Lost Planet 3 – Preview
When it comes to third-person shooters, everyone has a preference; some like them hot, some like them cold, and some like them in sub-zero temperatures fighting for their lives against hordes of monsters that need to be killed for their delicious thermal energy. The Lost Planet series was one that’s passed me by in recent years, owing to all my friends being into it before I owned a console from this generation that wasn’t the Wii (or if you’re cruel, the Wii U) and the second turning me off due to its alleged focus on co-operative action. Lost Planet 3 aims to take players back to the planet of E.D.N. III, but also acts as a prequel to the series, taking place many years before Extreme Condition, giving veterans and newcomers alike a reason to climb into their rig and get hunting.
Slipping into the snow boots of the bearded love-child of Nic Cage and Tim Allen, known as Jim Peyton, players are once again tasked with taking down the Akrid and stealing the vital thermal energy that their corpses leave behind. Jim is an employee of the Neo-Venus Construction company (or NEVEC for short), who are attempting to mine E.D.N. III and send the minerals back to Earth. Describing himself as a man who’s “got three things in this world: my wife, my kid and my rig”, Jim’s personal quest starts off a simplistic one – help NEVEC and accumulate as much money as he can to support his loving family back home. Though Peyton doesn’t seem to be harbouring any dark personal secrets in the early stages of the story at least, it’s surprisingly refreshing to take on the role of someone who feels far more like your typical every-man trying to make a living than the usual fare of our medium’s protagonists. It helps give the illusion that you’re acting as a cog in a far larger machine and just doing what you can, rather than being the salvation of all around you and the only person fit for the job.
Building on this impression are the opening stages, where the mission I played saw Jim stranded out in the snow and having to regroup with other members of NEVEC. As you first move unarmed through the blistering cold, struggling to see anything more than a few feet ahead, it’s hard not to feel an odd sense of deja vu, but soon Peyton is set upon by a horde of Akrid in his attempts to find his allies, and the action soon sets itself apart. Though the enemies were many and identical, the combat felt well-balanced, giving the player plenty of room to breathe and the industry-standard pistol proving a satisfying thunk that sees enemies destroyed in a satisfying enough manner. Though presumably enemies later on will be tough to fell with it, for now the infinite ammo containing pistol felt weightier than its equivalents in the rest of the genre and got the job done far more effectively than I originally thought it would.
Once reunited with his allies, Peyton isn’t taking the lead or the only person capable of the job, but is charged with support duties and helping their vehicle progress, so the order is to once again gun down the monsters Du Jour as well as activate things with Lost Planet 3′s mark on the seemingly now standard hacking mini-game, where players have to position both control sticks just so in order to progress. As the Akrid blow apart, they leave behind the vital thermal energy that NEVEC so desperately need and that Peyton must collect to support his family, and throughout my time there was always the temptation to hang around longer than was necessary in order to farm resources. Thankfully, this is no longer discouraged, as Lost Planet 3 has foregone the ever-decreasing clock of the previous iterations in the series, so life isn’t tied to the amount of thermal energy acquired, and nor does it end when you run out.
Instead, it can be used to purchase and upgrade new weapons when Peyton is back at base, and this is where events conspire to feel rather less linear. Though you’ll still be required to complete specific tasks and the opening tutorial levels will be less lax with the linearity to ease you in, you’re still allowed to explore the NEVEC base of operations at your own pace. As you explore the base, you’ll become privy to conversations and tannoy announcements that give a good impression of how terrible the living conditions are for the employees on E.D.N. III, and these do a great job of adding a little personality to the proceedings. Granted, some of the conversations feel a little stiff and the dialogue in cut-scenes doesn’t get a much better reputation, but there’s been a considered effort to build a world for the player to explore, even if it is basically a less habitable Hoth.
Declining to upgrade my pistol and instead shell out for a shotgun, the story continued with the introduction of the rig, the predecessor of the weaponised mechs prevalent throughout the rest of the series. Lacking proper weapons, the Rig is instead equipped with a drill and claw arm for the purposes of mining and helping prepare the base against the harsh conditions. After the diagnostic check and a humorous clipping bug involving one of the engineers, Peyton was sent to help out his co-worker LaRoche – a Frenchman who couldn’t come across as more stereotypically snooty if he was smoking and eating snails while twirling a baguette and wearing a beret.
So, Jim is sent off in the rig, and is soon sent a message from his wife, laying the groundwork for an extra dimension in their relationship, which hopefully won’t become too overwrought in the later stages of the story. For now, her message ends with her uploading a playlist of songs that Jim can listen to in his rig, with a small selection of rock bands at his disposal with the push of a button, though I found these won’t always play and the command is disabled if Peyton receives a message from his higher-ups or if the non-licensed soundtrack needs to kick in instead. In a great little touch, the songs continue to play once you leave the rig and echo out into your surroundings, so you can leave The Novemberists blaring as you begin to set out on foot.
Returning to the third-person shooting action, Lost Planet 3 began to vary up the enemies if only slightly thanks to the presence of some Akrid who would roll up and charge Peyton, exposing the weak spots in their tail when they uncoiled. Once these were dispatched, he continued on to the thermal beacon he was meant to activate, after travelling through a tight corridor filled with enemy sacs that would explode upon contact or gunfire. Also present were some Akrid spawn points that could be destroyed by throwing grenades into them, complete with the travel arc now standard for the genre. Where the most fun in this sequence came from was testing out the recently-purchased shotgun, an intensely powerful weapon that completely obliterates any close-up enemies and fires so forcefully that it can send flying any Akrid not immediately destroyed by the blast. It’s one of the most satisfying shotguns I’ve had the pleasure of using in recent memory, and it works brilliantly as a way of keeping the ever-increasing amounts of Akrid at bay, serving as an effective crowd-control weapon as well as reducing anything in your path to chunks of thermal energy.
Though the shooting mechanics are nothing radically different from the norm – minus the apparent lack of cover-based mechanics that’ve permeated seemingly every third-person shooter ever – it’s nonetheless quite gratifying to slay hordes of Akrid thanks to the weighty and mighty feel of Peyton’s arsenal, and if the weapons continue that trend and the battles don’t just descend into preventing the enemy from completely surrounding you, then the rest of the single-player campaign could contain some nice surprises.
Though the story mode is a cinematic and exposition-heavy single-player affair, there’s still plenty of multiplayer action present, even if it’s not part of the campaign. Lost Planet 3′s multiplayer consists of four modes, with the two confirmed so far being Scenario and Akrid Survivor. Akrid Survivor is Spark Unlimited’s answer to horde mode, and delivers a delicious twist on the now-derivative formula. Two teams of three players must do what they can to survive against waves of Akrid, but rather than the winner being decided by what team performs best against the aliens, both sides must square off against each other and gun any survivors down in order to be crowned as the victors. Additionally, there’s also a single-player variant of horde mode known as Platform that’ll satiate any players who want to wipe out the alien threat, but without the irritation of other humans.
The far more intriguing mode is Scenario, which combines both co-operative and counter-operative missions for both sides depending on the map. One example requires the NEVEC forces to protect their drilling machine as it starts making its way into the Snow Pirates’ base. While the machine can’t be push back or totally destroyed, the pirates must do what they can to keep it out of operation long enough for the timer to run out. Another map acted as a pseudo-King of the Hill variant, with one side required to make their way to key areas within the other team’s base and set explosives in order to destroy it.
By far the best example revealed so far is a twist on the classic capture the flag variant; the map contains a large Akrid that both sides need to work together to in order to take down, but it’ll only drop one energy pick-up, and the winning team is the one that brings it back to their base, forcing both sides to drop their temporary alliance in the name of victory. With such twists on classic formulas, Scenario mode could prove to be the best part of the multiplayer scene come release day, if not just the most inventive.
Much like the single player before it, the shooting mechanics themselves in the multiplayer aren’t going to surprise you, with the action being what you’d expect of a third-person shooter. Similarly, there’s a perk system in place that will allow players to diversify their tactics, with one releasing a deadly cloud of toxins if any enemies dare come near their dying body. Those who are in a near-death state can hammer a button to prolong their revival meter depleting, but if they want to speed the process up then another button will allow them to instantly die, forgoing the use of perks and preventing the enemy from curb-stomping them and finishing them off. Players can set up turrets and use grappling hooks, but these can’t be used just anywhere, and the latter is mostly used as a traversal system and a way to potentially escape life or death scenarios. While the shooting itself is unlikely to set anyone’s world on fire, it’ll be the unique takes on otherwise stale formulas that’ll prove to be the multiplayer’s saving grace.
If anything, this is something that can be applied to Lost Planet 3 as a whole; it does everything you’d expect a third-person shooter to do, but its saving graces come from the little touches and twists on the mechanics of both the genre as a whole and the Lost Planet franchise itself. Though Spark Unlimited have found themselves on the back foot after both Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary ended up as flops, there’s plenty of ideas and potential evident within this title that suggests this could be their redemption. It may not sell gangbusters, and players may have to wait until August 30th to play it, but if enough fingers are crossed Lost Planet 3 could end up turning some heads and proving itself as a suprise hit of the summer.
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