Lost Planet 3 is a prequel to the first title in the series, developed with a fresh perspective by Spark Unlimited. The game is once again set on E.D.N. III, but you won’t be seeing any green pastures here – this is a return to the frozen, dangerous ice planet that is originally was. Co-op has also been forgone in order to tell a more involved, personal, single-player story that uncovers the secrets of E.D.N. III’s first colonisation by NEVEC. A multiplayer suite is also included, featuring four main team-based modes and a unique unlock tree. With all that said, is the pursuit of T-Energy a worthy cause for humanity, or does it just lead to us frozen to death?…
Taking place before the events of Lost Planet, we are introduced to the main character – Jim Peyton – unexpectedly as he appears of old age and is potentially mortally injured, speaking to his granddaughter about the sins of NEVEC and himself. He recounts events from 50 years prior, the timeline of which is the playground for the player and the focus of the story. This initial interaction sets in motion the long flashback that is Lost Planet 3‘s meat-and-potatoes in terms of plot. We see Jim arrive on E.D.N. III as a contractor for the aforementioned corporation and immediately get thrown to the wolves, so to speak…
After a not-so-smooth landing (a true understatement), Jim is eventually found by fellow workman Renard LaRoche, who takes him to Coronis base. There, Jim meets the rest of the crew, including duelling doctors Kendrick Kovac and Bonnie Roman, mechanic Gale Holden and the head of operations for the NEVEC crew, Phil Braddock. After getting acquainted, Jim jumps straight into his contracts. Although meant to be assigned to construction, he ends up doing much more than that, going on retrieval missions for previously set-up T-Energy posts and repairing damaged rigs, satellites, etc. As the months pass, Jim keeps sane by receiving and sending video messages to his wife back on Earth.
T-Energy is the name of the game and the true reason that everyone is working on the foreign, volatile world. NEVEC has hopes that the resource can solve Earth’s energy crisis. But there’s much more going on there. On numerous occasions, Jim spots what looks to be a human figure sabotaging their equipment, and possibly tracking him later on. He meets this person face-to-face soon enough, after tumbling off a cliff and being rescued by the mystery human, straight after he experiences a string of revelations that lead him to doubt NEVEC’s words. His distrust is exasperated when he discovers ‘The Forgotten’, who have been living outside the comfort of NEVEC’s base, out in the chilling wilds.
I can’t say any more without heavy spoilers, but any of you who have played either of the previous titles know that NEVEC has a dark history that was never fully explored. Well, it is here. Lost Planet 3 brings to light the truth about their first expeditions and colonies. The story is intriguing enough to sustain interest, yet the pacing suffers somewhat due to intermittently forced missions of searching-and-retrieving, or doing some favour for someone in exchange for information. Regardless, it’s definitely the best attempt at an engrossing tale to come out of the franchise (trans-media), and the well-written and performed script certainly helps it maintain a good quality throughout.
Lost Planet 3 adopts traditional third-person mechanics, whilst borrowing some very specific elements and cues from another certain sci-fi franchise. Anyone familiar with basic get-in, get-out cover systems will be right at home here. Jim can vault over waist-high cover, but can not seamlessly move between them (you can roll out, but not transition from one to another with a single button press). You are able to carry a pistol provided to you very early on in the game, along with two other higher-powered guns, ranging from shotguns to rifles and more. These can be purchased from quartermasters with T-Energy, which has gone from being a life-source in previous entries of the series to currency.
When piloting a Utility Rig (which are distinguished from Vital Suits for they are its predecessors, not built with military intent), the player can listen to “the tunes” Jim’s wife sends him using the D-Pad to control the music player, although depending on the situation they may be temporarily disabled. You can also listen to your own custom playlist. In a one-off instance, the left and right arrow buttons on my dualshock were strangely disabled (one of the more peculiar bugs I’ve ever encountered) and not working within the game, but thankfully their only real usage is for this auxiliary purpose. The player has a bash ability for melee attacking, a drill and a claw arm at their disposal in ‘Gertie’ (yes, Jim named her).
Along with your weaponry, your gear and your rig can and will be upgraded. One tool that is synonymous with the franchise is the Grappling Hook, which is used to traverse all manner of rock/ice-faces. Eventually, you will be able to hook into magnetic surfaces, and install a winch that enables the creation of a improvisational guiding line to zip across…you almost feel like Batman with all this gadgetry. Other upgrades such as hull defence improvements require a visit to Gale’s pit and a few specialised components, which can either be found or bought themselves. The gear-gating here is well-spaced out and encourages back-tracking, but only to explore previously unreachable regions.
Other miscellaneous gadgets are given to Jim over the course of the game, such as a T-Energy radar which indicates when you are near a large source of the fuel. You can plant T-Energy posts here to collect from at a future date, which the game will alert you to as a secondary objective on your floating menu. Oh, and that floating menu works in exactly the same fashion as the one originated in Dead Space. On the topic of secondary objectives, they are never entirely necessary for the progression of the story, but gives the player something to do in the semi-open world that is E.D.N. III. They are typically entertaining asides, but can get repetitive all the same.
Fast Travel becomes available to the player a couple hours in, but can only be achieved when entering or exiting an area. Unfortunately, it is inexplicably and inconsistently locked out, with no real rhyme or reason given as to why. The biggest nuisance in the game, however, are the loading screens…they are all too frequent, intrusive and long for a modern game. Thank the Lord we won’t have to deal with them as much in the next-generation. I would also be remiss not to mention boss battles, however they do follow the same formula of past games where you must target the glowing extremities on each creature, which represent their weak spot. Each type has a different attack pattern that must be learned and overcome.
Now, moving onto the multiplayer suite; it may not sound expansive with its four modes – Akrid Survival, Extraction Mode, Team Deathmatch and Scenario Mode – but there are variations within the latter that offers more variation. Akrid Survival is a version of the popular Horde mode being included in most shooters these days (thanks Cliffy B!), but is broken down into two stages; the second being an elimination showdown with an opposing human team of 3. Extraction Mode has players attempt to protect and extract T-Energy from set T-Posts. Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory at this point, and, finally, Scenario Mode tasks teams with completing objectives that vary between Plant/Defuse Bomb, Escort, Courier/CTF, Seize/Control and Disable/Repair. The overall gameplay-style actually lends itself to a fun multiplayer experience, and the hexagonal unlock system called the Progression Sphere is a nice twist on the usually linear MP unlock system.
Graphically, Lost Planet 3 will not blow you away, but portrays the landscape of E.D.N. III effectively nonetheless. There are many little visual hiccups/distractions the player will experience without fail in playing the game. The camera transition between entering and exiting your Utility Rig are jerky, and mouths rarely are in sync with the V.O., even in the up-resolution cut-scenes (using game assets, but of higher fidelity) where this issue should not arise due to the performance capture process that was utilised – a technique used to much lesser effect than on, say, L.A. Noire or Heavy Rain. The characters just don’t express the same diversity of emotions, with as much detail and nuance, as other titles which have taken advantage of the same technology.
One glaring visual glitch involves the shadow of Jim’s Utility Rig darting in and out of position, when the direction of light in an area has not even drastically changed. There was a funny moment where I turned around and walked out of a base backwards in the rig after thawing out frozen pistons, because I had a feeling they wouldn’t animate…and I was right. Door opens, pistons are static. The most annoying and disruptive visual flaws are the somewhat consistent hiccups in frame-rate – during gameplay and cinematics – and the occasional texture pop-in on not only character models, but the environment as well. I put many of these down as performance-related issues thanks to a less optimised experience for the platform itself; these may not be as frequent on the Xbox 360 or PC.
Composer Jack Wall (Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2) delivers the score for Lost Planet 3. A couple tracks in particular stand out, but for different reasons. One is “Research Base”, which the player encounters whilst exploring the titled location. This is classic horror, with erratic and rising, discordant strings and scratchy sound effects to keep you on the edge of your seat. The other is “Shack’s Peak”, which plays throughout the entire expanse of Shackleton’s Peak. What immediately caught my attention was the stunning similarity of the main melody to that of “The Presidium” off the Mass Effect soundtrack. In fact, upon re-listening to both side by side, I confirmed my suspicions that it is exactly the same – bar one note – just running at a slightly slower tempo and pitched down. Fortunately it’s a fantastic sounding hook, as otherwise I would simply see it as Wall “phoning it in”.
Licensed music consists of Western/Country songs, signature elements of which also permeate throughout the rest of the original score. The voice acting by the cast, and Bill Watterson specifically as player protagonist Jim Peyton is excellent, as he delivers his lines in a natural way. He also exudes an understated charisma, bringing levity to tense situations and indirectly breaking the fourth wall – “why is every door on this planet either locked or out of power?!” Audio-wise, general sound design and implementation are where the flaws show, however. Loops end in a harsh, abrupt manner before starting over. Even certain lines seem to clip at their conclusion, which could just be the result of a unclean capture/mix. And specific sounds – such as that of Peyton shattering frozen-over Akrid corpses for their T-Energy – can barely be heard in the mix, giving incredibly little sense of weight or impact.
There’s a lot to like about Lost Planet 3 – the John Carpenter-esque tone and score from Jack Wall, well-metered gear gating, horror-centric sections, semi-open world, fun multiplayer and the dynamics between the on-foot and Utility Rig gameplay – but it is ultimately held down by numerous technical issues and a general lack of polish. Fortunately, none are game-breakers, but the accumulation must be acknowledged, and a few are quite immersion-breaking. Several might think I am being generous, but I actually wanted to give Lost Planet 3 a higher score because I honestly believe there is the potential for many people to love this game. Alas, Spark Unlimited’s incompetence on some of the more technical aspects significantly hurt the experience.
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