Lost Planet 3 is lifeless – a shooter without a soul – though not for a lack of trying. Spark Unlimited is a studio of what-ifs. What if Winston Churchill’s premature death meant The Third Reich conquered Great Britain and invaded North America during World War II? What if Pandora’s Box was a real mystical artifact, and an art thief’s curiosity loosed griffins, werewolves, and minotaurs upon Earth’s cities? Now, what if Spark was given a chance to undo the bad blood behind their previous projects? Despite promising premises, they have always had trouble executing on their gunplay, which seems unlikely to change with Lost Planet 3.
The gameplay has always been of great benefit to the Lost Planet series. Grappling up a ledge, slaughtering Akrid fodder with booming shotgun blasts, and hopping into a Vital Suit to clash with a beast 20 times my size are not moments I can easily forget when the traversal and combat weaved together seamlessly. Spark has neutered the action, however, chaining conflicts to an origin story that tells of E.D.N. III’s earliest settlers. Jim Peyton is a freelance contractor, hired to mine some ore, restore base functionality, and shoot creatures in their glowing weak spots in exchange for cozy family support checks.
Jim remains the unspoken errand boy of miscellaneous quests, willing to rush blindly into danger for double someone’s pay. Thermal energy is no longer – or not yet – the precious resource Lost Planet fans know it to be. With Jim’s insulated beard warmer, frostbite is one more enemy that falls to his ingenuity. Instead, thermal energy was once a source of income for all E.D.N. III dwellers – ideal for buying guns and rig alterations – and a potential solution to the fuel crisis on Earth. Still, Akrid will not give up their viscous fluids without a fight.
"Jim, I have some very bad news. I ate the last box of donuts."
Lost Planet’s shooting is more bland than ever. Aiming used to be fast and loose by default; here it just feels … I hate to say sluggish. Plasma weapons have not been perfected yet, either, so much of Jim’s arsenal consists of everyday firearms – a shotgun, bolt-action rifle, pistol, etc. All told, nothing drained my excitement faster than rolling away from a charging Akrid, unloading a couple shells into its hides, executing a quick-time event, and waiting for the next opening.
The boss fights should have been the thing to write Jim’s wife about. They were defining moments for prior Lost Planet games, but all I can recall here are three generic beasts: a walking beehive, a giant crab, and a well-armored scorpion. While I wish Spark had pushed for more inventive one-off monsters, players can no longer grapple onto creatures to avoid harm. The grappling hook can only be used to scale particular impassable ledges, though several traversal upgrades unlock inaccessible areas, giving fans not put off by the inhospitable terrain reason to survey the icy wonders.
E.D.N. III contains a surreal, expansive beauty of sorts – wild snow storms mix with lightning to create striking weather patterns; abandoned settlements arouse paranoia akin to Aliens, The Thing, and Dead Space 3 – but the frigid landscape is not fascinating enough to sustain a vaguely open world. Too many instances of walking between distant, identical destinations drive home the solitary feeling, for good and bad.
If given the option of the PC or console versions, go PC. The frame rate is more stable.
Maybe Vital Suits could have saved such mundane treks from outpost to outpost, except military regulations prohibit miners from arming their bipedal rigs with miniguns or rocket launchers, which seems counter-productive. Why send the backbone of Earth’s survival into the frozen wilderness in a slow, meandering mech fitted solely with claw and drill functions? Actually using Jim’s rig for self-defense never feels like a last-minute decision, however, as grabbing a panther-like Akrid before boring into its face is duly menacing. But rigs may only venture as far as cave ceilings and crevices allow. Beyond one climactic boss fight, rarely do the on-foot skirmishes and mechanized brawls intersect.
As mentioned before, the shooting is lifeless – competent, yet lifeless. Prior Lost Planet missions kept gunplay focused. You were always fighting pirates, paramilitaries, or some bigass behemoth. In Lost Planet 3, the vacant environments reflect poorly on the dull creature variety, imprecise weapons, and frequent loading screens. The larger Akrid eat round after round, while small fry are so petite that Jim wastes more ammo targeting the buggers in the time it would take for a swift melee to do the job. The standard battles grow repetitive by the second hour.
Even more cold and distant: the characters’ expressions. Jim’s animations certainly received more development time than his supporting cast. Sometimes NPCs' lips remain frozen as they narrate your next quest; other times they recycle the same wooden animations as they mime out your objective. And who could forget the unmistakable texture pop-in of the Unreal Engine 3?
Jim's rig can block and throw punches, too.
The most interesting part of the story is Jim himself. He’s not complex, amnesiac, or some self-centered savage. He is a family man driven to ensure his family’s future. That fact takes root in the back-and-forth conversations between he and his wife as they speak about their work days, discuss their newborn son’s growth, and say how much they love each other. Spark injects some honest humanity into their protagonists.
Adding more humans to the equation does not save the derivative shootouts online, even if multiplayer includes proper Vital Suits and greater usage of the grappling hook. In my first match, my opponents were at least level 30. The next, I encountered people beyond 40. Matchmaking issues aside, do I really need to explain team deathmatch, Horde mode, or a mix between the two? The one standout feature is the progression sphere. Players unlock weapons and abilities for their loadouts as the sphere’s paths branch off. I might have given multiplayer more than an hour of my time for this random draw aspect alone, but why put up with another 5-and-15 kill-death ratio when competitors are tripling my kill counts?
I was not sure how my opinion of Lost Planet 3 would shake out until I put my thoughts on paper. With its emphasis on mechs and towering Akrid, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is an underrated delight, having launched the same year as Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. While Lost Planet 2 made some horrendous narrative decisions, co-op was still a step in the right direction. In this desolate prequel, no one can hear your pleas for better dialogue, fulfilling combat, or finer sci-fi weaponry. Lost Planet 3 needed one thing to save it from the cold, dead reaches of E.D.N. III: a spark.
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-10 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC