Review: Lost Planet 3 (PS3)
Title: Lost Planet 3
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (15.5 GB)
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Developer: Spark Unlimited
ESRB Rating: T
Lost Planet 3 is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
From the opening five minutes of the game, it’s plainly evident how important the story is to Lost Planet 3. Spark have made a serious attempt at a compelling narrative, rather than follow the trend of many shooters: a few lines of dialogue to loosely connect the killing. This is something very different; a relatable (and occasionally even emotional) story is somehow achieved even though you’re on an ice planet shooting aliens.
It’s due to the main protagonist, Jim Peyton, not being a superhero, but an everyman. He has a child and wife, who you will come into contact with over a series of touching video messages throughout the game. There’s also the constant reminder that at the end of the day, this is just a job for Peyton. You’ll be informed what percentage of money will be sent to your Earth bank account, and the boss tells you to “invoice him later” for certain tasks. Perhaps I just have really low expectations for shooter narratives, but I genuinely found Lost Planet 3 to be captivating and well told.
However, this potential is not really lived up to; you can never be truly immersed in the world when the general gameplay is such a mixed bag. In many ways, Lost Planet 3 epitomizes the current generation. This is a shooter that uses Unreal Engine 3, so all the hallmarks are present. Movement is ponderous (doubly frustrating when the objectives are so far apart) with that annoyingly stupid forward roll being the extent of your fluidity. You fight a mass of alien creatures, whose only purpose is to excruciatingly screech and then explode into a gooey mess.
Spark have tried to inject some variety into gameplay, to prevent it becoming overly repetitive. Of course the main element is still the on-foot shooting, which I felt was pretty good, but nothing special. None of the enemies feel like bullet-sponges, and each gun does a suitably realistic amount of damage. The aiming didn’t feel too loose and the controls for firing can be mapped either to R1 or R2, which is usually a complaint on PS3. It’s all very average though. A limited and uninspiring set of guns, rinse-and-repeat combat, passable QTE’s…little thought, effort or imagination has been injected into the gameplay.
As well as the general combat, you also have control of a utility rig – a predecessor to the militarised mechs seen in the first Lost Planet. The claw arm and drill arm are primarily used for repairs and clearing the way of some particularly stubborn ice. Although, if you’re creative, you can actually turn these utilities into a weapon of sorts, by grabbing an Akrid (the alien species on planet EDN III) with the claw and drilling its guts out. How pleasant.
Furthermore, it feels as though the devs ended up with a little bit of a genre confusion. Parts of the game see you exploring through dangerous caverns, solo, not quite sure what will appear from the next dark corner. It’s not exactly scary, but it seems there’s been a definite attempt at adding survival horror. Lost Planet 3 never quite does that well enough, nor does it quite reach the levels of all-out action; it’s somewhere awkwardly in between.
Wisely, Lost Planet 3 goes back to the snowy setting that made the original game so different. Spark have done a fantastic job portraying the environment – you can almost feel the biting chill of the wind and snow. Although, our hero Jim evidently doesn’t, as he never wears a hat! That great looking snowfall, combined with some excellent lighting make the game very pleasing on the eye. Furthermore, the cut-scenes look phenomenal. I was thoroughly impressed with the facial expressions, which added another layer of detail to the believability of the characters.
The visual fidelity is so good that it enhances the story; the aforementioned video messages from Peyton’s wife being a prime example. Subtle touches such as a photo of her inside the utility rig’s cockpit are also nice to see. Away from the action, the menus and text are stereotypically sci-fi. I did encounter one annoying problem though, which was a steep drop in frame-rate and some screen-tearing during some hectic battles in one play session. This wasn’t a constant problem as it only occurred a couple of times within a 20 minute period, but be aware it could pop up.
Whilst I’m on the subject of minor bugs, there was also a problem with the audio during that same play session. Every other cut-scene sounded like an old car radio, recorded on a crappy phone, and then played through a loudspeaker from the 60’s. Again, a seemingly isolated incident, but I have to report this weirdness did occur.
Now on to the good stuff, and it’s very good indeed. Contrary to the horrible voice acting in Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, it’s awesome this time around. These are characters to remember, mainly thanks to the convincing voice work combined with the visuals. I also have no complaints about the background music throughout the game. Furthermore, yet again the little things stand out, as you have an in-rig stereo. Traversing the icy landscapes to some casual country tunes is certainly a memorable experience.
A smooth, functional experience. Everything works as it should, and it gets away with a pretty standard variety of modes and maps. Like the gameplay in general, nothing about the multiplayer stands out. There are enough players online to make it worthwhile sinking a couple of hours into and the mechanics work competently enough. That hook is lacking though, so it’s unlikely anyone would find a reason to continue playing, when the alternatives are frankly more enjoyable.
Lost Planet 3 is difficult to recommend as a buy, but is worth a rental at least. Its shortcomings can’t be ignored; particularly the bulk of the gameplay simply not being interesting enough. There is enormous potential here though. Just when you’re ready to be fully immersed in the game world, the dull (though functional) action prevents that from happening.
When a series has already had three iterations and none have quite hit the heights, the clichéd thing to say would be ‘they need to take it in a new direction’. I’d disagree. The direction of this third entry is spot on and in need of perfecting. If they can mesh together the touching narrative, awesome visual effects and voice acting with some fresh, fun and compelling gameplay, Capcom will be on to a winner. Here’s to next-gen and Lost Planet 4…
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