Lost Planet 3

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So, after Lost Planet 2, Capcom let Spark Unlimited develop the third game in the series, which might show that the original team was unsure on what to do with their new IP. Kenji Oguro was still attached as the creative director, but Spark Unlimited took upon themselves to make the next installment into a more story-driven experience. Coming from former developers who worked on Medal of Honor, it had me excited. Though looking at their track record, there might be a reason why they are now defunct. I just hope this trilogy can end on a better note than the second installment.

A workingman’s story

Set as a  prequel to the rest of the series, Lost Planet 3 starts out with the protagonist, Jim Peyton, being rescued by his granddaughter after being buried under the snow on the fictional and cold planet, E.D.N III. Due to his age and being weakened by the damage caused by the climate, Jim simply wants to tell his daughter his story before he leaves the world of the living. “Confessing his sins” as he puts it, which is now an old tradition long forgotten. He starts with telling his granddaughter that he worked for NEVEC once, where he was tasked with finding sources of power for their dying home planet, Earth, and proceeds with telling about his daily life and the important events that he wants to pass down to his family.  

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This is already a lovely step that the third instalment takes with the series: you are a simple working-man that is on a planet he is not familiar with, which makes him more vulnerable and human. It definitely sets the mood for the dangerous planets atmosphere, but also makes him more mortal and thus; relatable. He has a family on Earth he can only contact through video-messages, a community of other workers he interacts with, creating friends and rivals, and tries to keep himself sane and alive in this harsh working-environment. 

All characters have good and diverse personalities or humorous quirks that make them easy to appreciate. Because of the colorful and down-to-earth personalities, I found myself hunting down every dialogue to hear what they might say, such as the Australian who is on the verge of insanity with how immune to cold he thinks he is. Others are more subtle, such as another co-worker who simply picked up a guitar and started practicing, and you can hear that he gets progressively better as you venture through the game’s campaign. Though there are clearly different types of personalities you will encounter, none goes to either extreme by being too over-the-top or too common, all have a clear and diverse personality, which makes me care about every character.

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Jim is the highlight as he is the one you will get to know the most through this being his story. He is a relatable and normal person who is getting affected mentally through the isolation he is in, but always tries to keep a light tone with his wife back at home. He does seem to enjoy the simpler things in life and monologues his perspectives on the work he is doing and the memories he is keeping close, giving us a great insight to his psyche. This all is strengthened by the great dialogue that always gives intriguing scenes where characters try to support or discuss topics, or commentaries that provides either a good laugh or self-aware humor. For example, Jim will tell the camera why he does not wear a cold-protective helmet in the outside world, giving it a subtle fourth-wall breaking joke as this is how he usually contacts his wife. This solid form of interaction is throughout the entire game, which makes me care about anyone I came across, even those you will clearly have troubles with later on in the game. 

This is the only problem Lost Planet 3’s story has: the plot is very predictable. It is sad that it can be easy to see any events that will occur, and that someone is hiding certain facts is obvious. Though the plot never insults the player’s intelligence, as Jim quickly understands what the players already do and due to the interactions, optional or main, I always cared about the lives of those on the planet and about Jim himself. I highlight this a lot as the focus is on these people and about Jim’s struggles and how he copes with the challenges, giving us a relatable and heartwarming story. It really makes me sad that there was never a sequel to follow up, though I am happy that Richard Gaubert, Orion Walker, and Matt Sophos were nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing by the Writers Guild of America. 

Story Score: 8/10

A walking-shooter?

This might sound like an odd genre, but let me try to explain why this might be fitting. You are set in a third-person shooter, with a hub world and objectives to follow, be they side or main. The world is not an open-world, but rather gives you different pathways to take, with waymarks and a map showing you where your next mission lies. This is fine for neglecting confusion in where to go, and the game provides enough optional ways for exploring, even if the paths can feel linear.

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Getting from one place to another is done through your ginormous Utility Rig, which is your robotic vehicle. It is quite the neat machine, and it can attack with left and right arms, has a drill at disposal, and will even get upgrades like a grappling-hook and an electric-boost. However, all tools are situational and rather for simple QTE, making them quite uninteresting. The same goes for Jim’s ability to repair machinery or plant posts for collecting Thermal Energy: these are always context-sensitive moments and not much else. What is cool though, is whenever you meet a huge monster and must use your Utility Rig’s upgrades for fighting them. They vary in these situations, be it using the hook to attack airborne enemies, or block before counter-attacking. It is simple, but effective to provide some variations and keep attention on when to attack and when to defend.

However, combat on foot is less interesting. Jim has a dodge roll, can take cover, blind fire, and can carry two firearms, a couple of grenades, and a weak handgun with unlimited ammo. It all works well as switching weapons is quick, grenades have clearly shown throwing arcs, and the aggressive enemies are smart enough to force you to move from cover to cover. What is the problem, is that whenever a fight is upon you, it presents only one or two different enemies to fight against, and unless there is a huge level with many objects to take cover behind, these fights can drag on due to the relentless amount of repetitive enemies. It is still fun to shoot them down, but only for a couple of minutes and not for 20 minutes straight. The same goes for the boss-fights sadly, as you just have to dodge and counter-attack them, which is a strategy repeated for all enemies in general, making them uneventful. At least, they can be a decent challenge, since while you have regenerative health, it does so incredibly slow, so you can’t get sloppy.

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Though the combat is a smaller part of the game, as you are first and foremost an errand-boy with the focus being on exploration. This is an interesting take, as you will find some tools to help you on the way, but they are only used for context-sensitive moments, with even the grappling hook being situational. Despite this, it forces you to look around and keep in mind where you have been and what you might be able to use the acquired tools for, and all are rewarding. What you will collect the most, are Thermal Energy from enemies, data posts, and by simply exploring, which is now currency for buying new weapons and upgrades for them, and the special components which are hidden throughout and used for upgrading your Rig. You even have sidequests that can yield even more boosts to your character, giving you a clear focus on looking around and appreciate the environments. While it will often come down to pressing a button once you gathered a new item, being on the lookout or even listening with help from a radar, are neat aspects of exploring and keeping a lookout.

Speaking of, going around, talking to people, see their daily lives, are all intriguing parts about this game. It is in these moments Lost Planet 3 shines, as it obviously wants you to get immersed, both with the human part of the world, as well as the wilderness. Unfortunately, with no form of tension, such as survival or a challenge, the feeling of being alone is not granted so strongly in gameplay, and I believe they should have gone through with a clear concept where they gave more to both aspects or focused on the atmosphere alone. This is why I think this is a walking shooter, as you basically walk around and explore, while occasionally shoot things. It is vague, but so is this game with what it provides.

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A lot of mechanics are good, but needed more constant variations, both through objectives, exploration, and diverse enemy-encounters in the same battle. Due to the amount of possible upgrades and focus on boosting your character, Lost Planet 3 seems like a game that was supposed to be bigger than what it actually is. Clocking in about 12-13 hours, I really can’t say I did more than that I occasionally took cover and shoot monsters, had a couple of QTE’s, and walked, more than anything else. While it was to witness the events that unfolded, just like a car-ride: I did not do much physically, just looked at the pretty scenery while doing the essentials to avoid any harm. Also, just as a small nitpick: this is the third game in the series! The aiming-assistance could definitely have been dropped entirely.

Gameplay Score: 3/10

Solace with ice

The immersion the story provides, is greatly enhanced by the visuals. This is a hazardous-world with plenty of diverse areas, such as caverns for the monster’s nesting, the spiky mountains made completely out of ice, and the small, metallic facilities and constructions that are the closest thing you can call home. It all presents an uncomfortable, yet intriguing environment, and I love the atmosphere it provides. All areas are connected and change subtly as you progress through them, making it also believable and easy to get lost in. These kinds of naturalistic and realistic environments are enhanced thanks to the excellent animations and details. Snow blows in the wind and covers up Jim or his vehicle, monsters pop up in the background from afar or through the ground, and the lighting is excellent. There was only one part where the water-effects weren’t great, but still looked pleasant.

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The metallic structures are also interesting and memorable due to how unique and practical they are made, reflecting the limited resources on the dying home planet. Even the technology is neat, such as how options for in-game elements, are shown with an in-game hologram from your arm, ammo is shown through your reticle, and health is by how much blood is on screen. Characters are also well made, with highly detailed facial-animations and interestingly designed attires that represents what we have today, just with extra technological support. The facial-animations are stiff in the more general dialogue-segments, but their body-language from doing their work to entertaining activities like playing cards, are well done. I also love the small touches, such as how Jim will try to cover his eyes when a storm is upon him, how he clenches his teeth when he has taken a lot of damage, or seeing his breath when he is out in the cold. 

The cutscenes especially highlight the characters animations, and I love how detailed and cinematic they are with excellent camera-movement that never gets too close when action is on screen. Even the loading-screens are neat with 3D-models of areas you have visited! The monsters are also interesting, and takes on different inspirations, like insects, panthers with multiple tales, and more unique setpieces. They are not as common to witness as in previous games, but it makes them more impactful when you see them subtly crawling around, and there is enough variety to not get bored of them visually.

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Then we have the Audio and it is rare that I have been immersed by a soundtrack that is 50% country. I am not joking, as Jack Wall (who made music for Myst 3 and 4, and Mass Effect 1 and 2), was tasked to make a lot of country for this game, which he took on as a good challenge. Honestly, all tracks are lovely and fitting due to this American working-man traveling around and listening to the music in-game he got sent from his wife, but also since guitars are often a simple instrument that is used to represent long and lonely travels. It is all fantastic with all being instrumental, which I love as it emphasizes every string and instrument being played. Should none of these excellent songs be to your taste, you can use tracks on your hardware instead, which is a cool touch. The rest is ambient and symphonic, fitting the lonely atmosphere of being lost in space, which reminds me heavily of Mass Effect for a good reason. 

The ambient sounds complement this, as there are a lot of screams, footsteps and environmental sounds like ice cracking, keeping you always on your toes. The rest of the sound effects such as gunfire, tramping in huge piles of snow, machines being activated, and the muffled sounds when you are on the verge of dying, are all fantastic and well implemented. The voice-acting is also on a high level and it provides a believable cast, and even if some of the cast have an over-the-top accent, nothing is stereotypical or offensive, as all are solid with clear emotions and lines that are delivered believably. It is easy to hear when talent like, Jim Ward, Jill Watterson and Laura Bailey to name a few, are present.

Presentation Score: 9/10

It is dangerous to go alone. The audio-logs told me so!

Exploring this new world, is highly recommended for some neat trivia and lore that makes you more connected to humanity on this planet. You can collect both audio and text-logs for some interesting insights, stories of tragedies, or funny survival tips on the importance of dry socks. These are well hidden, but never too obscure, so hunting for them, feels rewarding and challenging enough. They also add to the already fantastic atmosphere, so immersion is at a high. The same goes for the optional dialogue, so don’t be shy and talk to every person you come across.

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Besides this, there are also some nice sidequests to tackle. Some are as simple as killing a specific amount of enemies or collect DNA by tagging monsters with special darts, but others can involve doing a favour such as locating missing items for a person. All these are fetch-quests, but due to providing some fun shootouts and exploration, they are all welcome for getting more out of this world, and some will even provide special items, like exclusive ammo, or boosts to your characters stats. None of these are really needed, though it was nice to see how my accomplishments affected those who tasked me.

Then we have the multiplayer and Lost Planet 3 provides a lot here, especially compared to its single-player campaign.There are many options, such as a quick-match with all vs all. 5 vs 5 team deathmatch, extraction-mode where you try to collect the most amount of Thermal Energy, scenario-mode where you will be given objectives to tackle. My favourites might be the Akrid-survival, where 3 vs 3 opponents try to survive attacks against each other and the monsters, and the last mode where you might even have to team with your opponent to fight a giant monster, and then fight each other over the thermal they leave behind. 

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Not only are just the modes engaging and fun, but you can also customize your loadouts for weapons, grenades, deployable items and special abilities, which gives you a lot of options and none feels overpowered, providing a lot of different playstyles. The upgrades will also come in the form of a skill-grid, which also adds some nice sense to play on for the curiosity and the ability to experiment and upgrade your character, giving great amounts of replay-value for the multiplayer-aspect of the game. Even the levels are wonderfully designed, as you have more vertical areas to use the grappling-hooks on, are grand and provides plenty of areas to take cover behind, making it incredibly fun and engaging.

Extra Score: 7.5/10

Verdict

Lost Planet 3 takes a complete 180 from the previous entry in a bizarre, yet smart manner. The characters and atmosphere are fantastic, with a lot of incentives to explore, and the multiplayer is engaging and fun, making it easily a keeper. It is then weird that the actual main-game is underdeveloped and does little to show what the team is capable of, especially when they made one of the most recognizable shooters in history. However, if you have some good friends or value a great setting with good writing, you are in for a treat. This might be one of the hidden gems, that was honestly too early for its time before walking-sim was a clear established genre. I suppose art is not always appreciated in its time.

70/100

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