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Lost Planet 3

(Capcom; US: 27 Aug 2013)

Lost Planet 3 wears its inspirations on its sleeve. That would be fine if it used those inspirations as the basis for something new, but instead it adheres to them at the cost of its own identity. That’s doubly unfortunate because the identity that it crafts outside of those inspirations is inspiring in its own right. Lost Planet 3 just doesn’t seem to have any faith in itself.


You play as Jim Peyton, a blue-collar everyman who comes to the icy planet E.D.N III for contract work. See, Peyton’s got a big mech, which makes him uniquely suitable to the kind of harsh drilling operations that exist on E.D.N III. He just wants to make some money to send to his wife and newborn son back on earth. Nothing more, nothing less. He’s a futuristic oil rig worker.


This is a genuinely interesting story and one unique to video games. It’s a story of man vs. nature with no obvious villains or bad guys. It’s about camaraderie and team work; friends, coworkers, and rivals banding together against a brutal environment. You’re all here to do the same job, mine T-energy, so there’s no reason to fight each other. There’s even a mystery surrounding the source of “pure” T-energy to provide the arc of a plot. In other words, there’s a good story here waiting to be told.


The brutality of the environment fuels the gameplay. E.D.N III is an ice world populated with giant creatures, so naturally you’ll need a lot of guns and bullets to survive. The first several hours of Lost Planet 3 play out like a sci-fi slice-of-life simulator. Take a contract to mine some mysterious T-energy, fight your way there and back, get paid and buy upgrades. Repeat. In between you get some banter with the likable cast and the occasional message from home. It’s all rather low-key, but enjoyable.


The shooting controls are fine, but sadly most of the creatures aren’t that fun to fight. You only hurt them if you shoot their weak spots, and those weak spots are only exposed after certain attacks. Combat is based heavily around these patterns, so you spend just as much time waiting as you do shooting. A giant ice crab erupts from the ground, but instead of running for cover or a vantage point, you just chill out in the open, waiting to dodge, waiting to attack, waiting waiting waiting.


However, there’s enough visual flair to the combat to make it mildly entertaining, and the slice-of-life story is enough to keep you invested and playing. But this is where Lost Planet 3 begins to lose faith in itself. The story soon morphs into a variation of Avatar, while the gameplay tries to evoke Dead Space 3, and neither effort is successful.


Peyton eventually discovers a colony of “natives” who are actually decedents of a previously abandoned mining operation. They don’t trust your superior officers, the NEVEC Corporation, and so the game quickly establishes NEVEC as the evil corporation that’s evil because they’re evil. Also, the environmental themes of this Avatar story fall flat when you consider you’re on a godforsaken ice hell of a wasteland. This planet sucks. Who in their right mind would want to protect it, especially at the cost of earth?


These survivors feel out of place in Lost Planet 3. A small example: They don’t use contractions when they talk, saying “I will” and “it is” all the time, as if to emphasize their “otherness” and “nativeness” even though that kind of language difference doesn’t make any sense in this story. They’re not a primitive people, they know how to speak English, but this kind of pro-environmental story requires the “natives” to be “other,” so that’s what they are. It’s blind mimicry with no consideration of context.


The gameplay also shifts its focus from fighting giant monsters to navigating the old abandoned drilling colony. It’s dark in this place, lights flicker, gas valves burst, little aliens scurry along the walls, but it’s never scary. The atmosphere is missing that sense of danger necessary to evoke fear. After all, I just killed a two-story alien ice crab. What do I have to be scared of?


These sections of the game drag. Not just because they’re not scary but because the game sends you off to complete too many meandering objectives with not enough variety to justify these “side quests.” Go push that button, push this button, flip that switch, this switch, and nothing exciting ever happens. You just open another door to push another button. You’re just going through the motions of play until you can get back to the more interesting story.


Sadly, as the game goes along, the Abandoned Colony storyline takes over the Slice-of-Sci-Fi-Life storyline. By the time the third act rolls around and the action heroics start in full force, Lost Planet 3 loses any semblance of its one unique element.


Lost Planet 3 tries to marry Avatar with The Perfect Storm, and it just doesn’t work. Those two types of stories are in direct conflict with each other. One is a story about man protecting nature. The other is a story about man fighting nature. The latter is more interesting since it presents conflicts that you don’t often see in games and the lack of a villain is worth celebrating, but it doesn’t last. Throughout the game, your interest in the story constantly fights against your boredom encouraged by the gameplay. That struggle is worth it in the beginning when the story feels unique, but eventually it’s just not worth the trouble. Once you reach the climax, you won’t care about the ending one way or the other.

Rating:

Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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