Posted by Zac Elawar on May 11, 2013

Hands-On with Lost Planet 3′s First Chapter

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Lost Planet 3 wasn’t really on my radar before yesterday. I enjoyed the first, but never played the second. So it’s an understatement to say I was very pleasantly surprised by this game when I got my chance to go hands-on with its first chapter – about an hour of gameplay. I have been hearing/reading the same trepidation from others, but hopefully I can accurately communicate what about Lost Planet 3 deserves your attention, and what may, nay should, change your minds. It is a prequel for those who are still unclear about its place in the series. This was a recent Xbox 360 build.

After the opening cinematic where we are introduced to player character Jim Peyton – a contracted miner who arrives on the alien world of E.D.N. III to replace a missing contractor – we are soon enough thrown into the thick of things, searching for a transponder. With the icy ground collapsing at Jim’s feet, we fall into a cavern swarming with your garden variety Akrid – the returning Sepia. Barely accustomed to his surroundings after his recent arrival, Jim only has a pistol at his side. This is the player’s first encounter with an enemy threat, and so the basic shooter tutorial plays out in this section.

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Thermal energy, or T-Energy, is still dropped by dispatched Akrid. But, whereas in the first game it served to prevent the player from literally freezing, and in the second game it was used for health rejuvenation and powering weapons/vital suits, in Lost Planet 3 it acts as currency with the amount the player collects going towards Jim’s personal stash. It also retains its importance in the story, with many missions being driven by the need to collect more as NEVEC (Neo-Venus Construction) works towards synthesising it and making it cost-effective for use as a solution to Earth’s energy crisis.

Finding the transponder, Jim quickly takes cover, rushed over by a stampede of Sepia – which you can elect to blind-fire or aim-shoot at, but it has no real effect in this scripted sequence. What are they running from? A bunch of Goonroe, one of which swipes Jim out of cover, initiating a quick button mashing sequence to escape its clutches. This is an early example of the use of button mashing/quick-time like events in the game; used for some sub-boss/boss battles and cinematic, scripted moments like these. They aren’t a common mechanic such as in God of War with every execution, so don’t expect constantly recycled QTE sequences.

Thankfully, Jim’s rescuer arrives in the form of a large mech – or Utility Rig – responding to the transponder’s signal and leading him back to the supply drop. The pilot, as you soon find out, is a Frenchman named Renard Laroche – a member of the expedition/mining crew you join a bit later. But first, we get on a transport vehicle, onwards to the target. Drilling through the ice in a cave causes giant stalactites to fall, damaging the drill and prompting Jim to jump off the transport in a self-preserving effort. Here we are tasked with simply staying alive as the disturbed Sepia rear their ugly, split-heads once again.

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In these ambushes, a useful technique I instinctively discovered was the 180 degree turn, which can be executed by pressing ‘down’ on the d-pad. Jim’s “Umbilical” is also displayed and explained here. The Umbilical is your heads-up display, showing you a mini-map with radar and your load-out information. It is referenced in the game world, described to Jim himself – a diegetic interface (I will note the extreme similarity of one specific element to Dead Space shortly). A nice twist on the whole HUD experience is the fact that your Umbilical will only work when within range of a Utility Rig – whether it is yours or someone else’s. Travel too far out and you’ll be ‘flying blind’ so to speak.

It’s also in this area that you encounter your first repair mini-game, which simply requires you to rotate both thumbsticks until you find the hot spot for each and keep them locked into place. Once clear, a cut-scene plays as Jim narrates. Finally under the shelter of base camp, we see a conversation between a contractor named Bonnie and the big boss-man Phil Braddock. Braddock suggests Jim visit the Quartermaster to at least equip himself with a good hunting knife. At this point, the player has free reign to explore the base, converse with its colourful inhabitants and pick up the numerous text and audio logs lying around the place, which give great back-story.

Remember the Dead Space-like HUD element I mentioned earlier? It’s called the “Job Log” and can be accessed by pressing the ‘back’ button (‘select’ on the PS3). It manifests as a floating display, in game space, out of a navigation device attached to Jim’s arm. Here you can view your current objectives, the aforementioned audio/text logs and much more. You can also press ‘up’ on the d-pad to pulse a non-obtrusive objective marker; it’s not a trail projection like in Dead Space, so let’s end the comparisons there. There are three levels to the base that can be travelled between using an elevator.

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This is where I began to draw comparisons to films like Aliens and The Thing. The tone, the atmosphere…it’s a drastic difference to prior entries in the series. The dichotomous sense of being part of a team achieving a single goal whilst feeling vulnerable and alone at times reminds me so much of those movies, and I absolutely love it. Walking into the quarters, I begin a conversation with a hot-tub soaking man named Crazy Neil. And lo-and-behold, he is apparently Australian…at least I think that’s the accept that was attempted. And needless to say, he lives up to his moniker, presenting a monologue that involves the advice of not hitting on a duck…even if it seems like it wants it. Huh?!…I guess someone should take that rubber ducky away from him pronto!

What matters most to Jim is three-fold – his wife, his son and his Rig; he says as much to the andogynously named service tech Gale Holden (a name that may be familiar to Lost Planet fans). And he’s not exactly pleased that the young “intern” put it together by himself already – Jim’s baby, that he constructed and relies on to provide for his loved ones. Gale apologises, but challenges Jim to test it out and if anything is not to his liking, he will take it apart again and leave it to him. Before going out for the test drive, we reach the Armory shop and suit up, acquiring the hunting knife we were tasked with getting and buying a shotgun with our accumulated T-Energy Credits (becomes very, very useful).

Up at the Hanger Bay, Gale preps Jim on the kern-retractors (or the “Cockpit Express”) he has installed in his Rig, enabling him – and the player – to quickly and effortlessly launch up into the driver’s seat from ground level. In-game, you can do this by pressing ‘B’, which is your general action button, at either the front or rear of the Rig. Once inside, a small Rig tutorial teaches you the basics: ‘LT’ controls the claw arm, ‘RT’ controls the drill and ‘X’ is a melee attack that can be chained. You can also block like a boxer. Considering the melee uses the drill arm, I feel it would have been more natural and intuitive to have a contextual dual-functionality for the right trigger, where you pull it for melee and hold it for the drill. Not an issue, just a thought.

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Laroche never quite made it back to base camp, and so Jim’s inaugural mission is to find him and report back on his status. The Rig has a one-speed movement that is significantly slower than a human walk, as you’d expect, but I never felt bored by these traversal areas as they are not extensive. Finding Laroche’s Rig badly damaged, I exit the Rig to climb down some stairs to a Fuel Depot area where the Frenchman is holding up. The time for chatting isn’t now however, as two Dongos (what a name!) roll into the area, on the attack. If you’ve played LP 1 or 2, you’ll remember these Akrid; they have a rolling attack with their tail being their orange-glowing weak spot.

This is the first instance where we are actually able to swap out our weapons since buying a secondary. You will be able to carry two guns as well as the pistol. ‘Y’ is the dedicated quick swap button, but the interesting decision the developers at Spark Unlimited have made is that, in order to swap back to your pistol/handgun, you must instead hold ‘Y’. But you’d want to keep your shotgun equipped in this confrontation anyway and remember to dodge roll away from their oncoming attack with the ‘A’ button (also the cover button, but there is none to speak of in this “arena”). They don’t provide much of a challenge, but are a welcome addition to the otherwise common opposition of the Sepia.

Seeing as we’re out near Watkin’s Pass, why not run another errand for Braddock and tap an abandoned thermal post left by your predecessor Jenette Diaz. Thermal posts harvest and hold T-Energy for retrieval from spots of high concentration in the environment and will eventually be able to be stuck into the ground by the player. Along the way to it, there are chests and also T-Energy clips that you can pick up by pressing ‘B’ – the same goes for ammo refills. Grenades also come into play here as these “wall sphincters” (don’t know the official name…and that sounds gross!) spit out Sepia. When they open up, you have a small window of time to throw a grenade, which will be swallowed up and then explode, destroying them much quicker than any gun could.

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This entire following area is littered with explosive eggs that act like proximity-mines. They have even encased the thermal post. Once I blew them all up, gathered the post’s stored T-Energy and got the heck out of there, I was greeted by an “Emperor Class Storm” and requested to secure the base moorings. This is achieved by approaching and turning 3 valve-wheel like mechanisms with the claw arm of your Rig. Once locked in, the player must rotate the left-thumbstick clockwise until the mooring is secured. The second station’s hydraulics malfunction, and Jim must step out into the storm to do a fast repair job before continuing. Once completed and we return to the safety of the base camp, the demo ends.

Again, I’ll be the first to admit that Lost Planet 3 had not exactly caught my eye previously. I wasn’t overly impressed by the first game and opted not to buy the second, a decision that was especially influenced by the lacklustre reviews. But Lost Planet 3 is an entirely different animal. I touched upon the overall tone of the game, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, characters, design and mechanics on the whole. We’ve also been promised side-quests and gear upgrades (one of which is the launching claw, seen in previous video coverage).

Lost Planet 3 is beyond promising. It comes out August 30th here in Australia; we’ll have our review close to that date. For now, I implore you not to close yourself off to the title. It shouldn’t have to pay for its predecessors shortcomings, especially when such an admirable (and successful if I may say so) effort has been made to right all the wrongs. And don’t forget that there is also a full multiplayer suite to be revealed at a later date. Capcom’s producer Andrew Szymanski gave us the low-down on the multi-player in an exclusive audio interview just a few days ago. For future updates on Lost Planet 3, stay tuned to Capsule Computers.

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  • AriesWarlock

    As a Lost Planet fan, I was very glad to hear a new one was in the making. When I heard VS action will take place in first-person view I became disappointed; I most likely will get motion sickness.