Who’s ready for a third helping of Capcom’s ice and robot ’em up franchise Lost Planet? Matt Reynolds gets his mech on in our review…
Lost Planet has always been a bit of a strange franchise. The original game was fairly unique around the time it came out; its snow-covered planet of E.D.N III was unlike any other setting in third person shooters and its giant mechs and even bigger enemies were a fun twist on the genre. Not everyone was won over by it though and its middling review scores reflected this. Some annoying idiosyncrasies held it back from true greatness – design choices such as getting locked into endless knockdown animation loops of death were extremely frustrating and its somewhat bland story and characters weren’t to everyone’s taste. After a while the endless snow blasted wastelands began to grate and so Capcom decided to revamp the game’s world for the sequel. The ice had begun to melt, revealing lush jungles and arid deserts. This had the twofold effect of making the game more interesting to look at, but also removing what set it apart from other shooters. Capcom also radically overhauled the game’s structure, almost removing the plot altogether and re-imagining Lost Planet 2 as a co-op arcade shooter. The game was even more divisive than the original – some commending Capcom for focusing on the mech combat and giant aliens; others disappointed with the lack of story development and the brevity of the ‘campaign’.
And so as we reach the twilight years for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Lost Planet 3 is here to give it one more shot. Capcom have never known what to do with this franchise – and so like many of their recent games they have handed the reins over to a Western developer. Spark Unlimited are the semicolon-loving folks responsible for the atrocious Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and the mediocre Legendary: The Box, so their appointment to this project hardly inspires confidence. The good news is that Lost Planet 3 is by far Spark’s best game to date.
Don’t be fooled by the 3 in the title – this Lost Planet is a complete reboot in all but name. A prequel to the original game’s story sees a return to the harsh arctic climate the series is best known for. Gone are the wide open battle arenas filled with a plethora of mechs, infantry and swarms of Akrid beasts; and in their place comes a linear, scripted adventure – if you think of this year’s Tomb Raider reboot crossed with Uncharted and Dead Space 3 then you are not only in the right ballpark, you are bang on the money. The fact that Lost Planet 3 is so similar to Dead Space 3 is unfortunate and may go some way to explain why this game was delayed for so long – Capcom must have been keen to distance the two titles. In releasing it two weeks before GTA V and only a couple of months before the next-gen hits, Capcom have effectively sent LP3 out to die. It’s a real shame, because there is a lot to like here.
You step into the snow-encrusted boots of Jim Peyton; an everyman kinda guy (and inexplicable dead ringer for Nicholas Cage) who has come to E.D.N. III to earn a crust for his wife and son. Jim is a decent, eminently likeable guy that you will have no trouble rooting for. Much like Isaac Clarke before him; Jim spends a lot of time fixing things. Go here, fix this pipe, check this for leaks etc. These menial tasks soon give way to a larger narrative involving rebellious Snow Pirates and the ever-present native Akrid. The plot actually follows the ubiquitous Pocahontas/Avatar/Fern Gully narrative archetype – there are zero surprises here. What is surprising however, is how well acted the main characters are and how the cast are all imbued with substantial shades of grey. Some very nice facial animation lends well to the solid acting and is a cut above Spark’s previous work and then some. Sound design is decent, and the somewhat bold inclusion of a in-mech music player that blasts out shit kickin’ country rock (Jim’s wife sends him a mix tape of his favourite tunes from Earth) shouldn’t work but does.
Ah yes, the mech. Forget jumping in and out of myriad bipedal mechanoids at will; and instead say hello to Gertie. Jim has his own personalised construction mech (or Rig to use the lingo) that stays with him for the entire campaign. Due to the nature of its work and strict anti-weapon laws enforced by the franchise’s megacorps NeVec; Gertie has no fancy rail gun or lasers. Instead, she is equipped with a claw, a drill, a winch and other construction tools than are gradually unlocked as you play. The rig can be upgraded and its armour reinforced, which comes in handy when it comes to taking on the game’s giant Akrid. Spark have taken the bizarre design choice of locking you into a first person viewpoint whenever inside the rig. It feels great when you are lumbering around performing your engineering tasks – Gearbox take note; this is how Power Loaders should have felt in Colonial Marines. The problems arise when taking on the bosses. Mech combat is centred around QTE heavy parries and ripostes. It can be awkward and frustrating, and its much harder to keep your foe in your sights when denied access to a wider viewpoint like the games of old. The rig’s lumbering speed also starts to grate when you are moving around the game’s more open areas.
The story might be linear but you are actually able to wander about performing MMO style side quests during your downtime between campaign missions. The level design is akin to Borderlands – several areas connected by corridors. The side missions are heavily generic and consist exclusively of fetch quests and ‘kill X amount of Akrid’ but they do break up the campaign. The problem is slouching between them in your twenty tonne machine. Fast travel does unlock but the amount of back and forth does get tiring. Luckily, the game is a looker – with Capcom’s money behind them, Spark have excelled here. So long as you don’t mind snow, Lost Planet 3 has some truly impressive arctic vistas pounded by bitter blizzards, and the sense of isolation is palpable.
Outside of the rig, the third person combat is solid and absolutely nothing more. Weapons are punchy and satisfying to shoot, but you’ve played this before. It is basically Gears of War with no frills – even some of the new Akrid hide behind cover and shoot at you, an annoying experience to say the least. This vanilla experience pervades the whole game and pulls it back from achieving greatness. It is solid, enjoyable and in Jim you have a decent protagonist, but the game has absolutely no new ideas of its own. It’s telling that we’ve cited several other games here, as Lost Planet 3 steals from them all. The campaign is also slightly too long – at around fifteen hours in length, we started to wonder when the hell it was going to end by the last quarter. It doesn’t help that the game makes you start to repeat even more menial engineering tasks towards the endgame, when there are far more pressing matters at hand.
Lost Planet 3 is a hard game to score. Spark have created their best game and done almost everything right, but it’s so vanilla that it’s a hard game to recommend over some of the generation’s heavy hitting third person adventures. It fixes all the annoying things about the old Lost Planet games, but removes most of what defined them. As most people know, at Low Fat Gaming we love narrative adventures and as such we are happy in saying this is, to us, the best of the trilogy. However, if you are a hardcore fan of the series this may leave you cold. If you find yourself at a loss with a few days to spare though, you could do much worse than resist the temptation to give Lost Planet 3 the cold shoulder.
– Matt Reynolds. Tweet him @thelostmoment
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