Nature Sucks in ‘Lost Planet 3’

[15 November 2013]

By Nick Dinicola

Lost Planet 3 wants to tell an Avatar-esque story and admirably dedicates itself to putting the player through a tricky emotional arc. The game wants us to change from “oil rig worker” to “environmental warrior,” and it wants that change to be genuine every step of the way. That means that we don’t play as an environmentally conscious driller in the beginning. Instead, we play as someone who just wants to make a buck. We start the game with no qualms about our destructive drilling, yet we must be willing to rebel against our friends by the end. If the believability of this arc isn’t achieved successful, the entire story falls apart.

That’s exactly what happens, but it happens in an interesting way that’s worth talking about. Essentially, Lost Planet 3 tries to swap its antagonists with the player’s allies halfway through its story. We start off fighting the planet and working for the NEVEC Corporation, only to end fighting NEVEC and working for the planet. What’s particularly tricky about this kind of story is that it necessitates a lot of discrepancies between “showing” and “telling”: We need to be told that the planet is a shitty place, yet we need to see it as something potentially worth saving. We need to be told that NEVEC is a good corporation, yet we need to see it as something sinister. These contradictions might seem like bad writing at first, but they must be established early in the story in order to properly set the stage for the twist.

This is where Lost Planet 3 falters. It doesn’t properly establish these contradictions.

The planet E.D.N III never feels like a planet worth fighting for. All our experiences on the surface are negative, We nearly freeze to death, we’re nearly killed by any number of vicious alien life, and the storms keep knocking out our equipment. This planet is clearly not a good place to live. Everyone is only here to drill for resources that can’t be gathered on earth. In fact, we learn that the “evil” NEVEC Corporation didn’t even want to fund this expedition initially. They had to be convinced. Not even the survivors who have lived here for 36 years actually want to be here. They were stranded on this planet, their current home was forced upon them, and they’re legitimately pissed about it. Everyone wants to leave. The only real difference between the survivors and NEVEC is that the survivors want to leave the planet intact while NEVEC wants to leave it stripped bare.

Over the course of the game, we’re told and shown by multiple parties on both sides of the debate that E.D.N III sucks. No one, not the protagonists or the antagonists, actually like the planet. It’s never presented as a likable place, and its dangers are never couched in beauty. When the source of the “purest” energy on E.D.N III is revealed to be a giant living creature, my first instinct is to kill it. When the survivors plead for its life, their pleas come across as forced: They plead because the plot requires it, not because they really care. As a result, the first half of the game plays out like an excellent “man vs. nature” story because it establishes E.D.N III as a worthy antagonist, but the eventual twist just seems like a joke.

Meanwhile, the portrayal of NEVEC has the opposite problem. E.D.N III is only portrayed as bad even when it should be portrayed as good, but the depiction of NEVEC swings back and forth so much it breaks the story.

We’re suspicious of our employer from the very beginning. Text logs speak of seeing odd figures in the snowy distance, and we’ve all seen Aliens enough times to know that giant corporations in sci-fi stories are never a good thing. When we meet the abandoned colonists and learn that they were stranded here by the very company we work for, we don’t feel betrayed because we never trusted NEVEC to begin with. The revelation just confirms our suspicions.

But then we find security footage from the discarded drilling facility, and we see that NEVEC didn’t actually order the colony to be abandoned. Instead, this massive misunderstanding stemmed from the actions of a single man who hijacked the entire escape ship to ensure the survival of his infant son. The colonists were abandoned, yes, but NEVEC is revealed to be blameless in the matter. It was the work of one man and one man with a sympathetic reason at that. Granted, NEVEC did cover up the whole thing, but the more important point is that the survivors’ distrust of NEVEC is unwarranted. They’re not really the bad guys. They’re a giant faceless corporation, but they’re a giant faceless corporation that’s more interested in money than mass murder.

But then they start killing people. The NEVEC military arrives and forcefully takes over the base, killing a major supporting character for reasons that are never explained. That killing is required by the plot. It’s meant to establish NEVEC as the villain even though that contradicts everything we’ve seen of them up to this point. After all, by this point we’re supposed to want to save E.D.N III, so who else are we supposed to fight? NEVEC is forced into this story as a new antagonist, even though the game doesn’t build to this reversal. It builds to the exact opposite of this reversal, but then ignores everything it has just established.

Lost Planet 3 tries to switch antagonists and allies halfway through its story, but it undercuts itself every step of the way. It tries to twist itself into a different story but only ends up hurting itself.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/176395-nature-sucks-in-lost-planet-3/