Review: Lost Planet 3

LostPlanet3

Set as a prequel to the original Lost Planet (yup, every game is a prequel these days it seems), Lost Planet 3 brings us back to E.D.N. III to explore the frigid planet’s early history as protagonist Jim Peyton. Jim is an everyman worker from Earth who has been contracted by NEVEC to join a team of pioneers heading to E.D.N. III, supposedly on a mission to prepare the planet for human colonization. As a utility rig pilot, Jim’s only job is to take his bipedal drilling platform into the harsh environment to seek out the planet’s precious natural resource, Thermal Energy (or T-Eng).

The overarching storyline is interesting enough to hold your attention from intro to credits, but it is the more personal narrative that slowly develops between Jim and his wife back on Earth that will make an emotional connection with most players. Jim is not some super soldier or mythical hero; he’s a blue-collar guy who just wants to get the job done to provide for his family, and then return home to be with his wife and child. The relationship between Jim and his wife builds on a slow burn through occasional video messages the two use to share events of daily life and the type of joking banter married couples typically engage in. These back and forth messages help form a relatable bond between player and protagonist, but unfortunately this side of the story doesn’t take center stage nearly enough as Jim quickly becomes caught up in circumstances far larger than he ever could have imagined, and from there the plot meanders into familiar sci-fi territory.

For the most part, Lost Planet 3, like its predecessors, is a competently made third-person shooter. Blasting alien creatures is always a good foundation for a video game–even if the Akrid continue to blatantly telegraph their weak points with glowing body parts that might as well be giant neon signs saying “shoot me here and I’ll die!” The controls are tight and quick in response to handle the frenzy of the game’s heated shootouts, which do grow a bit dull at times but generally offer plenty of run-and-gun joy. All of the guns feel weighty and pack a punchy feedback, made all the more satisfying when Akrid explode and spray their T-Eng innards into the atmosphere and all over the screen.

The problem Lost Planet 3 runs into is that it just doesn’t feel much like a Lost Planet game any more. In adopting a western design philosophy under the direction of developer Spark Unlimited, the game loses many of the core elements that made the previous games distinct, leaving this third chapter buried in an avalanche of blandness. In fact, Lost Planet 3 apes the Dead Space games more than its own predecessors with numerous expeditions leading into abandoned facilities that have you carefully navigating cramped, dimly lit corridors while little Xenomorphy crawlers pop out of vents and suspenseful music sets a creepy atmosphere. Even elements of the UI are eerily similar.

In terms of visuals, Lost Planet 3 provides a richly immersive world to sink into. E.D.N. III has no shortage of spectacular landscapes to capture the eye. Below the surface, you will venture into caves lined with cocoons and webs and fleshy egg sacs left by indigenous life forms, with holes in the stone walls, coated by the refractive, crystalline texture of ice, creating natural windows to the outside world which allow snow and rays of light to creep through. As you climb up mountains and explore the terrain topside, you will contend with deadly storms and occasionally look out across the planet to see jagged rocks sticking up through clouds crackling with thunder and lightning. Between the sounds of blustery wind, the light wisps of snow blowing atop the snow’s surface, and the ice build-up developing on Jim’s beard and armor, playing the game just makes you feel frozen to the bone. It wouldn’t hurt to have a mug of hot chocolate and a Snuggie at the ready before playing.

As harsh as the environment is portrayed by effective sound and graphical design, the climate no longer factors into gameplay as far as needing to maintain thermal energy. Some players will probably be fine with such hindrances being removed, while other players are likely to be disappointed by the reduced element of survival. One thing I imagine we can all agree is a step in the wrong direction is the reduced role of the grappling hook. In previous games, you could more freely explore environments by latching onto pretty much any surface in sight. However, in Lost Planet 3 use of the grappling hook is now limited only to areas the level designers want you to reach. There is some off the beaten path exploration and optional side questing to be had, but none of it feels organic because invisible barriers limit where you can reach. Even secret areas are easy to find due to how obvious the level design sort of funnels your focus to reachable locales.

Another baffling design choice is the addition of a cover system, which just seems completely unnecessary and out of place in a game like this. It feels odd playing the duck-and-shoot game with acid-spitting creatures that use cover and fire projectiles at you like human enemy soldiers. (You will face human enemies in a few spots, but the Akrid are your antagonists for much of the game.) The fact that the cover system isn’t as mechanically sound as you’ll find in other third-person shooters only compounds the problem.

Vital Suits have also been removed from Lost Planet 3 (in single-player at least), but thankfully you’ll still get to spend quality time in the cockpit of a different kind of mechanized battle suit. While the game is not an open-world sandbox, the way its environments are all sort of interconnected as part of one large world map creates the sense of exploring a vast landscape. Before reaching new areas to complete missions, you will need to zip-cord into Jim’s massive utility rig and navigate between zones from the first-person perspective of the lumbering mech-like vehicle. In many areas, you even have the freedom to seamlessly hop out of the rig to fight, explore or plant thermal energy beacons on foot before returning to the rig. On foot, the rig serves as a mobile home base of sorts, equipped with a weapon locker for changing loadouts and restocking on ammo, as well as a wireless GPS signal which relays a mini-map of the surrounding area as long as Jim stays within relatively close proximity to his rig.

The utility rig is not specifically built for combat, but as the story progresses an annoyingly enthusiastic engineer back at base camp will design upgrades to expand the mech’s capabilities. Akrid can be clobbered with slow melee strikes, demolished with the rig’s giant drill arm, or incinerated with a welding/cutting torch. Eventually the rig gains the ability to launch a tethered claw hand, either to latch onto grapple points to create a zip-line for Jim to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, or to hit or grab distant enemies. (A later upgrade even allows this tethered winch to zap gripped enemies like a taser.) Needless to say, some of the game’s best moments are spent at the controls of the utility rig, swatting through swarms of smaller Akrid or battling mammoth bosses all Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style.

However, at times rig navigation can grow tiresome as the hulking metal beast is slow and map quick travel isn’t immediately available—and even when quick travel becomes an option a few hours into the campaign, you will reach moments in the story that temporarily strip the option away and force you to retread familiar territory. The utility rig is one of the highlights of the game, but I do wish less time was spent piloting it from Point A to Point B, and then from Point B all the way back to Point A again.

A host of little flaws in presentation plague Lost Planet 3 as well. Such as stuttering framerates during some cutscenes, poor lip synching, and problematic audio mixing which will sometimes have audio diaries and in-game cutscene dialogue playing over top of each other at the same time. Worst of all, the menu design is an abysmal mess of small white text on top of translucent, neon-bright blue and green menu backdrops, a combination that makes reading text logs and job objectives downright painful. On numerous occasions I would have to stand and walk right up to within inches of the TV screen just to read an objective or journal entry.

Many of the game’s flaws vanish when you head online for multiplayer warfare, which isn’t as expansive as it has been in the past but at least plays more like a true Lost Planet experience with Vital Suits and freer use of the grappling hook to zip about the six maps. Multiplayer offers team deathmatch, an Extraction mode which involves teams battling over control of T-Eng posts, and Scenario mode, an objective based offense-versus-defense match (one team attempts to escort a siege vehicle to the enemy base while the other team defends, etc). But if you ask me, Akrid Survival is the most fun. The match begins like a mini cooperative horde mode in which you and a couple teammates fend over waves of Akrid. After a couple rounds go by, a king of the hill style war breaks out between your team and another team fending off waves of Akrid on the other side of the map for control over a credit reward zone at the center of the map. It’s a really fun change of pace from a standalone survival mode and a standalone team battle.

Recalling memories of the Final Fantasy X Sphere Grid, Lost Planet 3’s Progression Sphere is another interesting multiplayer feature. Instead of earning experience points and leveling up at set intervals, credits earned during match play are used to unlock upgrades on the Progression Sphere. The sphere branches out in three different directions, each offering unlocks tailored to a specific class type, including Assault, Spec Ops, and Support. For each node you unlock on the sphere, adjacent nodes light up with additional upgrades, some of which can be purchased with credits, and some of which can only be obtained by accomplishing specific objectives through performance. Like a skill tree, you can spend all your credits to master a specific class or mix and match unlocks from all categories to find a balance of guns, mods, specialty ammo types, grenades and deployables (turrets, ammo supply drops, mines, etc) that suit your style.

At least up to now, Lost Planet 3 seems to have a small but dedicated multiplayer community. Matches aren’t always in abundance so at times it can be tough to find a lobby going for a specific mode type you might be in the mood for (Team Deathmatch and Scenario seem to be the most active), but I’ve rarely had trouble finding people to play with via quick matchmaking. Paired with a sizable single-player campaign which should take most players in the range of 10-15 hours, Lost Planet 3 is by and large a perfectly enjoyable shooter. However, there just isn’t anything particularly special or memorable to distinguish it as a Lost Planet game versus just another standard issue third-person shooter. For whatever reason, Capcom decided to play it safe rather than embrace and continue building upon the core concepts that gave the two previous games a unique sense of identity and personality. If fundamentally solid shooting mechanics and a decent story with a likeable hero and an emotional personal narrative are enough to make you happy, this game is a respectable choice and should be played. But if you decide to pass on it don’t feel bad, as you will only be missing out on a fairly average game overall.

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Pros:
+ Jim Peyton is a likeable everyman protagonist with an engaging personal storyline
+ Blasting Akrid to gooey bits of T-Eng is rarely not fun
+ Utility rig combat and exploration
+ Surprisingly fun and addictive online multiplayer

Cons:
– Too many limitations on exploration and grapple hook use
– Clunky, out of place cover system
– Occasional backtracking brings the pacing to a crawl
– Awful menu design and other presentation flaws
– Just feels like a step backward from the core values of its predecessors

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation 3; also available on PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Release Date: 8/27/2013
Genre: Third-person shooter
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-10 (2-10 online multiplayer)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!