Lost Planet 3: Lukewarm Winter Wonderland

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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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