The Lost Planet series has seen a storied and tumultuous development process since the original, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, was released way back in 2007. Extreme Condition came as a surprise hit, yet Lost Planet 2 stripped everything that made Extreme Condition unique and entertaining to create one of the most mediocre, uninspired “blockbusters” of the current generation. With Spark Unlimited taking over from Capcom and returning once more to subzero landscapes, it looked as though the Lost Planet series would see a resurgence. However, trading one type of mediocrity for another isn’t exactly a winning formula.
Lost Planet 3 begins rather ambitiously, throwing you right into some frosty action where an older gentlemen and what appears to be his granddaughter are being chased by some unknown faction. They are decked out in typical Lost Planet gear that allows them to endure the severe cold - thermal bodysuits powered by T-Energy, the life source of the creatures and arctic planet that the series takes place on, E.D.N III. After the morbid reality of the old man's injuries that he sustained in his escape sets in, he begins to tell his story to his granddaughter in order to clear his conscience of the sins he's committed while stationed on E.D.N III as a freelance mining contractor. Spark Unlimited provides an enrapturing beginning to LP3 that holds a lot of promise. They tell the story of how NEVEC, the construction conglomerate that becomes the antagonist in the previous two games, found E.D.N III and began mining T-Energy in order to solve the energy crisis occurring on earth. The story is narrated and seen through the eyes of the old man, Jim Peyton, as he first came to E.D.N III many years prior to his fateful accident.
Spark does a commendable job at meshing many of the staples of the series into this prequel, showing how the Snow Pirates came to be, the origins of the indigenous species, the Akrid, NEVEC's sinister plans and actions conducted as soon as they arrived on the planet, and even providing some fan service by introducing the parents of the first game's protagonist. Nothing feels like a stretch, and it's naturally intertwined with the game's overarching plot rather well. Yet, the plot itself is ridden with cliches and overused characters, like the crazy dude who sits in a hot tub with his snow hat on, rambling on about how sexy certain antarctic animals are. An attempt was made to give some life to the inhabitants of the E.D.N III, but besides a few exceptions, most of the characters are boring and their limited dialogue options are entirely forgettable. There are a couple of high points, especially concerning the creation of the Snow Pirates, the NEVEC conspiracy, and the tie in to the first game which takes place a number of decades later, but the rest is just mediocre and dull. There's definitely good groundwork laid, but it doesn't have a complete feeling to it, much like the rest of the game and its venture into a failed sandbox style.
Sandbox, at least according to Spark Unlimited, is a very loose term. Only 7 or 8 different areas that are relatively small exist, with even smaller confined areas as offshoots that make the game feel much more linear and less open and sandbox styled. While you can explore a bit, many invisible walls have been set up to stop you from trekking over a good portion of every map for no particular reason. Usually invisible walls are taken down later in a game for exploration, gameplay, and narrative purposes, but Lost Planet 3 keeps them nice and sturdy, and has you returning to the same areas time and time again instead. There is some freedom in how you get to go about missions when playing as Jim, and there are a bunch of side missions to tackle, but most of them have you scouring the same areas many times over once new upgrades are available, detracting from the sandbox endeavor and leaving a lingering, uninspired impression.
Even the core third person shooter gameplay, which sees some much needed tweaks and upgrades to the clunky movement of its predecessors, suffers from unoriginal mechanics with heavy use of predictable and mediocre wave-based combat. The increase in responsiveness of the controls will be a welcomed change to series veterans, but is standard fare and a little weak when compared to some higher caliber titles of the genre. The improvements are also diluted by the game's repetitiveness, which sullies the entire experience.
Appearing from crevices, caves, eggs, spawning mouths, the ground, behind walls, on top of mountains, around ridges, and seemingly out of absolutely nowhere are the local wildlife. Akrid will hound you at each and every turn in multiple and predictable waves. Akrids come in all shapes and sizes, with many resembling insects, arachnids and other arthropods, but the ones encountered during the parts on foot are limited and ones seen frequently later in the game are just frustratingly cheap. Waves come frequently and sporadically, and always include one or three too many. Towards the last half of the game, fights turn into gruelling cover-based sequences, yet cover is rather useless when certain Akrid like to swoop in to deliver massive melee damage and move at lightning speeds. Meanwhile, your punch is useless and slow. The enormous Akrid Jim fights while piloting his rig are much more enjoyable to fight, as the mech offers more unique and interesting fight sequences, however they too become repetitive and the fights predictable. The first half of the game, while everything still feels relatively fresh (for LP that is), is quite entertaining, and it's a shame the quality suffers in the second half due to a lack of gameplay progression or evolution.
As in all third person shooters of the generation, Jim has an arsenal of weapons in his armory, and is able to carry two of any combination of atypical weaponry: assault and pulse rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and an interesting take on a crossbow-like-rocket-launcher that's somewhat fun to use but not very useful. The grappling hook also makes a return, allowing for a bit more exploration and quick escapes, and also comes with a magnetized upgrade, but isn’t utilized much throughout the main game and is instead primarily a means to complete a bunch of fetch-and-return side missions. Jim will always have use of his pistol, which also serves another mildly interesting purpose. A couple of missions and sidequests will require you to tag Akrid with a special dart, giving you more information on whichever Akrid you decide to shoot. While it doesn't directly make you deal more damage to them, tagging more and more Akrid through side missions will grant access to special types of ammo which do massive damage and help with the really cheesy enemies later in the game, especially the shotgun ammo that allows for ricochets and the ever useful spray and pray. Weapons can be upgraded at shops as well, but only one piece per weapon. This feels tacked on more than anything else, as the currency, T-Energy, is very bountiful and upgrading every weapon, whether necessary or not, can be done fairly early on.
Besides atypical third person gameplay, you'll get to pilot Jim's rig for a large portion of the game in a first-person view. The rig is the pseudo predecessor to previous games' VS Suits, yet does not have the weaponry that a militarized mech would have. Rather, Jim’s rig is fashioned with mining equipment that doubles as his weapons, such as a giant claw and drill arms, a winch, a torch, and eventually an electrified shocking mechanism. Like Jim’s weapons, you can also upgrade the rig, which allows for many more options when compared to the artillery upgrades, allowing for increased armor, winch distance, and combo attacks, though due to an over abundance of T-Energy, it’s very possible to max out your mech way before the end of the game.
The rig works as the best means of transportation and fighting chance against the Akrid for Jim, as well as being used extensively to move the plot along, whether it be to mine deep under E.D.N III’s crust for T-Energy that unearths mighty secrets about the planet and NEVEC’s previous endeavors on it or bolting down the dilapidated station before an incoming massive storm. The Akrid encountered whilst in the rig come in a much larger and more interesting variety, where most fights require blocking and countering using the rig’s claw and drill to break open shells and rip off limbs. This still falls victim to countless repetition and eventual boredom, however, as giant Akrid will respawn almost every time you re-enter an area. The rig offers some more interesting missions as well, yet they rarely remain so. Even with the rig, most missions continue to break down into wave-based adventures, which is even more frustrating in these instances because the mech isn’t equipped with proper weaponry. While the rig serves a narrative purpose, the absence of multiple types of mechs is extremely noticeable, contributing to the overall blandness of the gameplay.
Multiplayer is just as overdone as the single player is, with mixes of typical game types that range from deathmatch to extraction, with two sides making up the multiplayer characters: Snow Pirates and NEVEC. The grappling hook is heavily used, with most combatants constantly zipping around looking for more strategic points and higher ground. Yet, the grappling hook is the only interesting part of multiplayer, especially since the mech can’t be used during multiplayer. The one decent aspect of the multiplayer is the leveling system, which is shaped like a sphere and gives a surprising amount of freedom and customization in terms of abilities, allowing you to mix and match between different classes instead of pigeon-holing you into a set tree. While customizing and leveling your character can be rather entertaining, the dull grind of the gameplay ruins the incentive to continue on to the upper ranks of the multiplayer sphere.
For all of the Lost Planet 3’s downfalls, the same can’t be said for the overall quality of the visuals and voice acting. E.D.N III is completely covered in ice and snow, and some of the landscapes are gorgeous, with a moderate use of lens flare that reflects off the icy terrain. Though the wide open spaces are impressive, some of the smaller, indoor areas, besides the two headquarters, aren’t on nearly the same level of detail. The cast of characters is relatively boring, but they have been animated well, though some are more aesthetically pleasing than others (Jim’s facial hair is just a majestic neckbeard to behold). The voice acting on the whole is generally good as well; the Canadian arms salesman is a particularly pleasant surprise and a bright spot among his boring crewmates.
It feels as though a foundation for a true sandbox styled Lost Planet was laid with great skill and bolstered by a decent array of design visions, yet the game's execution as a whole falls flat. Everything seems to be in the right place, from a decent narrative premise featuring a large population of characters, to the basic freedom of exploration, but it all feels so rushed; nothing comes together quite as it should, and every step of the way feels very limited. There is a decent length to the game, mainly due to its repetitiveness, so you’ll spend close to 20 hours with Jim and his rig, and much more if you want to complete all of the side missions, but unless you’re a die-hard Lost Planet fan there's really no need to visit E.D.N III even for a brief period of time.
This review is based on a retail copy of Lost Planet 3 for the X360