Lost Planet 3: Lukewarm Winter Wonderland

By Jack . September 22, 2013 . 2:00pm

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lost Planet 3, as I had neither been following the game too closely nor following the Lost Planet series in general. I had tried both of the previous games, and while both were very different, I found neither to be for me. This time, Capcom has entrusted the series to western developer Spark Unlimited in order to tell a prequel story to the Lost Planet universe. In the process, the series is being taken in a new direction once again.

 

Lost Planet 3 definitely feels like its own beast compared to its two prequels, and it does that by focusing more on the personal story of the game’s protagonist, Jim Peyton. Jim takes a job from the Lost Planet series’ recurring mega corporation, NEVEC, to help out the colonists on the ice planet called E.D.N. III. His primary motivation for taking up this dangerous job is to make a living for his wife and kid back home, and his relationship with them is often at the forefront of the game’s story.

 

Jim Peyton’s ride to E.D.N. III results in an unexpected crash landing, and so his first objective is to survive the harsh wilderness of the frozen planet and reach the NEVEC home base. At this point I took control, and I can confirm that Lost Planet 3 is most definitely a third-person shooter released in the past ten years. I found the control scheme so familiar that I was performing actions before the in-game tutorial could even get to them.  The game starts Jim off with a pistol (although his armory gradually expands throughout the game), and he needs it because the weather isn’t the only danger on E.D.N. III.

 

E.D.N. III’s bleak, snowy background drew me in, and it’s a cool setting to be sure. As Jim makes his way to the base, he falls into a nest of Akrid in a sequence that really makes the world feel alive. The Akrid are essentially animal-like monsters that tend to have large, glowing weak points. The ones at the beginning are just tiny pod-like insects that try to swarm you, but there are also bigger species that come in various other forms like wolves or crabs. After shooting my way through Akrid swarms, Jim reveals himself to be a handyman who is able to fix up a ride to the NEVEC base. It ends up feeling a little silly though, as the way things are repaired in Lost Planet 3 come in the form of “puzzles”. To summarize the process, you spin two circles with your analog sticks until they light up and the controller vibrates. Jim apparently has a degree in Advanced Circonomics, as this puzzle is used for literally every mechanical problem in the game.

 

Once I had gotten Jim safely to the NEVEC base, the game switched gears and allowed me to the wander around his new home. The base serves as a kind of hub, where you can visit shops or talk with the crew. I went around looking for as many people as possible to talk to, and was surprised at the almost comical lengths the game goes to differentiate its characters. Essentially, every character gets boiled down to a trait and then makes weird, seemingly out of place jokes at you. I came across a character who mumbled everything he said, a man named “Crazy Neil” who basically exists to spout nonsensical rants, and a weapon shop clerk whose sole character trait is his thick northern accent, eh.  It feels strange that the crux of Lost Planet 3’s story is based on humanizing Jim, but the game then proceeds to surround him with a bunch of cartoon characters.

 

The eccentricity of the characters feels even more off when you look at the animation work. There isn’t a lot going on with the character models’ faces, so they try to make up for it by flailing their arms around with as many hand gestures as possible, and it ends up making some already strange characters look even more goofy. Despite that though, there are some honest attempts at world building that are hidden in these interactions, and if you’re really into Lost Planet lore I feel like they would be pretty interesting. Unfortunately, you have to put up with some groan-worthy characters to get that information.

 

My introductions finished, I went into the main hangar area and found something that excited me greatly. Thanks to the repairs of a smart-mouthed intern named Gale, Jim’s Rig is now functional. A Rig is essentially a giant robot that Jim uses to travel across the planet, and it also gives a great first impression. It’s big, it’s slow, and it comes attached with a drill arm. I felt powerful the first time I took control of it, and it was as I was exploring the frozen planet, stepping on Akrid and smashing stalactites, where it seemed like I had found what makes Lost Planet 3 special. Perhaps part of that it is the fact that your Rig comes equipped with its own soundtrack. Thanks to Jim’s wife back home, your robot has a playlist full of tunes that make you feel like a space cowboy. The first time I rode back into base after defending it from an alien attack, with music that felt straight out of an old western movie blaring, was my personal high point of the game. Disappointingly, the game seems to disable the soundtrack in your Rig often. If I had to guess, it’s so that random music wouldn’t ruin the “cinematic experience” that the developers had lined up, but it just feels like a missed opportunity for the player to create his or her own experience to me.

 

It’s at this point that the game both opens up, as well as reveals some of its rough edges. I was now free to explore parts of the planet, although many areas were locked until I made more story progress or could upgrade my Rig. As I explored the base I was getting prompts for side quests, although once I had completed a couple I started to wonder if it was worth the effort. My quests revolved around killing an arbitrary number of enemies and completely redoing a level I had just done. They felt like busy work, and while the Rig’s slow speed is initially cool, it doesn’t help if you’re trying to be efficient. On top of that, my rewards weren’t very exciting. I got T-energy, which is essentially the currency you use to buy upgrades for both Jim and his Rig, and a special ammo type I would have to buy each individual round for. While I occasionally tried more side quests throughout the game, they never became more interesting, making the trek required to complete them seem like a waste of time.

 

The emphasis on Akrid over human enemies is initially refreshing. Unfortunately, they get old fast. There are two keys to success in battle: shooting glowing weak points and rolling around a lot. Dodging the larger Akrids’ attacks is vital, but not very difficult. The window of timing in which you can dodge seems to be quite forgiving, and the enemies telegraph their attacks almost excessively. Some of the larger enemies will only reveal their weak point after you’ve rolled through their attacks multiple times. Fighting with Akrid becomes more a test of endurance than skill, as they seem content to take up time rather than provide a challenge. While I died a few times due to poor choices, I never felt like the game was especially difficult. The game exemplifies this problem by often throwing the same enemy at you multiple times in a row, especially the bosses.

 

It also doesn’t help that the bosses can have gratuitous amounts of health. Around my third rematch with a giant crab boss, I was beginning to wonder if the game had bugged out. I had emptied both my shotgun and assault rifle, and was now shooting weak pistol bullets at its massive shell. I was considering resetting after about five straight minutes of dodging the crab’s repetitive attacks and unloading on it. Finally, salvation appeared in the form of an exposed weak point. Then I had to shoot it even more until it finally died. Between its tendency to throw the same enemy at you multiple times as well as giving them lots of health, Lost Planet 3 has a bad habit of making you dread the next encounter for all the wrong reasons.

 

While I wasn’t impressed with fighting the Akrid as mere man, I was still excited for the battles that awaited me in my giant robot. When riding the Rig around the snowy planet, Jim has access to a grab claw, the aforementioned drill arm, and various bashing attacks (which can be upgraded in the game’s shops). The fourth option at your disposal is the option to counter, which is activated by hitting a button right before the enemy attacks you. If you simply hold the button you get a guard, but aiming for the counter fills a similar role that rolling around does. Basically every boss encounter boils down to performing a counter, then following up with a button prompt to do damage. It seems simple enough, and depressingly it is.

 

However, the Rig fights seem to have the added bonus of needing a good luck charm. During a battle with a large boss monster, I had to shoot a hook at his tongue after countering in order to pull him closer. This resulted in either the hook not connecting at all, or for a notice to appear on-screen telling me that there was an object in my way that for as far as I could tell, didn’t exist. The prompts after a counter appear to be very finicky in general, and I ended up mastering the counter timing for all the bosses just so I could keep trying to get the fight to actually work.

 

Jim’s struggles on the planet are the focal point of the story, but personally I didn’t find it to be much of a draw either. The game will often show you video messages sent between Jim and his wife to give you a feel for their relationship. These interactions were surprisingly relatable, but the story doesn’t take it much farther than that. Part of this seems to be that at the same time, the Lost Planet 3 wants to set up an origin for its universe. I feel like the game ends up sacrificing the more interesting personal story for the latter. It’s a shame too, because I feel like there were multiple points where the game could have taken the story in interesting directions without interfering with the Lost Planet canon. While I wouldn’t call the story great by any means, I do think its heart is in the right place. It helps differentiate Lost Planet 3 from a crowd of third person shooters, which is good because it needs some distinguishing characteristics.

 

I previously mentioned that the controls to the game were very familiar, however that isn’t all. To be blunt, Lost Planet 3 feels derivative. It’s got the third person shooter mechanics that are popular among titles like Gears of War, it has real-time menus featuring audio and text logs in a format that seem ripped straight from Dead Space, and it has a grappling hook and “puzzles” feel suspiciously like elements taken from the Batman Arkham games. Those are just some of the mechanics that stood out to me though, as I’m sure there’s more if you are willing to look. While taking elements from other games isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it both makes it hard for the game to establish its identity as well as keeps the game from feeling fresh and exciting to play.

 

Near the beginning I thought that traveling around with the Rig was going to be the game’s saving grace, but as that gradually lost its appeal the rest of the experience crumbled with it. The game seems to be pretty expansive with its side quests, but by the time I was finished I just wanted to be done.

 

I don’t think that Lost Planet 3 is a bad game, but it’s a derivative one with a lot of rough spots. It has some interesting elements like the setting and mechs, but from my limited experience with the series, those just come with the territory in the Lost Planet series. There might be some added value if you’re a Lost Planet fan (or maybe it’s the opposite) that I missed. However, I’m not a Lost Planet fan, and unfortunately this game didn’t make me one.

 

Food for thought:

 

1. Despite Lost Planet 3’s attempts to hide it, the soundtrack composed by Jack Wall is great. The music is worth a listen.

 

2. I tried the multiplayer on three separate occasions over the weekend, only to find every playlist abandoned except for the Team Deathmatch mode. Not a good look for a game only a few weeks out.

 

3. Lost Planet 3 features some of the tiniest text I’ve seen in years. If you want to read the text logs, I’d either invest in a magnifying glass or at least stand closer to the TV.

 

4. It’s pretty interesting to me that all three Lost Planet games, as well as its Japanese cousin, E.X. Troopers, could all be classified as “third person shooters,” yet they all have very different takes on the genre.


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  • JustThisOne

    Interesting… To be honest, I had no expectations for this game. No one I know was excited for this, or cared about this game – or even this franchise. That said, I’m glad to hear that it does have some kind of a soul to it. What you said about the plot is making me real curious, because plots centered around the family man are usually not very well done or two dimensional. I wish more games would feature an older protagonist and explore these kinds of dynamics.

    Also, are you a new writer for Silliconera? :3 I don’t think I’ve seen your name before. It was a good read!

    • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

      I think the dialogue between Jim and his wife is some of the better writing the game has to offer, but also that the game ends up letting that dynamic fall short. I’m not sure if anyone really cares about spoilers for this game or not but I’ll be vague just in case: there’s a point where Jim is put into a tricky position between supporting his family and doing the right thing for the situation he’s in. It could have been a very interesting plot dynamic for Jim, but the game ends up kind of ignoring it and making it a non-issue, which is too bad.
      And yeah, this is my first playtest for the site! Thank you!

      • JustThisOne

        Hmm, that’s kinda sad to hear. :< Perhaps they'll get to try again in a different game. Hopefully a different IP, because I don't know if Lost Planet is the best franchise to explore this dynamic.

      • Namuro

        That was a really nice, in-depth review. I look forward to reading more of your articles!

  • CptPokerface

    Seems like a lot of attention was put into making Jim a realistic, relatable character and the bulk of the actual gameplay and other characters were an afterthought.

    Lost planet never really struck me as a series that really needed an in-depth main character and story. The breathtaking giant akrid battles and hectic multiplayer was always the thing that drew people to the game.

    • Namuro

      It certainly drew me in! I enjoyed the series, especially the second one, immensely! I mean, it’s not that often that you get to co-pilot robots with strangers and blasts giant shells into a gigantic sand-worm’s face! The only thing missing from LP2 is an overpowered VS at the end of the game (although E.X. Troopers remedied that).

      But then again, what we enjoyed here are what most people complained about, and things turned out this way…

      • CptPokerface

        I get the impression those complaints were made by the type of gamers who favor story over gameplay..which is odd if their playing lost planet.

        Sometimes i feel that people expect every game to cater to every audience. Now its not impossible for any game to have an engaging story and gameplay but some people just wanna blow people/mechs/aliens up with freinds and there should be nothing wrong with that.

        Oh well..hopefully capcom stops outsourcing to any old western dev they can find.

  • Göran Isacson

    I’m kind of interested in what a fan of the old games would say about these news: if Lost Planets gameplay is some complete upheaval of the old ways, if it is worse, better, no real change from the old etc. Apart from that… yeah, this sounds pretty much like what I expected. A good idea here and there, possibly a purchase if you come across it in a bargain bin somewhere, but too muddled and unsure of it’s own identity to really wow any audience.

  • mixedfish

    “Lost Planet 3 features some of the tiniest text I’ve seen in years. If you want to read the text logs, I’d either invest in a magnifying glass”

    Or maybe invest in some glasses.

    I read the text perfectly well, even on my 768p 18″ monitor.

    • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

      I dunno, I’ve had consistent 20/20 vision my whole life, but maybe it isn’t as optimized for consoles as PC? (if you did play on PC, i’m just guessing from your monitor mention). I tried it on 360 but it’s entirely possible it was my TV I guess. All I know is I had an easier time reading the text from Dead Rising 1 than this, and that isn’t exactly friendly to the eyes.

      • mixedfish

        Yeah well everyone’s different, I have been known by my friends for having sharp as a tack vision.

        But you know, I played it on PS3 plugged into my monitor. Not the PC version, though I’m sure the PC version would have played even better.

  • Lynx

    Honestly, as a fan of the series, 3 didn’t feel like a Lost Planet game. I mean, no VS (Rigs instead), no heat management (instead, it’s currency.) and to top it all off, the gameplay and story.

    I felt like if you stripped the setting away, you’d have a generic shooter. The fact that the multiplayer was taken out to is a kick to the heart. The story felt a little unnecessary as well.

    I mean, a prequel? Could’ve been a story that ran concurrent with the original game for all its worth. Not to mention I really didn’t care for most of the characters aside from Jim himself.

    I won’t deny LP3 is an okay game with numerous issues. However, as a LP game, I felt let down. It doesn’t help that I almost didn’t pick it up because of Capcom’s “promotion” of the game. It feels like the series was sent out to die.

    • Ferrick

      indeed, the lack of VS makes it rather lacking, especially for a lost planet game

      sure it’s a prequel, but taking out one of the most badass thing about the LP series makes it a weak game

      and the characters in game suffers from the disease called “off screen deaths”, on one moment they’re “Oh hey jim” and on the other it’s “Character was killed outside by something”

      and the RIGs along with QTEs doesn’t help the game at all…

    • almostautumn

      Well EX Troopers is equally “not a Lost Planet” as it is without T-Eng, Grappling Hook, or VS’ (at least in any meaningful way as akin to LP 1/2). That said, E.X. Troopers, while not a success sales wise, is a good game in that it modeled itself off of these amputated sections, minimized the gameplay, and created from that smaller design something excessively meaningful, lively, and that worked/played extremely well. With LP3, I felt like they cut those segments out with an intention no different than with EX Troopers— except the style of game that resulted from it wasn’t anything but a typical 3rd-person shooter with some enjoyable bosses. With EX it retained the TPS and Monster-Hunter elements, but really maximized upon them both by consolidating them into one fluent game, but with LP3— it’s just kind of boring and disjointed.

  • Judgephoenix

    The game was dead on arrival. I remember LP1 was my 1st game on Xbox 360 back in 2006/2007. Before all the FPS take over on the 360 was an amazing game with a great community. Most of my first friends were from that game. (Also was still doing Lan and Online Halo 2 parties as well) Good times >.<

    • Namuro

      Lost Planet 1 brings both good and bad memories for me, because it was the first 360 game I bought, and also because the darn console went red-ring on me (in less than a week) and I could never finish the game until it came out later on PC…

      I held a personal grudge against Microsoft for a while LOL.

      • InfectedAI

        You should. Hopefully they’ve learnt from their mistakes and made a console without a severe hardware flaw this time. Though it didn’t matter that the design was crap since people just kept on buying a new one when it red ringed. They probably made more money because of the flaw. I have one family member on his third 360, and two at least on their second.

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