” theme that seems superfluous given the choices you’ve got. Peyton is able to walk around the Empire Strikes Back style snow fortress, shopping for upgrades, weapons, and gathering quests, but really it’s senseless filler because you’ll find yourself sticking to the main quests, with side-quests, if you can call them that, out in the open world. It feels as though the developers had larger aspirations for this place called home, but in actuality the game suffers as a consequence. There’s a lot of running around in Lost Planet 3, and most of it seems hassle or inherently meaningless.
Fans of mechs will be somewhat disappointed for the most part, because the varied and awesome mech boss battles don’t come into play here. Instead, Payton’s companion is his home/utility mech, which will be used to get from A-B with some combat elements involved. Remember, Payton is just a worker, and much of Lost Planet 3 is his day-to-day. Get to the job, do it, kill bugs if attacked, and return home. The “utility rig” (mech) is always in first person, but the Occulus rift has spoiled me because without the ability to free-look around, it feels restrictive and featureless – pretty clunky. A nice feature however is the ability to play your own music from within the utility rig. Walking over the ice plains listening to some Bach is something quite extraordinary, and it you allow yourself, you can get sucked right into the mood of Lost Planet 3.
Unfortunately, the times when you can play your own music are very limited. This is hugely annoying because there were moments where I’d be walking quite far even without the game soundtrack playing, with every press of F2 to start a track being denied with “Personal music playlist temporarily disabled.” I understand that the developers wanted us to enjoy the games soundtrack, but the very, very limited moments when you could play your own music ruined what would have been one of the games saving graces. When you leave the rig, you can even hear an echoed version of your song for some time after.
For the most part, Lost Planet 3 is a mechanical sieve. There are far too many holes to loose players, because if you don’t buy into the writing style, space-cowboy, working-mans theme very early, you’re definitely not going to stick with it. It lacks direction, and the open world elements seem superfluous and trying. Many of the missions are simply about running to point B through an array of bugs, and then running back to point A, getting into your rig, and then back to bass. It’s the most linear non-linear game I’ve ever played, and this, again, makes me wonder if the developers had greater ambitions for the projects than the final product might imply.
It’s the daily grind, and for some reason, that really appeals to me. This is a humble story, and it’s a humble title. That said, things peak up around the middle of the game when things start getting intriguingly Asian. Your role as NEVEC is watched by those who, spoilers permitting, may be more familiar, and the relatively esoteric third installment slowly melts into the others before (or after, rather) it.
Certain things have been stripped away, for instance there’s no need to preserve or enable T-Markers, unless a quest tells you too, and your ‘health’ or thermal energy doesn’t degenerate. You’ve got Call of Duty health, here, and any T-Energy you collect is to be spent at the store. You’re also paid for missions in T-Energy, and half into your Earth-bound bank account for your wife and kid, which I thought was a nice tough. Much of Lost Planet still remains, though, because you’ll be fighting many of the same Akrid, killing them in the same ways, but combat is slightly more fluid than Lost Planet 2. Truth be told, it’s incredibly easy, and you can one shot almost every akrid with the pistol and precision mouse and keyboard aiming. All the weapons have a sort of wild-west aesthetic to them, and that’s a running theme I think is an awesome direction for this Western installment.
Classic Lost Planet bosses remain in this prequel, but they’re really only reference-frames. Most of the boss battles take place in very enclosed spaces, and the dynamic of shooting their legs off, then their head or face gets old pretty quickly. There’s none of the freedom of Lost Planet‘s 1 or 2, and the game really loses its sense of scale. You can fight with the utility rig on some of the boss battles, but for the most part it’s literally just a matter of countering with q and then hitting the right buttons at the right time like some 90’s FMV Panasonic 3DO game. Still, wouldn’t be Lost Planet without them.
The title does a good job of developing the story, even if it feels as though at times its crawling. You’ll see intermittent messages from your wife displayed in your rig, and explore how Payton is feeling through psych evaluations. They’ll do things like show Payton his kid’s first steps, to explaining how the suit he wears keeps his head cold despite it not being covered. The voice acting is good, and a lot of the dialog is stellar. Gale in particular is a well written, well voiced character.
Production values seem fairly high here, but I can’t help but wonder – perhaps it’s nostalgia talking – if the last two games were graphically prettier. There doesn’t seem to be any particular use of Direct X 11, and the size and chunkiness of everything makes it feel like a straight up console port. This feels a little cheaper than the budget may imply, but with all that said and done it sort of fits with the sense of humility the game has.
I’m really, really not a fan of the shop and salvage mechanics in this, and many other games. It’s not fun to have to go out of your way to talk to some drole-ass NPC about upgrading your items, and there’s no entertainment in having to make everything a chore. If you want to upgrade your weapons and ammo, you’ll need to do a few side-quests, particularly if you want to unlock alternative ammunition and some of the rig upgrades, but that’s entirely up to you.
Lost Planet 3 is interesting because this Western take on the franchise is literally a Western take on the franchise. It’s humble, and it’s about an every-man. It has the writing and acting to back that up, and that’s important. The problem is the dynamic of gameplay. Drudging between missions which demand you go from A-B-C in order to reach D, with a bunch of predictable mishaps along the way, gets tiring very quickly, and there’s so much filler that you might end up tearing your hair out. That said, combat and all the requisite third person mechanics are there, and with an eventual plot twist (if you can call it that) freshening things up around half way through, things at the duller end eventually pick up.
Where there’s good in Lost Planet 3, it runs thin and at a matter of personal taste. It appealed to me, but it won’t appeal to many, many people. I think that’s a good thing. They took a risk in a market of stale AAA releases, and if you’re not into snow-cowboys in space, then that’s fine, but those who will be will find a lot to love about this title. That said, regardless of how much I love the theme, writing, and characters, the game-play itself is marred by bad design decisions, predictable tacked on multiplayer, and a stale ‘open world’ dynamic that really just annoys me more than anything else. Capping when you can listen to your own music in the rig was a huge mistake, and it feels like we’ve been here 100 times before. However, there’s something a little different about Lost Planet 3. It has a lot of heart, and a lot of soul. What Lost Planet has lost in mechanical functionality and game design, it has gained in a little human touch. That doesn’t take it far enough, though.