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Lost Planet 3: bursting with character

Wednesday, 15th May 2013 07:59 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Lost Planet 3 isn’t the hum-drum shoot-a-thon you’re probably expecting, but one of the most character-filled sci fi stories the industry has produced in years.

Lost Planet 3

As the title suggests, Lost Planet 3 is the third game in the sci-fi shooter series, but it’s actually a prequel, with the events taking place before the original Lost Planet: Extreme Condition.

The first two games were built internally, but this one was developed by Spark Unlimited, the Californian studio behind Legendary, Call of Duty: Finest Hour, and the upcoming Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.

Players explore E.D.N. III, a snowy planet inhabited by an insect-like species called the Akrid. The planet is a rich source of “thermal energy”, and the collection of this forms a significant portion of protagonist Jim Peyton’s duties.

Due on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on August 27 in North American and August 30 in Europe.

One of my favourite things about being in games media is how many more titles I get a chance to try out that I might otherwise never have heard of. Of course, the downside is I sometimes have to get along to events and produce comprehensible coverage on subjects I have little knowledge and zero interest in, but first world problems, am I right?

That’s the attitude I took into a recent Lost Planet 3 preview session. “I cannot muster even one quarter of a sub-standard fuck about this game,” I text to a friend. “I thought I was sick, but I ran a diagnostic and it turns out I already have a surfeit of shitty generic third-person sci fi shooters. Who would have thought?”

I get quite sarcastic when people make me put on clothes during business hours.

Luckily for poor old Capcom, whose staff probably wouldn’t enjoy the full force of my vitriol, I really liked Lost Planet 3. Spark Unlimited has taken a middling shooter formula and layered it in the gift wrap of charisma +30, resulting in a game with the increasingly rare virtue of personality. The few hours I spent with the opening chapters presented me with more interesting, well-written characters than in the last half-dozen triple-A releases I’ve played; better banter than I’ve heard outside of a Marvel movie in the last six months; and an itch to get to the bottom of whatever the heck is going on on E.D.N. III.

Despite the snowy, slightly-creepy vibe, what Lost Planet 3 reminded me of most immediately is not Dead Space 3, which took rather cheeky inspiration from its rival, but the TV series Firefly. Although producer Andrew Szymanski didn’t confirm the inspiration, the jangly, acoustic guitar which punctuates the score lends a definite western feel to proceedings, and the well individualised characters and constant banter have a very Whedon-esque feel to them.

At first, the aesthetic of these characters threw me a bit; features are slightly exaggerated, but well-animated, so it ends up skirting the edge of the uncanny valley. After a few minutes I forgot about it and came to think of Jim Peyton’s nose as quite normal, giving me more mental space to concentrate on the dialogue.

I won’t attempt to reproduce the back-and-forth between Peyton and his new colleagues, but I will say it’s not overtly funny – just very well-paced and natural-feeling. It’s worlds away from the stilted nonsense most games produce. The voice acting is suburb – accents be damned – so that even small, incident encounters, like a tech greeting you in the hallway (“oh! A new person!”) feel somehow real. You want to talk to these people; your mini-map will guide you from A to B but there’s a real temptation to get lost in NEVEC’s sprawling base camp instead, chatting with the locals.

Of course, by sticking to your assigned path, you’ll meet the main cast, and these more fully-fleshed characters are naturally going to be more interesting. Peyton’s first encounter with his boss and the chief science officer at the camp has him walking in on a situation fairly crackling with unexplained tension, and even at this very early stage in the plot I was already pricking up my ears, wondering what was going on underneath the surface.

Developers often wank on about how they want the player’s journey and the protagonists’ to have synergy, so that in effect, the two of you make the same journey. Unlike every other instance of this claim I have ever encountered, Lost Planet 3 looks set to live up to it. Jim Peyton begins his journey interested only in acquiring credits, and if you’re anything like me, your first instinct is to do the same, unlocking new weapons and racking up cash on a satisfying orange display which tracks your lucrative actions.

As events unfold, our friend is drawn into the drama surrounding NEVEC on E.D.N. III, and in a similar way, I found myself drawn into the game’s worlds. I actually wanted to talk to NPCs and watch cinematics. Apart from BioShock Infinite, which definitely had its share of “oh shut up already” moments, I can’t think of another game in the last few years that hasn’t made me want to mash the skip button with almost every dialogue.

Peyton will spend about 40% of the game lumbering around in a thankfully not too slow rig, a kind of all-purpose engineering mech later tinkered into combat readiness. Here in the rig, he can receive video messages from his far-removed wife, whose photo is wedged up by the top of the windshield; these messages make the lonely treks adventures in human drama as the pair cope with their voluntary but unwanted long-distance separation. Payton, of course, cannot answer the one-way communications, so he, like the player, listens in silence. This symmetry is surprisingly poignant and a refreshing take on the good old audio log or video file system.

Mrs Peyton is also kind enough to send through a mixtape of her husband’s favourite music from home, which you can fire up in the rig; this adds to the atmosphere rather than detracting, as the warmth of the country tunes contrasts in the still rig interior contrasts with the silent, blisteringly cold exterior. When Peyton exits the rig, the sound trails after him a short distance, reminding you there’s something to come back to.

Another world, far from the shores we know; a hostile environment filled with riches; relatable people caught up in a tangled and rapidly collapsing situation. From what I saw, Lost Planet 3 offers a sense of place and time rarely equalled in video games. I’m greatly anticipating it.

We’ll have more coverage of Lost Planet 3, including an interview with producer Andrew Szymanski, over the next few weeks.

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14 Comments

  1. redwood

    Is this coming out for PC?

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Deepo

    “developed by Spark Unlimited, the Californian studio behind Legendary”

    I think I will wait for some reviews on this one.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. loki

    Crap Planet 3 no thx

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Malmer

    Game already had my interest as a simple relax and have fun game, but now it really has got my attention. Looking forward to this one now!

    #4 2 years ago
  5. BrutalZen

    Loved the first Lost Planet and totally did not like the second game in the series. But I am very looking forward to this one. Just hope it lives up to my expectations…

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Edo

    @1 Indeed it is.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. RandomTiger

    OK, this is on my radar now.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. zinc

    I liked the look of the first few vids for this & it’s nice to hear it gave Brenna a good 1st impression.

    Maybe you can polish a turd?

    #8 2 years ago
  9. polygem

    i absolutely sign what #5 said. i truly loved the first one and was very very disappointed with lp 2. i had the highest expectations for that game. i tried not to step into the same trap again so i have actually written off lp3 already tbh – that´s how disappointed i was with lp2. this article sounds like there´s still hope. it would be so great because this franchise has a huge potential for sure. i love the setting. shooting the akrids while they´re bursting with orange thermal energy is just lots of fun…i haven´t seen grappling hook gameplay for lp 3 yet – must admit i haven´t looked into it that much yet though tbh. i want a good post grab online mode so bad, combined with the good ol´ grappling hook and snow settings. that mode was awesome. one of the best mp experiences this gen, at least in my book. lp1 was an underrated game.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. redwood

    @6 thanks man.. will get it on my pc..PS3 time is really limited these days :( but i can still manage some hours of gaming on my pc

    #10 2 years ago
  11. redwood

    you know judging from the article, either the opening chapters are really good.. or brenna has been really playing crappy games for faar too long :D good article btw brenna

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Digital Bamboo

    An unexpected new blip on my radar. Hints of Firefly intriguing. Well-rounded piece.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. YoungZer0

    Okay, now I’m really interested.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. YoungZer0

    Brenna, have you played Starhawk? Another game that I’d consider to be a sci-fi western, but more so because it actually also influenced the art-direction as well.

    btw. if it was your intention to make us all interested in the game, then I’d say you succeeded. So good article.

    #14 2 years ago

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