There’s no easy way to say this, but Spark Unlimited’s Lost Planet 3 is like that little train that couldn’t. It’s always frustrating to review a title like this, because contrary to popular belief, as a gamer and a fan, I actually want games to succeed. I want to be entertained by them. I was literally rooting for Lost Planet 3 to finish strong, and prove the critics wrong. However, at the end, I felt deflated and frustrated. I could only pollute my mind with annoying thoughts of “what if”, “why” and “where can I buy a banana tie?”.
It stings even worse, when you realise that the protagonist, Jim Peyton is a decent character. Jim’s a different breed. He’s definitely not an one-dimensional, one-line spewing, spacemarine man-brick. On the contrary, he’s an average family man; an average Joe who is forced to do some contract work for a massive inter-planetary corporation, called NEVEC – for the sake of his young wife and infant child. He’s not supposed to be a gun-slinging military man and that makes him instantly relatable. It also helps that the voice acting serves the character. This is even true for the supporting cast. You definitely can’t fault the voice work for this game.
Lost Planet 3 is also one of the better-looking games on the Xbox 360. There were a few times that I had to stop myself from marvelling at the icy landforms of EDN II. The game does have some very beautiful set-pieces, especially when the planet’s alien sun hangs low in the sparsely clouded sky and the sunlight dances across the icy ridges. Or… when you stare into a crevasse and your met by a wall of blueish ice, almost as if it’s straight out of a National Geographic magazine. The same can be said about the character models (both human and alien). Although I did find it strange that Jim Peyton resembled the greatest Coppola to ever walk this planet, a bearded Nicolas Cage. As for the planet’s indigenous life, the insectoid Akrid, you can literally believe that the larger Akrid with their hardened carapaces would be impervious to your flimsy firearms.
And that’s exactly why Jim Peyton owns a towering construction mech! Yes, I said a mech, and it’s called Gertie. It’s also the primary means by which you can travel across the planet’s surface. As the game progresses, you will find upgrades for Gertie, from a welding torch, to even a deployable cable winch. Sadly, you never get a chaingun attachment or rocket launchers. But, it is explained that the mining operation is a civilian undertaking, and it would be very unsporting to mow down the indigenous life with military-grade weaponry attached to your rig.
When you’re in the mech, you can listen to some tunes, do a few odd jobs for the company and even take down some of the planet’s indigenous wildlife. Incidentally, a number of boss battles involve Gertie. Sadly, they tend to be quicktime events. You never get the satisfaction of stomping the jelly out of an alien bug (during quicktime events), because you’re not focussing on the action but rather on that elusive button prompt. Fortunately, its rare that you’re FORCED to play button roulette. Most battles allow you to jump out of your mech and make the battle a lot more personal. I have to admit, I was underwhelmed by the boss battles, especially the ones where you had to suffer through the annoying and frustrating button prompts. I can only hope that much like with “bullet time” in movies, that quicktime events will go the way of the dodo, and never sully my gaming experiences ever again.
he best way to describe the story of Lost Planet 3, is to call it a sci-fi chimera. The developers have picked and chosen a mixture of sci-fi tropes, almost to the point where you wonder whether they are paying homage to the greats before them. There were times that it felt like they threw in a touch of Frank Herbet’s Dune (with a mysterious world/galaxy-saving resource, found only on one planet) to finding inspiration in the character designs from Alien, to the icy corridors straight from John Carpenter’s The Thing, to even an unhealthy dollop of James Cameron’s Avatar. If you’re a little confused, essentially (and without spoiling too much), the general gist of Lost Planet 3 is;
- Giant corporation sends newcomer to a new planet (EDN III).
- On EDN III, newcomer helps giant corporation to mine a valuable resource.
- Our hero discovers the planet was already colonised by humans.
- The natives (rightfully) bear a grudge against the evil corporation,
- And, everything goes pear-shaped when the crazy paramilitaries arrive from Earth.
I have no qualms with a title cherry-picking story elements from other franchises. After all, Cameron essentially took the general story of Pocahontas and dipped it into a paint can of sci-fi blue. It’s just a shame that the Lost Planet writers struggled to tie everything together. It’s particularly annoying since this title serves as a prequel to the previous two. It’s supposed to act as a springboard for a planetary war, that’ll span generations. But even Frank Herbert had the sense to make the bad guys truly bad and the good guys a little messianic. Lost Planet 3 never reaches those highs, because while the character interaction and voice work are exemplary, the tale itself is hardly coherent. In fact, the pacing is completely off. Lost Planet 3 starts of slowly, by developing Jim’s relationship with his fellow colonists, setting up a planetary conspiracy but then suddenly racing towards the end.
But the real problem with Lost Planet 3 isn’t the story or that it’s a a paint-by-numbers third person shooter, but rather that it suffers from a very bad case of genre confusion. It’s almost as if the developers were unsure whether Lost Planet 3 was going to be a pure action title or whether it was going to venture into the survival horror genre. The funny thing is that had they decided on one or the other, Lost Planet 3 would have been a better game. Of course, similar titles have managed to successfully pair different genres together, but the confusion permeates everything about Lost Planet 3. Where Lost planet 3 dips its toes into the survival horror genre, the result is unexpectedly comedic. I couldn’t help but groan whenever the ridiculous 1980s horror tunes popped up to (not so subtly) nudge me towards thinking something “scary was about to happen”. It’s incredibly cheesy and not in the least bit scary.
I might be going off on a limb here, but I wonder whether the genre confusion is not partially to blame for how BASIC the game’s upgrade system is. I’ve mentioned that you can upgrade Gertie, but there are also very bare-bones upgrade options for your character, his weapons and tools. I did enjoy the one upgrade, where Jim is given a DNA tagger, as an attachment to his handgun. It’s perfect as a means to get additional data on the Akrid, and even hunt very rare albino Akrid (for DNA points to upgrade your character) but you can’t help but wonder why this system wasn’t expanded or explored even further. As it stands, it all feels like a time sink. And, while it might be intended to be just that, in better designed titles, you’re almost oblivious of this fact.
Lost Planet 3 finds redemption in its multiplayer. However. my experience of this side of the game was sullied when my progress was reset – not once but thrice. Since gear is extremely important in multiplayer, losing my progress meant being a defenceless “fish in a barrel” a lot longer than my nerves could take. Granted, I always take it as a necessary initiation to be an easy target in the beginning, because eventually you get a feel for the maps, and you learn tactics from other players. When you’re constantly forced (due to a persistent glitch) to run into a fire fight with a toy hammer, your enthusiasm starts to wane. But, I did enjoy the multiplayer. You have the usual deathmatch modes, and there’s enough variation to the Capture-the-Flag and King-of-the-Hill game modes, to make even the most cynical gamer happy. There is one mode called Akrid Extraction that I thoroughly enjoyed. In Akrid Extraction, your team hunts an Akrid for its DNA sample, but once you kill it, the the real action starts as two teams battle it out to control the precious sample.
Another feature that I loved is the progression wheel, where you can unlock weapons and skills – from a devastating grenade launcher to a punishing automated gun turret. However, it all rests on a netcode that seems to hate South Africans. There’s nothing more annoying than unleashing a hail of lead at an opponent, seeing his body absorbing it all, and then dying because he “one-shotted” you. Or worse, “rubberbanding” across the map, while your contribution to the match is negligible, and then getting a prompt that informs you that you’re dead..
Overall, Lost Planet 3 is a title that could have been a worthy contender for game of the year. For the most part, Spark Unlimited made all the right mating calls, showed off a colourful plumage, did a decent mating dance, but… unfortunately failed. At the end of the day, Lost Planet 3 is a frustratingly average game.