If a game doesn’t do too well, sometimes the publisher and developer hit the reset button. Rather than can it, it can be better to head back to what worked well, if you’ve made substantial changes which didn’t pay off, or you can refocus around fresh gameplay mechanics and reinvigorate a series.
With Lost Planet 3, Capcom have hit this reset button, following on from a game which wasn’t received too well critically and didn’t hit the right notes for the buying public either. Gone are the deserts and jungles of E.D.N. III, as time is rewound to when the planet was all snow and ice. Gone is the co-op focussed gameplay, rolling back to a more narrative led single-player experience. Gone is the in-house development team, with relatively unknown Spark Unlimited handed the duties, although series creator Kenji Oguro stays on to direct the title.
So Lost Planet 3 is a new beginning in many ways, and has a lot to prove. Coming from the first 40 minutes of gameplay, it looks to me like it could do pretty well for itself. The introduction in particular, after everyman Jim Payton has crashed onto E.D.N. III, gives a nice and atmospheric introduction to the planet. Pushing through a blizzard, Jim winds up underground in a series of caverns. A horror-film style flicker of motion as you round a corner gives you a few suspenseful moments before encountering his first Akrid.
The Akrid are back as the indigenous life forms on E.D.N. III and, just as before, they come in various forms. The Sepia, which are like tulips on legs, are the main fodder initially, but these give way to large cat-like Pack Hunters, Dongos which roll at you in hedgehog-like balls, and on to much larger creatures which are still at the series’ heart. Ideally you would be going toe to toe with those in your rig.
The rigs from the first two games are also returning, but in more simplistic and utilitarian forms. There aren’t any guns bolted onto these mech suits, but rather a big grappling hook hand and a giant drill, all the better to do contracted drilling operations with… Jim is, after all, being contracted to go and do some drilling for thermal energy!
Hopping into Jim’s rig switches you from a third person view to first person, and does a great job of making it feel like you’re in this hulking mech suit. You lumber around, smash giant icicles out of the way, and you can happily wade through the smaller Akrid. The only downsides ironically come when you actually do some drilling.
Here, the rig has to transform into a dedicated platform. The only problem is that it’s vulnerable in this position to the Akrid which the vibrations from the drill will attract. So you’ll be running around it, trying to defend it from everything that comes your way, whether it be small or ginormous. If it takes a lot of damage, though, it’s a simple fix. Perhaps too simple, since you just run to a repair point, and do a quick twin stick mini-puzzle and it’s fixed instantly. I can see why they’ve gone this route, to keep the pace high and risks manageable, but it’s an oddity in my opinion.
Similarly, I feel that the game might come into a bit of stick for the manner in which you fight the Akrid. You have your trusty pistol at all times, and can buy yourself a whole host of weaponry with thermal energy you collect from drilling or killing Akrid. Everything from trusty shotguns to more exotic things like lightning guns. There’s also a neat idea, where your rig gives you tactical support with a radar and extended HUD, but if you stray too far away, the HUD will disappear, and you’ll be left with just a crosshair and ammo meter underneath it. It’s very pared down, and a nice touch.
The problem lies with the Akrid themselves, because their designs always centre around having obvious weak points. The Sepia will go down with a pistol shot, or two, but everything beyond these has a particular spot highlighted in the orange of thermal energy, which you have to shoot. For the Dongos that means diving out of the way when they charge, then shooting them in the tail. There’s nothing wrong with that mechanic of having weak spots, but when all the creatures are dark grey with orange targets, it feels a little too on the nose and obvious.
It isn’t helped too much by the environments, which are all whites and blue-greys of snow and ice combined with metals of human installations. Whilst this means I found the main base of operations had a great style, the tunnels carved into the ice reminding me of the Rebel base on Hoth, and there is potential for moments of great beauty, this pared back colour scheme could start to drag, if there isn’t more variety down the line.
At least the plot and cast of characters should keep you entertained. You quickly meet a variety of people working out here, from the Frenchman, Laroche, to the witty Gale, your chatty Mech engineer, who isn’t a girl (He gets that a lot). Braddock’s the boss at the installation, and quickly lays out what the thermal energy can do for you, whilst Dr. Kovac looks to be knee deep in a conspiracy which will see you hurtling towards the NEVEC vs. Snow Pirates battle of the first game following the death of Jim’s predecessor.
They’re all wrapped in a script with a lot of depth to it. The first encounter with Gale drips with Wild West undertones, as he kids around with an unamused Jim whilst twanging guitars only emphasise this vibe. Or, after introductions are made during a cutscene with Braddock, if you stick around in the control room rather than head off, you can just watch him hand out orders for a good 2 or 3 minutes before he reminds you that you have places to be.
The two factions, NEVEC and Snow Pirates, face off in the multiplayer too, which features up to 5v5 in a variety of modes. We went hands on with the Scenario mode, with the full 10-man compliment. In this there’s a nice and wide selection of maps, with each featuring a different twist on the gameplay. One map might see the NEVEC trying to escort a Battlecat, in order to break down major doorways as the pirates defend with a little help from a mech suit, whilst another has both teams trying to hunt down and kill an Akrid, take some sample and deliver it to a particular station. Like one-flag CTF, but the flag wants to eat you.
There’s a lot of load out customisation available, extending from guns to grenades and abilities, and as we played it also gave a little snapshot of how tactics will no doubt develop online. For a little cash, Turrets were a very popular placement and post-death revenge gas would go off and catch out hapless enemies. Post-release balancing will be key here, to ensure that choke points can’t be dominated too easily, and that a variety of load outs can be successul.
I’m rather optimistic about Lost Planet 3. I think the characters and script will keep it interesting, even if locations don’t vary too wildly from snow and ice. The switching styles of gameplay, running and gunning or mech suit stomping, should also mix well with the various Akrid and eventual human enemies. Hopefully the few extra months of development will give Spark the time to deliver the fresh start it’s looking for.
Lost Planet 3 is now set for release on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on the 27th August in N. America and 30th August in Europe.