It wasnâ€™t long ago that the original Lost Planet was unveiled with a trailer that promised a lot in what was the very early days of the Xbox 360. A snow world, giant insects, lots of shooting, and giant mechs to stomp about in. While it didnâ€™t end up wowing as many people as expected, it did well enough to eventually warrant the creation of a sequel.
I had the misfortune of reviewing Lost Planet 2, and after hours of frustration -- at both the controls and game mechanics -- I tossed it aside and expected that to be the end of it. That was back in 2010, and here I am now, sitting at my desk tapping out a review for the newly released Lost Planet 3. It hasnâ€™t been received well by other publications, which (at 8 hours in) was a surprise to me. Maybe something goes wrong in the last half of the game?
Lost Planet 3 takes place before the events that transpire in the original. The game starts with an elderly man - who we eventually get to know quite well - pinned underneath some sort of wreckage. After a failed attempt at saving him, his granddaughter is treated to a story of how things came to be, and with that we travel 50 years into the past.
Earth is in a pretty grave situation; energy reserves are at critical level and NEVEC (a mining company) have discovered a solution to the problems that plague the planet. A small group of people are sent to E.D.N. III to become that planetâ€™s first colonists and to mine T-Energy (something the planet has an abundance of.) Jim has sacrificed the comforts of home and left his wife and newborn behind all to help mankind get back on its feet.
Itâ€™s a simple story that is quick to grow on you thanks to the amazingly sincere acting on behalf of Jim and his wife. Throughout the game we see snippets of their new lives thanks to recorded video messages they send to each other. Jim gives his wife a video tour of his mechanised rig, and his wife laments the fact Jim isnâ€™t there to see his son take his first steps. Itâ€™s all amazingly heartfelt and helps create a level of realism rarely seen in videogame characters.
Some of the videos pop up while youâ€™re stomping about mid-mission and it becomes easy to feel like the videos are meant for you. A quick glimpse up at a photo of Jimâ€™s wife stuck to the interior of the mech helps ground you in his character. Thereâ€™s a point in the story where some of the mysteries unravel and Jim is left radio silent for a couple of weeks. Worry, anger, and then relief are all played out via video messages in compelling fashion, proving that this style of narrative exposition still has considerable merit even as technology appears to be moving past it.
The story, for the most part, is just as great as the characters are. Some of it may be a little cliche, but it definitely had me hooked until the end. Thereâ€™s one bit I donâ€™t understand though, and I canâ€™t give anything away without spoiling the end, but thereâ€™s a part where something happens and it just shouldnâ€™t be possible. I pondered whether Jim was going crazy from all the stress until I realised that it had in fact happened. Youâ€™ll know it when you see it.
Lost Planet 3 plays out more like an action adventure than a third person shooter, despite having a selection of guns and a cover system. The game starts with basic mining based objectives (after all thatâ€™s why youâ€™re on E.D.N. III in the first place.) Youâ€™ll need to use your mech to fix certain aspects of base camp, clear the way for mining probes, and to get you places faster than by foot. Once the Akrid (T-Energy filled insects that plague E.D.N. III) start showing up, youâ€™ll need to get out of the mech and take care of them before they damage your rig.
The shooting mechanism in Lost Planet 3 is bare bones, and the Akrid all have rather simple AI to help disguise that. The Akrid are essentially targets that charge at you until youâ€™ve put enough bullets into them. Some of the later Akrid have slightly more advanced AI that encourages them to take cover, fire stuff at you, and then charge while youâ€™re reloading. Most Akrid battles have a number of respawns before youâ€™re clear, and the number of insects charging you can become overwhelming. Sometimes the best option is to just run.
The shooting mechanism falls apart, however, when thereâ€™s a change in the story and Akrid arenâ€™t the only thing youâ€™re firing upon. Suddenly you have human characters being driven by the same AI that drives the Akrid. Trained soldiers standing out in the open, charging while reloading, facing a wall with their back to youâ€¦. itâ€™s not pretty. Whatâ€™s worse is thinking youâ€™ve outsmarted them only to find yourself face to face with their spawn point. Having them appear out of nowhere is downright ugly.
That really is the low point of the gameplay though, even the stomping about in the mech is saved from repetition thanks to a fast travel option opening up half way through. Thankfully the game comes back full swing near the end for an awesome final boss fight. In fact, thatâ€™s the one thing I couldnâ€™t get enough of: the boss fights. Thereâ€™s something amazing about taking on the giant Akrid on foot, figuring out how to beat them, and then systematically taking them down. The only thing that beats that is the moments they reappear once youâ€™re back in your rig and you need to figure out what needs to be done to end them for good. While the rigs arenâ€™t made for combat -- they only have a grapple, a claw, and a drill / torch arm -- youâ€™ll still do plenty of combat with them.
Lost Planet 3 looks and sounds fantastic. The world feels like a mix between Pacific Rim and Star Warsâ€™ Hoth planet. It really feels like Spark Unlimited have done a lot of research into ensuring they created a world that feels newly built, yet lived in. With snow and ice covering 99% of the game it wouldâ€™ve been easy to create something that looked and felt bland, and while there may be moments of uninspired white cliffs, anything that needs detail has it.
As for the soundtrack, well there are some hits and some misses. One of the greatest moments for me came in the form of one of Jimâ€™s messages from home. Attached to one of his wifeâ€™s video messages is a selection of his favourite music tracks. These start up whenever Jim enters his rig anywhere near the base camp, and instantly fade away or turn off when anything action related kicks in. If youâ€™re not a fan of his stuff, you can simply pretend Jimâ€™s wife sent through a selection of YOUR favourite music by streaming from your own supply of MP3s.
Unfortunately, as good as the audio is (and seriously, everything sounds amazing), there are moments in the soundtrack that simply break any and all atmosphere the game is trying to build. Quite often the â€śaction musicâ€ť kicks in breaking any tension you may have been feeling, or itâ€™ll continue long after a firefight has ended. It sounds small, but it really does break all immersion, in what is essentially an amazingly immersive game.
While you will be finished with Lost Planet 3 within 15 hours, Spark Unlimited have added an online multiplayer mode to help you make the most of your money. Itâ€™s your standard fare when it comes to multiplayer these days, with their own version of horde mode chucked in for good measure. Thereâ€™s nothing particularly standout here, and there doesnâ€™t seem to be many people playing this at the moment. But hey, maybe this review will help those numbers grow.
In the end, I have to admit that this is yet another game that I have enjoyed more than other critics out there. Yes, there are bad aspects to the game, and I feel Iâ€™ve listed them all above, but the story and characters found in Lost Planet 3 are more than enough reason to pick this up. I would love to see more of Jimâ€™s life on E.D.N. III, and if it sees me getting back in his rig Iâ€™d love to see some Oculus Rift support. If you are pondering whether or not to pick this up, just donâ€™t go expecting a shooter. Itâ€™s a story-driven action adventure with guns, and a damn good one at that.