Lost Planet is one of the earlier attempts by a Japanese developer to make a Western-style multiplayer shooter, and the franchise results have been mixed. The original was half Gears of War and half arcade-style shooter, focusing on invincibility frames and dodge rolls as much as aiming and shooting. The sequel added co-op play and Monster Hunter fighting mechanics, and gamers either loved or hated it. Then Japanese gamers got Lost Planet: EX Troopers, a cel-shaded entry for the 3DS, while Lost Planet 3 is the first of the franchise by a Western developer: Spark Unlimited, who had previously worked on Legendary: The Box. Perhaps the intent was to gear Lost Planet more toward Western tastes to contrast with EX Troopers' anime style. The resulting game tries to please everyone and offend no one, and that's entirely to its detriment.
Lost Planet 3 is actually a prequel to the other games in the franchise. Players take on the role of Jim Payton, an average guy who goes to the arctic planet E.D.N. III to earn some money. The planet is the only source of Thermal Energy, a valuable power source that could solve much of Earth's energy problems. Payton and his ilk are basically space oil rig workers who are paid to keep the place running until they strike gold. He's only there a few months before things get strange. People go missing, equipment is broken, and it's obvious something isn't quite right on the ice planet. Payton has to figure out what it is before the base is doomed to a cold and lonely death.
The strangest thing about the plot is that it is most interesting when it tries to be boring, and it's most boring when it tries to be interesting. The early segments of the game are unlike anything you'd see in a modern shooter. They focus on Payton's early days on the planet and are about a worker adjusting to living on a deep-sea oil rig. A fair amount of time and effort is put into the everyday aspects, and this makes the game more interesting. You can see Payton's one-way video communications with his wife, hear complaints about the time between food shipments, and spend your time knocking ice off machinery and fixing broken devices. It's boring on paper but surprisingly immersive in-game, reminiscent of the beginning of "Alien" and the feeling you got from the Nostromo's crew. The problem comes when the plot actually begins. The conspiracies and massive fights are boring and trite when compared to the early segments. They should be exciting but they're not, and they descend into the same clichéd events you see in any sci-fi shooter on the market. I had more fun keeping the base running than I did by discovering E.D.N III's dark secrets.
This same odd inversion carries over to the gameplay. Lost Planet 3's shooter mechanics are as standard as you can get. If you've played any shooter in the past 10 years, you've seen everything Lost Planet 3 has to offer. It has been simplified from the previous Lost Planet games and focuses on straightforward shooting, with little in the way of improved mobility or new options. Even the weapon loadouts are the usual machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle — you get the idea. There isn't a single fun, interesting or creative element to the combat. It also happens to be remarkably easy. The T-Energy system from earlier games has been turned into a currency for weapon upgrades. In its place, you have genre-standard regenerating health and enough ammunition to take down anything. There are indications that at some point, the game may have been trying to go for a more Dead Space survival-horror feel.
The enemy design isn't much better. The Akrid have been around for a few games, but Lost Planet 3 is easily their least creative outcome. After the insane battles in Lost Planet 2, it's difficult to get excited by bullet-sponge crab monsters with obvious glowing weak points and simple attack patterns. The weaker Akrid swarm you in huge numbers and are easily taken down. The larger ones require simple pattern recognition. Each fight is technically competent, but there isn't any creativity or energy, so it ends up being boring. Even Peyton sounds bored by the constant swarm of enemies or the massive bullet-sponge bosses. There are a few human enemies, but they aren't more interesting to fight; they're on par with the generic mooks you'd take down at the start of any shooter.
There is a shining moment in the game that involves the Rig, which is your personal robot and a precursor to the VS from the other Lost Planet titles. Unlike the VS, the Rig is a repair and mining tool, not a weapon, so it isn't armed with rocket launchers and high-speed thrusters. It's a slow, clunky, and often accident-prone machine. It can ice up in serious weather, and it needs to be defrosted. You'll use its built-in claw and drill for repairing devices and cleaning ice as often as for fighting enemies. It feels interesting, and it's more fun to be in your robot than on foot. Fighting in the Rig is only slightly more complicated than a dedicated QTE. You have to block attacks and then target and grab enemies or stab them with your mining drill. It involves simple button presses, occasionally mixed with Walking Dead-style pointing and clicking. Despite that, it is still more engaging than the more "active" on-foot combat. It's the one time the game feels like it has any personality. It isn't enough to carry the title, but it's the closest it comes to capturing the spirit of something distinctive.
Each level is straightforward and linear, guiding you with rigid intensity from point A to point B with very little room to experiment. You're not allowed the freedom to explore, except by backtracking to previous areas to occasionally do a side-quest or two. The game hints at having a Metroid-style upgrade system, where new abilities unlock to access new areas, but nothing really comes of it. Most of the upgrades, including the franchise's iconic grappling hook, unlock barred-off doors and are rendered unusable anywhere else. Perhaps more annoying is that almost every single piece of machinery in Lost Planet 3 is broken. If you want to go anywhere, you can expect it to involve three broken elevators, a damaged door, a collapsed bridge, and a corrupted computer mainframe. Most of this feels like padding to stretch what should be a simple goal into busywork to extend the game's length. You'll see areas that are clearly half-finished and enemies being recycled because they needed more playtime.
Oddly enough, Lost Planet 3 acknowledges its own shortcomings. There are numerous frustrated comments from characters about the busywork or roadblocks in their paths. With surprising regularity, NPCs comment on the things the game forces you to do. When the game made me run back and forth around the base, an NPC snarked that I was running laps. Another assured me that he wasn't just standing in place, but he just happened to be there every time I came by. Payton frequently complained about how every machine was broken and every straightforward path required him to take a roundabout way. No matter how often Payton or another NPC complained, it didn't make me smile. It just made me frustrated that the developers were obviously aware of the problems and wouldn't or couldn't fix them.
Lost Planet 3 has a multiplayer mode, but it isn't a big surprise that it's also pretty standard. There are some neat ideas, like a combination of horde mode and deathmatch, but the game lacks the creativity to see them through. Even though I was playing the game a few days after its release, I had trouble finding multiplayer matches. Once I got into some matches, I discovered that there was nothing to set it apart from the countless other deathmatch modes on the Xbox. Say what you want about the previous Lost Planet multiplayer modes, but at least they were distinctive. Like the rest of the game, Lost Planet 3's multiplayer is an exercise in safe and boring. It doesn't fail, but that's mostly because it doesn't try.
Lost Planet 3 doesn't look terrible, but it feels very lifeless. The best parts are early on, where a lot of effort went into making the base feel simple, rustic and functional. As the game progresses, it becomes more derivative and less interesting. The character models are also mediocre, with poorly textured faces and some Muppet-mouth flap for the talking animation. The voice acting is all over the place. Some of the characters are surprisingly well acted, with realistic and likeable performances. Others are cartoon characters with hilariously stereotypical accents or such over-the-top acting they may have stepped out of a "Loony Toons" cartoon. Not only does the game switch back and forth between these characters, but it sometimes does so within the same cut scene. It effectively kills any tone the developers may be trying to set.
Lost Planet 3 fails to have its own identity. It is technically competent, and there are moments of fun to be had by shooting enemies. I didn't encounter any major glitches or badly designed mechanics. The game just runs together into a bland morass of things you've seen in other games. There's the basis for an interesting game here, since everything involving the space trucker mentality is infinitely more interesting than the machine guns and giant bugs. Unfortunately, the guns and bugs take over, and the result is a bland game that's been done better countless times before.
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