E3 2012: Lost Planet 3 Hands On
Developer: Spark Unlimited / Publisher: Capcom / Release Date: 2013 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
Nothing proves that series titles are meaningless as much as Lost Planet 3. The series to this point has only the barest of continuity; robots, guns, and third-person action are about the only consistent elements between the series’ campaign-focused debut and multiplayer, grind-heavy sequel. Now we’re hitting the series for the third time, and not only is the vibe completely different, but it’s also completely awesome.
Differences are understandable — this game is being developed by Spark Unlimted instead of Capcom. Their legacy does not speak volumes for Lost Planet 3′s potential… Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary have been filed away in the “cool idea but my god why would you ever play it” cabinet. That only makes the immediate charm of the game’s debut trailer and excellent first impression even more confusing.
The game introduces the main character, Jim, and establishes pathos with Pixar-level precision. Jim is a blue-collar miner, following the interstellar gold rush to the planet of E.D.N. III with the single goal of providing for his wife and new child. Astoundingly natural voice acting immediately establish Jim as an easygoing, hardworking man. You want to have a beer with him before he’s finished the his sentence, which makes him a prime target for all manner of alien horrors. Sure, it’s not the most original of setups, but any story’s success is in the details, and that’s where Lost Planet 3 really works.
The game opens with Jim embarking on a routine mining run, with the necessary portents of tragedy sprinkled in dialogue between him and the rest of the equally charming cast. This is when Lost Planet 3 sucks you in — walking around the icy hallways of the mining post conjures fond memories of Hoth, while little details here and there like spraying your mech down with de-icing fluid before venturing outside make the world pop in a resolution I never expected.
My first step on the surface of E.D.N. III was one of those “Vault” moments. Sharp spires of ice criss-cross the horizon while an electrical storm pulses in a faraway valley. The ever-present thermostat in the mining rig reads a stead -5 degrees, and I immediately know this is a planet that can’t wait to kill me. After taking a few steps into an ice cave, a pre-recorded video message starts to play from my faraway wife. She opens with a joke, then tells me she misses me and can’t wait to see me again.
And thus I am completely hooked.
Of course, nothing I’ve said so far implies there’s any game here, so let me remedy that. The gameplay is where Lost Planet 3 earns its moniker. On foot, you shoot crazy insectoid aliens in third person, and they again hemorrhage thermal energy (T-ENG) when dying. That doesn’t apply to you though; while you constantly bled T-ENG while outside in the original Lost Planet, they must’ve had thicker jackets in the past because that mechanic is no longer present. Additionally, Jim is far more spry than Lost Planet’s Wayne. The plodding, slow animation associated with the series has been replaced with speedier, more Western controls. On foot action reminds me of Red Faction: Armageddon, which I intend as a compliment.
Mechanized combat is massively different, however. In previous Lost Planets, the mechs felt more like toys than hulking robots. Hopping in one felt like jumping in the squishy vehicles of Metal Slug. Piloting mechs in Lost Planet 3 is done in first-person, which makes you feel more like you’re sitting in one of those mechanical loaders from James Cameron’s “Aliens” than a bouncy anime car. That makes all the difference in combat too. It’s one thing to slap a bug with a metal arm from third person, and quite another to grab it in one hand and drill the bejeesus out of it with the other from first person.
Games nowadays tend to make a dangerous tradeoff — you can either have a great world or a fun game, but rarely both at the same time. From what I played, Lost Planet 3 has both, and believe me I had no idea that I’d be writing that two weeks ago. The whole blue-collar-roughnecks-in-space-fighting-aliens has a very “The Thing” vibe. That same feeling is also echoed by Dead Space, a comparison that is hard to avoid when Jim’s UI pops up with Scaleform-style angled holograms. Being compared to a classic like Dead Space is no insult though, and it’s ridiculously exciting to think we might have another unexpected hit in our hands.
Lost Planet 3 is due for release sometime in 2013 for the 360, PS3, and PC, and I’ll be waiting on day one to jump right in.