Even though there have only been two games in the series thus far (three, if you count the Colonies entry that was similar to a director's cut), the Lost Planet franchise seems to have lived up to the first part of its title in that it doesn't know what kind of game it wants to be. The first game tried to balance shooting humans and bugs of various sizes with the threat of hypothermia in a barren, frozen wasteland. It wasn't complicated, but it worked and had its share of spectacle. The second game kept the constantly draining heat mechanic and big bug fights but set it in lusher environments, essentially making it Monster Hunter with guns due to the big emphasis on four-player online co-op. After that experiment failed, Capcom decided to create another entry in the series, this time with a Western developer that's experienced in shooters. Can Spark Unlimited bring the series back to prominence with Lost Planet 3?
The story is a prequel to the original, but there's nothing here that really informs you of that unless you're deep into the series lore. Lost Planet 3 starts off with a cave-in and an old man, Jim Peyton, with his leg crushed under some rubble. While his granddaughter tries to free him, he tells her the story of how he got here and how things went horribly wrong.
The Earth was running out of natural resources, so young Jim took on a job for the NEVEC company on the planet E.D.N. III, which is as hostile as it is cold. With a wife and infant son back home, he took the job for financial stability. The job is hazardous and pays well, but there are conspiracies afoot with NEVEC .
Though it takes a while, the plot eventually goes into standard sci-fi fare with corporations and the environment. Essentially, NEVEC is evil enough to do anything for a profit, including its employees and destroying an ecosystem. The scientists who haven't been brainwashed by NEVEC believe in a safer way of getting the energy and fighting for the planet. There's nothing special here, except for the video logs between Jim and his wife back on Earth. The conversations, while one-sided and brief, feel human and add some substance to the protagonist. Though the dialogue is filled with somewhat mundane topics, they are engaging enough that you look forward to the segments.
The gameplay is a little different from the previous titles in that it shifts into something closer to a modern third-person shooter by Western standards. Jim's arsenal consists of one main firearm with limited ammo, a sidearm with infinite ammo, and a couple of grenades. While he can't jump, he can use his grappling hook to reach high and low places, and he can also dodge incoming attacks when prompted. Melee attacks are part of his repertoire now, and he has a regenerative health system to keep him alive when he isn't being attacked. He even has a cover system that is mapped to the same button as dodging. The basic gameplay can be described as aping Gears of War, and that wouldn't be too far from the truth.
The mechanics on foot aren't up to the standards of what had been established in the Lost Planet series. Part of this comes from the use of hot spots to activate abilities as opposed to having a little more freedom. For example, your grappling hook is only functional if you aim for particular spots on a map, and switches only activate if you're close to them at a particular angle. The other part comes from how T-Energy is used. Previously, the T-Energy substance was a means of preserving life since it acted as your shield and life support, forcing you to kill constantly to stay alive. Now, the stuff is simply used as currency to buy guns and gun augmentations back at the base. You no longer have the sense of urgency to kill Akrid and finish a level as quickly as possible, and that takes away some of the excitement from the series.
On-foot combat only makes up part of the gameplay experience in Lost Planet 3. The other part has you riding around in a rig, the precursor to the VS machines in the other games. Your perspective changes from third-person to first-person when you man the rigs, and the machine also augments your abilities to allow for full weapon refills and faster health regeneration. As long as you're close to it while you're on foot, your rig can also help you with a more detailed readout of your current situation. Your rig can't fire any weapons since it doesn't have any, but it does have a claw arm to grab things and a drill arm to attack.
At first glance, the lack of firearms seems like a good thing since you could participate in robotic melee combat similar to what was in "Pacific Rim." While you get that sort of combat, it is severely watered down because the combat is based on Quick Time Events rather than being free-form. You aren't locked into rails or forced to watch a cut scene during the fights, but you can't just attack the Akrid, either. Instead, you have to perform a series of blocks or parry at the right time to leave the alien vulnerable. From there, you need to place the cursor over the body to grab it and decide whether you want to drill or crush the enemy. Compared to the on-foot action, fighting with a rig tends to be boring, and the only reason to do it is because it affords you an extra level of protection before you're forced to eject from the machine and fight on foot.
Combine the gameplay elements and story, and you have a game that is functional and sometimes fun but not memorable. The story doesn't provide any surprising, and the payoff is expected rather than shocking. The gunfights play out well enough but seem too similar to other shooters. Like the story, it isn't bad. However, the enemy AI is pretty bad at times because they are pretty vulnerable much of the time. Any attempts at spectacle fail because it was done so much better — and on a much larger scale — in the previous games. While the whole game is functionally sound, there's no "hook" to keep the player interested long enough to follow it through to the end.
On a side note, the controls for the PC version are quite baffling. The basic mouse buttons and movement keys are fine, as is reloading and interacting with objects, but the rest is questionable. Scrolling the mouse wheel gets you to your other weapons, but the pistol can only be armed if you click in the mouse wheel. Looking at your objective log requires hitting the Backspace key, and the P key is the only way you can pick up objects from the ground. Those are some pretty important functions that are relegated to hard-to-reach keys. You can customize the keys to alleviate these issues, but it's disappointing that the default control scheme isn't exactly optimal.
The multiplayer in Lost Planet 3 is pretty standard. Matches are of the 5v5 team variety and have familiar modes: Akrid Survival, Extraction, Scenario and Team Deathmatch. Akrid Survival is essentially horde mode, but it cuts down on the number of participants to make it a 3v3 match instead. Extraction has you trying to establish T-Energy extraction points while the other team does the same. Scenario is essentially capture the flag except that the flag is in a large Akrid that needs to be killed first. After every game, you obtain T-Energy, which can be used on different weapons and abilities to customize your player in combat.
The multiplayer performs well even with some bad connections, but you'll likely never touch it. The online community is small to nonexistent, unless you get friends involved. No matter which match type you choose, it doesn't take long before the game decides that you should be the host. It also doesn't help that the game requires you to have a Gamespy account if you want to play online. These extra hoops have been an issue plaguing PC games that are exclusively on Steam, and this title joining the crowd certainly doesn't do it any favors.
Graphically, the game is mostly good. The use of Unreal Engine 3 means that character proportions are in line with what you'd expect from other games that use the engine. All of the characters are beefy, and they animate well and are nicely textured. The same goes for the Akrid, who look the same as before but have a little more of a glow. The backgrounds are mostly white from the abundance of ice, but the lighting effects make it stand out a bit. The same goes for the particle effects, such as the constant ice storms and snow drifts that occur on the planet. The rig gets some nice touches, with frost and blood smeared all over the cockpit windshield. With a decent gaming machine, you can run the game at full blast with a solid 60 frames and no texture pop-in.
Lost Planet 3 is a very nice-looking game until you get to the cut scenes. All of the scenes are done with the in-game engine, but few are actually done in game. The rest have been pre-recorded to prevent texture pop-in from occurring too often on the consoles, but the encoding is noticeably poor. Aside from the frame rate shift, the compression is very apparent, and pixelization is present all the time. It is jarringly bad, and with no size restrictions holding back the PC version, there should have been some higher resolution movies attached.
Audio-wise, the title is great. The score does a good job of giving the story some gravitas, and it also accentuates the action in a way that isn't overwhelming. The voice acting is what really sells the story because the cast does a great job of delivering the dialogue without sound too forced or awkward. Although the game falls into the trope of having the crew be as multinational as possible, the dialogue comes off so naturally that the scripting becomes less apparent. The voice actors are actually a pleasure to hear.
In the end, Lost Planet 3 isn't all that bad. The gameplay is solid enough as long as you're on foot, and the story is well acted even if it doesn't end up being very interesting. It looks and sounds good — if you can ignore the badly compressed videos. However, the game feels like it has too much padding, and without some of the hallmarks of the franchise, it feels like another run-of-the-mill third-person shooter. Lost Planet 3 is a good selection during a Steam sale, but given what it does and doesn't deliver, it's not exactly worth the full asking price.
More articles about Lost Planet 3