(Xbox 360 Review) Lost Planet 3

Developer: Spark Unlimited
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Action / Third-Person Shooter
Players: 1-10
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 6.5 = Fair

Lost Planet 3 follows the struggles of the first colony to set down roots on the frozen world of E.D.N. III, or what was believed to be the first colony. As contract Utility Rig pilot Jim Peyton, players arrive on the inhospitable planet in search of work for the Earth-based megacorporation Neo-Venus Construction (NEVEC) on behalf of the Coronis colony, who is working alongside the company to try to harness the planet’s thermal energy, or T-ENG, to solve the energy crisis back home. This rich energy is harvested not only from the interior of the planet but also from the dangerous insect-like indigenous species known as the Akrid. As a prequel set before the events of Lost Planet: Extreme Conditioning, humans are inexperienced when it comes to combating the Akrid threat, and they are constantly in danger of losing their foothold from the massive swarming—and sometimes exploding—insectoids. Peyton’s job quickly goes from fighting off boredom as he completes mundane, laborious tasks to fighting just to stay alive.

Peyton’s challenges aren’t quite the same as experienced when playing as other inhabitants of E.D.N. III. While the Akrid are as dangerous as ever, Peyton resides on the planet in a time before the technological advancements of the original Lost Planet and the ecological shifts of Lost Planet 2. This means that Lost Planet 3 is more subdued than its predecessors, owing to its dated technology and Earth’s potential survival still serving as a focal point for the colonists’ and NEVEC’s actions. This translates into the game’s lack of the same fast-paced on-foot action and weaponized mech combat: Peyton doesn’t mow Akrid down in a sleek Vital Suit (VS) but welds cracked pipes and recharges batteries in his lumbering rig, nor does he use his zip line to hijack vehicles or to speed up combat but simply to access cut-off areas. There is one surprising twist in his favor: the cold isn’t a threat. Despite returning to the frozen wastes last seen in the original, and many warnings throughout the game about how deadly the freezing temperature can be, Peyton is immune from the effects of the minus 120-degree temperature because of his suit. That is just the first of many elements that have been scaled back.

As the latest resident of a fledgling colony, Peyton is immediately set to work helping to stabilize and upgrade their battered facilities with a series of contracts that will require him to repair structures, drill for and harvest T-ENG, and clear areas of frenzied Akrid. The energy he collects by fulfilling the contracts and killing Akrid is traded for rig upgrades in engineering and new weapon and weapon upgrades at the quartermaster’s. As he spends most of his time away from the safety of Coronis, he greatly needs the arsenal that he slowly builds up and improves, which will eventually include a pistol, assault rifle, rifle, shotgun, crossbow, and two grenade types. To help give the illusion of an expansive environment, the game adopts a semi-open-world design that allows Peyton to venture out to various areas scattered around E.D.N. III. The locations are actually fairly small, and getting to them requires only a short trip to a hub that breaks off into various paths or immediately via fast travel. Lumbering around the rig between areas initially gives the world a larger feel, but after a while, the limited scope becomes strikingly apparent. The vistas that surround many of these areas are notable, with valleys covered by rolling storm clouds and precipitous peaks that tower in the distance; they are almost too effective, offering glimpses of possible exciting adventures that aren’t to be. But it’s once you reach the navigable areas that things get hairy, with the planet’s wildlife both aggressive and numerous, ranging from scurrying pods that explode to massive behemoths that charge and bash.

Similar to how backtracking steadily shrinks the world and turns its wilderness into well-trodden grounds, so too do the frequent encounters gradually turn combat from a series of exciting gunfights to repetitive slogs. Reinforcing this are numerous repeated encounters that occur with the same enemy types attacking in the same patterns at the same spots. Boss-type Akrids frequently appear as well, which are initially visually impressive but quickly become tedious to fight, as their attack patterns are short and easy to memorize yet their extended amount of health requires players to engage in drawn-out fights that quickly become monotonous. What looks to be a battle for the ages ends up being little more than the player going through the exact same motions over and over. There will be some tough spots, but those frequently have little to do with the player’s skill and more to do with the game itself, such as when Peyton is tossed around and his recouping animation isn’t finished before he is attacked again, or when the camera doesn’t pull back enough to show more of the action. Heavy encounters hit the framerate pretty hard, too, and can make control difficult until it subsides; however, most encounters are small enough to keep the rate and control within a manageable range.

Despite the guns’ lack of heft, the actual combat is handled fairly well with a decent arsenal and a rudimentary cover system allowing Peyton to blindfire and hide behind objects. A few enemies display a rough sense of tactical awareness by seeking cover and trying to flank or rush as another lays suppressive fire, which will necessitate the use of cover, but most encounters require a less deft touch: unload everything in the clip as quickly as possible. Typically, after an area’s initial horde is thinned out, a steady stream of Akrid will continue to infest the region until the nearby spawners are destroyed, which seals off their entrance into the outer world—at least until the player leaves and re-enters the area. Two heavy weapons are equipped alongside a pistol and explosive, which is more than enough to get any job done. Ammo crates strewn around the areas also ensure a plentiful supply of munitions, and ammo lockers allow for loadouts to be altered as needed. It’s fortunate that the on-foot combat is decent enough—until routine sets in, that is—because anything involving the rig and Akrids is downright disappointing.

Somehow, fighting as a medium-sized man on foot is much more exciting than a giant metal rig with a huge drill and a clawed hand that doubles as a grappling device. The problems with rig combat are many, but the biggest is down to the fact that most of the rig-only battles involve several quick-time events, often with awkward timing where the on-screen cues always seem slightly off. Trying to battle an area’s Akrid with the rig allows for the single combo and shoulder bash upgrades to come into play, but those fights are just as dull as the quick-time-event-heavy encounters given that, even after several upgrades, Peyton is not only more effective at killing Akrids but can actually take more damage. Regardless of whether the player is on foot or piloting the rig, the fights require too much rote memorization.

Lost Planet 3, more than most action titles, strives to hit an emotional chord. Random cutscenes play between story sequences and travel load screens that feature recorded message between Peyton and his wife, both struggling with their words in an attempt to bring a sense of normalcy in what are trying times: Peyton faces the risk of death by Akrid every day, while his wife is trying to raise their son by herself on an Earth on the brink of anarchy from an energy crisis. But Peyton’s intergalactic sojourn is reminiscent of those taken by terrestrial offshore oil workers, who strike out for extended periods of time away from friends and family to save up as much as possible before heading home. Home isn’t just Earth for Peyton, however, but where his family is safe and secure, and in that way, Lost Planet 3 is not only very grounded but quite relatable.

As much as the game strives to reach players on a deeper level, though, it fails to do so at every turn due to poor pacing. The side missions that other characters give out do result in players learning a little more about them and their evolving relationship with Peyton, but only superficially. Most of the narrative heavy lifting is done with montage sequences that show him adjusting to life on the planet and going about his daily tasks, and short scenes where he interacts with characters in a more congenial setting. Yet these are far too infrequent to have an impact, and the result is that, whenever plot twists arise or the story picks up momentum, the game’s sense of player immersion and concern is far from the reality. Peyton can interact with characters as he ventures around Coronis and another hub, but these are pat conversations that are more for jokes or light backtstory than creating and nursing any meaningful relationships. A few text logs and voice journals fill in some of the details, but they are often left by long-gone characters or are inconsequential or merely repeating information. In some cases, the audio was just downright hard to hear because the levels and quality were all over the place, and in several boss fights, the conversation cut out entirely. I also found the writing to be wildly inconsistent, with one character not knowing what “the Fifth” referred to (after an “I plead the Fifth” comment) or what a dog is but another referenced something tasting like chicken. And in this futuristic world, filled with remote colonists and those decades removed from civilization, there’s a jarring “for the win” reference. When the antagonist shows up, he arrives so late in the game and is so cliché that it doesn’t matter. The game takes on the airs of an emotionally charged journey of a character trying to do his best in a bad situation but it plays out so typically that it falls flat: Lost Planet 3 wants to be seen to provide a deeper, richer experience but doesn’t want to earn it.

I often found myself surprised by how much the game could have provided the kind of engrossing experienced it perceived itself to be. Everything is in place to offer a truly unique action title: navigable hubs, multiple areas to explore, upgrade systems, non-playable characters to converse and interact with, several warring factions, dangerous secrets, persistent and unknown threats, and pilotable mechs. Many games have some of those elements, but few have so many. But instead of advancing just some of them, they were all implemented in the most straightforward way possible. What could have been an impressive way to re-orient the series is instead a by-the-numbers shooter that has a lot of interesting ideas but doesn’t do much with them.

For fans of the first two titles, multiplayer returns to the faster-paced combat found in the first two games, and it even reintroduces the armed-to-the-teeth Vital Suits (VSs). NEVEC and Snow Pirates battle it out in several modes: Quick Match, 5v5 Mode, and 3v3 Akrid Survival Mode. Quick Match searches for the first open game, while 5v5 Mode features three submodes: Team Deathmatch, Extraction, and Scenario. Extraction has teams fighting over T-ENG posts and deposits, while Scenario is comprised of objective-based rounds, such as NEVEC attempting to break into a Snow Pirate base with a drilling machine by defending and repairing it whenever the pirates inflict enough damage to stop it. Several of these modes feature the VSs, which are fairly agile and extremely fun to pilot. Even though it’s free of rocket-toting robots, 3v3 Akrid Survival Mode is still a great way to pass a few minutes and rack up some points, as two teams must first fight off waves of Akrid in short Horde-style assaults before battling each other for control of a center point. The zip line is much more prominent in multiplayer as well, and with multiplayer being much faster paced and action oriented, it shows just much more exciting single player could have been.

All multiplayer modes share the Progression Sphere. This giant orb is comprised of connected hexagons broken up into three broad categories—Assault, Special Ops, and Support—and each represent a skill, weapon, or weapon upgrade. Credits earned unlock the icon and its associated item, though only a handful of hexagons are viewable from the beginning. As new items are unlocked, previously unknown and locked hexagons become selectable. Some cannot be purchased but must be earned through completing special objectives, such as gathering emblems from enemies downed by a teammate after having been marked by the player. This is an addictive system, and it does a good job of motivating players to continue playing so as to not only grab that next tantalizing lock but to also see what’ll be unlocked next.

Multiplayer does have some problems, though. For one, the autobalance feature is poor; the computer frequently assigns teams with not only more players but more high-level players. In one match, I was on a team with one player in the 90s, and the other three not higher than five. The other team had an extra player, and all but one were in the 90s and 80s, and the one that wasn’t was at 19. Since the unlocks are dependent on credits and credits are earned through not only completing objects and killing enemies but landing hits, high-level players are able to amass piles of credits for even better gear to further outpace their lower-level rivals because they are able to deliver more damage more rapidly simply because they have the best weaponry. Players climb the ranks simply through attrition. The maps are also strangely designed: for instance, objects that should provide cover instead leave the player too exposed or too far away from the edge to get a clear shot around the side. It’s also too easy to get near a team’s spawn point, and the nightmare scenario of a VS parked outside the building housing the spawn point is fairly common. The action is satisfying and the progression system intriguing, but the poor balance ensures that Lost Planet 3 won’t be in rotation for long.

Lost Planet 3 is a bog-standard cover-based third-person shooter that has everything it needs to go in any number of truly interesting directions, but instead chooses to go nowhere near any of them. As a result, players are left with a technically deficient, generic entry into a series that continues to struggle to find its footing. There’s little truly bad about the game, but at the same time, it’s telling that the most interesting thing about it is how little it does with what it has to offer.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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