Lost Planet 3 [Preview] – Looks a lot like a reboot
Lost Planet is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. The first game was a fairly pedestrian third-person shooter, featuring a lot of snow, a lot of bullets and a lot of aliens. The second game was similar in many ways, but its shoehorning of multiplayer into every one of the game’s modes changed the feel and makeup of the game dramatically. It was a change that pleased and angered the series’ fan base in equal measure.
However, based on what we’ve seen so far, Lost Planet 3 is by far the biggest overhaul the franchise has seen to date. Developed outside of Japan for the first time, by California-based Spark Unlimited, our single-level demo is as much survival horror as it is action-shooter, where overtones of Dead Space, Resident Evil 5 and the Alien movies are easily detectable.
The demo is not what I expected, but the potential the new setup represents is clear.
You play as the inventively named Jim, a miner working for the Neo-Venus Construction company (NEVEC) whose job it is to locate and extract valuable materials from planet E.D.N III. Those minerals are then sent to Earth, where Jim’s wife and young kid are waiting for him. The strain of being away from his family is likely to be a recurring theme in Jim’s story, with more than one cut-scene in our 30 minutes with the game focused on the long-distance relationship.
Things start in a NEVEC base, a series of cavernous hangars connected by a web of tight, low-ceilinged tunnels lined with solid ice. It’s here that you learn about the difficulties the company has been having in finding safe areas to prospect for minerals and finding crew members willing to risk their lives in the process. We’re told that the base will act as a ‘hub’ area for the whole game, with you returning regularly to deploy new equipment and, presumably, advance the story.
After an introduction to a number of characters that will likely play a considerable role in the narrative – including Jim’s Earth-based wife, a stressed NEVEC manager, Jim’s probable rival and an overzealous engineer – it’s time to strap into your Rig, leave the safety of the base and enter the hostile environment of E.D.N. III.
Lost Planet 3 is a prequel to the first game, and that’s represented by the planet and the technology. The world itself is in the grips of a full-blown ice age; the view is one dominated by sharp, perilous peeks of ice, wisps of cold-dry clouds and the orange glow on the horizon of a distant sun. It looks stark, dangerous and uninviting. The kind of place you’d call beautiful but wouldn’t want to holiday.
Jim’s Rig is an ancestor of the fancy VS mechs seen in previous Lost Planets. It’s bigger, slower, clumsier and armed only with mining apparatus – one arm a claw and the other a drill. Within the Rig you’re locked into a first-person viewpoint, creating a sense of claustrophobia thanks to the restricted viewpoint and the fact that the camera can only pan at the same speed as the mech can turn.
Shortly after leaving the NEVEC base an ice storm hits, freezes the knee and elbow joints on our Rig and forces us to venture outside and clear it up. While shooting the ice away we’re attacked by a small group of E.D.N III’s indigenious Akrid, we thin them out with the assault rifle but are pinned down by a straggler. Removing yourself from the Akrid’s grid is a case of moving a reticule over its head and shooting it in the face within a time limit, a mechanic likely to feature prominently.
Akrid face ruined, we hop back in the Rig and head off to the mining site.
The site is a large cave with a small entrance, meaning we need to leave the Rig and the safety it offers behind. Within the cave things are much closer to what I expected from a Lost Planet 3 demo, involving a battle with a giant crab harbouring glowing weak spots on its body. Beating it is a case of dislodging the pack ice from its back with your gun from afar before unloading lead into the soft shell underneath, all the while sprinting and diving to avoid its charge attacks.
Despite failing on the first attempt, crab boss doesn’t pose much of a threat and feels very much like a small taster of what’s to come. It moves fairly slowly, has no means of attacking from range and cannot withstand all that much damage. Including our death, it took about 10 minutes to defeat.
After melting the ice in the cave with a fancy piece of thermal tech, a long-buried outpost is discovered. This is where things start to feel very Dead Space.
The place is a network of narrow passageways, punctuated by light streaming in through cracks in walls, emergency lights blinking, shadows flickering and a mazy layout that means you can never see quite as far ahead as you would like. Accompanying that is an emergency audio recording warning of an infestation in the base, an element made all the more mysterious considering the place looks to have been deserted for a considerable time.
It’s an incredibly slick setup that feels nothing like Lost Planet of old and every bit the survival horror title it looks set to become. The tension and fear is ramped up another level by the fact that you’re completely alone, without a radar, without a HUD and without any radio contact.
After a few minutes of exploring, a group of very small Akrid attack us in a sizeable pack. Individually they present no real danger, but in a group they’re a threat. In true survival horror style, it’s your limitations that provide much of the tension and fear. Outside your movement and attacking options feel robust, but within the confines of a hallway you can’t spin and shoot quite fast enough.
It seems as though success in such environments will rely more on how careful and prepared you are, as opposed to simply your mastery over the control pad. After killing the Akrid we mess around with a still-running generator and run into another giant crab, and then the demo ends.
What we played was very rigid in its structure, with on-screen markers telling you where to go when inside your Rig and constant hints as to what to do next. However, this is a section from the very earliest moments of the game and Capcom promised us that open-world sections (as well as Rig upgrades and side-missions) play a massive part in the experience.
As was said at the start, Lost Planet is a series that has struggled to define an audience and identity for itself (especially in the west). By changing the formula again, Lost Planet 3 is probably not going to make the situation any clearer, but if it can reach the potential it clearly has then it will at least define a future for itself.