Though both set on the same frozen planet, it’s fair to say that Capcom’s latest third person shooter and its predecessors are worlds apart.
The publisher, in its attempt to draw in Western gamers, has passed the reins to Californian outfit Spark Unlimited. From the onset it became clear that Capcom wanted to steer the franchise in a new direction; however, considering Spark’s track record (Turning Point, and 2008’s god-awful Legendary), it seemed as though the studio would guide the series to an untimely end.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Lost Planet 3 is without doubt the developer’s best work to date, giving the series a new lease on life. The game offers a surprisingly good story while also swapping out the series’ memorable, albeit lofty, shooting for something much more solid and familiar. Though some won’t appreciate Capcom’s conformity, Lost Planet 3 is ultimately a much more approachable shooter, yet one that still has its flaws.
For the third (and probably not the last) time we return to the frozen wastes of E.D.N III. This isn’t a direct follow-up to 2010’s sequel however; instead Spark Unlimited has dialled back the clock, presenting players with a prequel. An origin story that, despite being awkwardly conveyed at times, still manages to intrigue with the odd compelling moment here and there.
In Lost Planet 3, players assume the role of colonist engineer, Jim Peyton. The well-bearded everyman comes to E.D.N III as part of the first human expedition, roaming the far reaches of space in search of answers to Earth’s growing energy crisis. Joining a group of scientists and researchers, he begins to explore the frozen planet, inhabited by a host of alien species collectively known as the Akrid.
It’s hardly a breakthrough in science fiction yet the way Spark approaches the story is worthy of merit. Instead of focusing on the planet itself or some abstract space quest, Lost Planet 3 is centred around a definitive human element, with Peyton at the very core. Though part of his enrolment in the N.E.V.E.C-funded programme was partly driven by a sense of adventure, his number one priority is his wife, Grace, and their son, Hank. In short, Jim just wants to keep his head down, fulfil his contract, and return home with a healthy nest egg for his family. However, as much he tries to avoid it, trouble comes knocking at his door…
Peyton’s a likeable character to say the least, mainly thanks to the game’s script and voice acting. He’s a more down-to-Earth protagonist whose rise to heroism is purely coincidental. At times he carries a heavy weight on his shoulders, though still manages to make light of even the most dire situations. The same can be said of the game’s secondary characters who also help to provide some comic relief while also having their own, varying purposes.
Where Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and its sequel were strictly linear affairs, Lost Planet 3 is more of an open-world hybrid. Chapters may follow a rigid structure yet, in between, players are free to explore E.D.N III, taking on a variety of side missions. No matter how far you wander from the beaten path, you’ll come across credits which can then be spent on new weapons and upgrades as well as modules for your rig.
Lost Planet 3 also features online multiplayer, which presents a few interesting concepts. Team deathmatch and other familiar, objective-based modes make an appearance alongside Akrid Survival: a game type which fuses both co-op and competitive elements. Here, two teams of three spawn on opposite, enclosed sides of a map, scoring points by gunning down AI-controller Akrid. Upon reaching the third stage, players must then turn their attention to an objective contested by both teams. It’s a strange combination yet one that works to a varying degree.
Another unique feature is the Progression Sphere. Standing in for the conventional, experience-based system, the sphere rewards players with a level boost every time they purchase an item or perk from the grid-like menu. The currency used for these unlocks, of course, comes from the online battles themselves along with pre-set challenges. Overall, Lost Planet 3 offers solid enough multiplayer diversion, though not one that will hold the attention of gamers for long.
If there’s anything the developer had to transfer from previous instalments, it was huge bi-pedal mechs. With that said however, these rigs are built for mining and excavations, not all-out war. So, instead of chain guns and giant sniper rifles, players need to get creative, using drills, grapple claws, and even a welding torch, to fend off hostile Akrid.
Though each rig attachment has its own use, you’ll mostly find yourself pummelling away at Akrid, Pacific Rim-style. The combination of attacking, blocking, and countering will feel clumsy at times, yet these sections of gameplay feel very original and serve as a nice break between bouts of shooting.
Speaking of shooting, it’s just what you’d expect from Lost Planet’s modern counterparts. Though you won’t be ducking into cover every ten seconds (if at all) it’s the same shoulder-view gunning we’ve been tangling with for the past five or so years. With that said, it’s a noticeable improvement for the series, even if the enemy AI still leaves much to be desired.
In the end it’s repetition, not the Akrid, that serves as the game’s number one threat. Though boss battles help to break up the flow, you’ll mostly be gunning or stomping hordes of inhabitant critters, aiming for red, glowing weak spots. Instead of filtering in more types of Akrid depending on the situation players find themselves in, Lost Planet 3 simply dumps more of them on the screen at once. It’s a lazy way of ramping up the difficulty and feels more akin to previous games in the series.
Then there’s the navigation. As touched on before, E.D.N III is now fully explorable and peppered with side quests; however, this part of the game is implemented in such a ham-fisted way that some will probably avoid it entirely. Optional objectives will often include visiting a specific location -either to kill a set number of Akrid or activate a checkpoint- before returning to base. Sounds simple enough though the time it takes to walk your rig all the way there and back saps any sense of reward or engagement. Worse still, your hub is broken into floors (similar to Mass Effect’s Normandy), pelting players with needless load screens just to talk to an NPC.
Visually, Lost Planet 3 holds up well. E.D.N III has a smattering of awesome landmarks and the facial animation during pre-rendered cutscenes are often sublime. The art direction is also commendable yet the same can’t be said about Lost Planet 3’s consistency, at least in terms of performance. During later stages, where the screen is chock-full of Akrid, the framerate can sometimes take a nosedive.
The series has come a long way since Extreme Condition yet, even now, Lost Planet is still playing catch-up. It often feels as though Capcom wanted to emulate other, more successful third person shooters, namely Dead Space. It may have succeeded in that pursuit, though the genre continues to expand and surprise, the goalposts constantly moving.
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