Posted on August 27, 2013 AT 09:00am
They come. Fight. They destroy. They corrupt.
Review games for long enough, and you’ll start to see certain patterns crop up. The fantastic game that blew you away because you went in with few expectations. The title so horrible that you can take childlike glee in running through all of its faults. The hidden gem that you can’t help but love despite its many flaws.
And then, you also have games like Lost Planet 3—games that you really wish you could give a higher score to, but you can’t.
I really wanted to love Lost Planet 3. No, sorry, that’s actually a lie. At first, I didn’t want to love it. Being a fan of the first two Lost Planet titles, so many red flags went off over what Capcom and Spark were attempting in this return to E.D.N. III. Characters and cutscenes that seemed out of a Hollywood blockbuster? The neutering of the grappling hook so that it can only be used in key locations? A multiplayer mode that feels far too third-person-shooter conventional compared to the Lost Planet 2 competitive mode that I adored?
I wasn’t happy about where I saw Lost Planet 3 taking the franchise, but I also wanted to give the game a legitimate shot to prove me wrong. No matter what some on the Internet might say, most game developers don’t set out to intentionally make a game that’s terrible. So, even if I might disagree with the direction being taken here, that didn’t mean it couldn’t still be an enjoyable experience.
Having already played the first half hour or so of the game at a press event, I was already familiar with protagonist Jim Peyton and his introduction to the once-again icy wasteland of E.D.N. III. (Lost Planet 3 serves as a prequel to the original game, returning us to the world as it was before Lost Planet 2’s epic thaw.) Still, going through it again didn’t feel any less strange. Even from the very start, Jim’s story comes off as far more serious and grounded than anything we’ve seen in the series before. Our bearded leading man has taken a trip to this harsh wasteland to make a living mining for thermal energy, and for most of the game, his motivation is little more than trying to earn credits to send back home to his wife and newborn son. The people around Jim are like him—normal human beings—each with their own merits and faults.
It’s here where Lost Planet 3 completely blew me away. Lost Planet 2 was “guys in masks” shooting at “other guys in masks” when not busy trying to take down the menacing insect-like Akrid of E.D.N. III, and it conditioned me to care little about the motivation of the men behind those masks. Here, a story of humanity is told—and Lost Planet 3 tells that tale so masterfully compared to the heavy-handed narratives many other games attempt to force down our throats.
Characters don’t do things just because the plot needs to be moved along or a twist would be exciting at that moment, and when they do have something to say or they do something for (or against) Jim, there’s reason and purpose behind their actions. Jim himself is especially likable, not because he’s supposed to be in order to make you care about the story, but because he simply is. At quieter moments, Jim stops to watch a recorded message sent from Earth by his wife, or to record one to send back to her in return. It’s one of the more touching, well-crafted romantic relationships I’ve seen in gaming in a while—and, thankfully, it’s one that Lost Planet 3 never betrays.
I wanted to love Lost Planet 3 because it did such a fantastic job of presenting me with characters that were believable, that I cared about, and that I wanted to know the fate of. And yet, I couldn’t, because the game that exists to support the storytelling side doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
What’s even more frustrating is that Lost Planet 3’s gameplay isn’t bad. If it were bad, I could take delight from a feeling of schadenfreude at how I was right and Capcom was wrong in going in this direction. If the game had been a boring, unplayable mess, I could have forgotten it existed and moved on to bigger and better things.
Instead, Lost Planet 3—as a game, separated from narrative or characters—is just so totally average. Never do you feel like Spark isn’t competent enough to make a solid third-person shooter, but you also never feel that certain spark (pardon the pun) needed to really light the fires of excitement. Lost Planet 3’s weapons are fun and its controls are solid, but then it’ll throw you into another situation where you’re facing wave after wave of the same enemy, and you wish it could just know when to stop. The landscape of E.D.N. III and its forgotten relics offer the promise of a strange alien world to investigate, but the locations themselves aren’t engrossing enough to provide thrilling exploration.
Comparisons to other games can often be dangerous, but I couldn’t help think back to my time with the original Dead Space. In its more action-y moments, the Necromorphs were varied, threatening, and terrifying. During its quieter moments, the game’s setting—the abandoned spacecraft Ishimura—was so well crafted that just entering every room to see what you’d find next was thrilling in its own right.
Lost Planet 3 could have been something really special if it had had that great balance like Dead Space did, and what really stings is that it has a number of qualities that could have raised it to the level of EA’s offering. One of the most compelling elements that Capcom and Spark include here is the umbilical link, where Jim’s mapping unit, HUD, and healing factor are all dependent on how close he is to his giant robotic rig. Stay in its close proximity, and Jim has a variety of support options available to him; stray too far away, and Jim’s pretty much cut off from the rest of the world.
This element is absolutely fascinating—and it’s also grossly underutilized. Being in or out of range just happens to be something you do while progressing through the storyline, and it’s never really used to properly heighten the drama. On a snow-covered planet where survival isn’t easy and violent storms can break out at a moment’s notice, there were so many options that could have pushed Jim to a point of desperation due to his being out of range of his rig. It felt, to me, like Spark had come up with a really fantastic idea, and then simply didn’t know what to do with it.
That, in a nutshell, is Lost Planet 3. Everywhere you look in its world, you can see the beginning signs of brilliance, a brilliance that—like the game’s thermal energy—remains woefully untapped. As the story builds and the characters are brought to life through some excellent writing and superb voice acting, you wish, more and more, that the gameplay would finally kick into gear like you expect. Like it does, in most other games, once you reach a pivotal point in your journey.
Unfortunately, it never does.
I don’t, for a moment, regret playing through Lost Planet 3, because I took away from it some great memories and experiences that I’m glad to have had. I just wish that, after the credits rolled, I could have come here to tell you how wonderful the game was and how you should all give it a try. I cannot say such things without caveats—and that’s something I’m really saddened by. As a single-player experience, Lost Planet 3 weaves a fantastic tale that’s broken up by gameplay that swings back and forth between daring and dull. As a multiplayer experience, so much of the craziness, chaos, and charm that I loved from Lost Planet 2 has been brushed aside for a competitive mode that feels too similar to so many other offerings.
There’s genuine goodness to be found in the hills of Lost Planet 3—if only mining it out didn’t take so much effort.
|Developer: Spark Unlimited • Publisher: Capcom • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.27.2013|
Spark Unlimited’s attempt to revitalize Capcom’s Lost Planet franchise holds some legitimate moments of brilliance, and the game shines when it comes to character development and storytelling. Unfortunately, Lost Planet 3 then ends up sabotaging itself with gameplay so dull or tedious at times that it can’t begin to support the weight of its ambitions.
|The Good||A level of craft when it comes to characters, storytelling, and atmosphere that, in some spots, shames many other games.|
|The Bad||The ideas Spark had for LP3’s gameplay never come together, resulting in a game that isn’t what it could have been.|
|The Ugly||How tedious some of your encounters with the Akrid end up feeling.|
|Lost Planet 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|
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