Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Lost Planet 3

Post-Launch Review
Lost Planet 3 (PC)
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Released: August 2013
Played: story and most extras complete in 14h:42min


Jim Peyton has come to E.D.N. III, an ice world covered in hostile bug aliens known as akrid, to work as a contractor and send that huge danger pay back home to his family. But as Jim settles in on the remote world, he stumbles across some huge secrets that will determine the future of the planet, and he'll have to decide where his loyalties lie.

At Launch

Lost Planet 3 received mixed reviews, with scores averaging to 60%. The story was mostly praised, though the gameplay was widely considered mediocre. Most reviews concluded that while it had some strong elements, it was overall average or forgettable.

Post Launch

A few updates were released to fix bugs.
Three map packs were released for multiplayer, adding two maps each.
Four weapon packs were released, adding multiplayer weapons and single player rig upgrades.
Finally, a free high-res cutscene pack was released for PC.

Lost Planet 2 was one of my first reviews. I loved how LP2 did justice to colossal boss battles and made everything feel epic - so I was very excited when Lost Planet 3 was announced. And now I finally got around to playing it!

Before I get into any review stuff, there were a few problems in my way before properly starting the game, even after a bunch of bug fixes. Some players - including me - encounter a crash on startup when playing the PC version. Fortunately it's a very easy fix

There are also some problems with the controls. For some reason, "pick up item" is actually three bindings - one each for item, weapon, and ammo. By default they're all bound to the same key: P. But that sucks, so I wanted to change it to Q. But you can't bind a key to one that's already bound, and you can't un-bind a key. And since pickup is three keys, you can't reassign all three of them to the same different key. Plus there are a couple of points in the game where the control prompt tells you the wrong thing ("rotate WASD" actually means "mash F") or doesn't tell you a key at all ("hold to plant thermal post" actually means "hold T to plant thermal post").

Anyway, let's get into the actual game.
The three Lost Planet games are pretty different from each other. The first, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, has some survival themes but also feels a lot like a mecha anime (especially towards the end). Lost Planet 2 , set ten years later, uses a non-traditional episodic story structure without any real characters, but does a great job of pulling off an epic feel. And Lost Planet 3 is a decades-earlier prequel to Extreme Condition, focusing on a working man perspective to set up the factions and technology of the other games. But those differences work pretty well, since the stories are structured differently.

As Jim Peyton you start out as a contractor doing engineering and mercenary work in one of the most hostile environments known, with the narrative framed by old Jim telling a younger woman his story. Lost Planet 3 starts out slow - for the first few chapters you're mostly learning the ropes and doing dirty jobs. I can appreciate a slow start, especially when it does a good job of setting up the story and characters (Braddock especially pays off later. Without spoiling much, I was happy to see that he's not just the evil corporate stooge you often see in this kind of sci fi). Sometimes the rig does feel too slow, and while the fast travel system you unlock later helps a bit, it's still a little clunky.

Despite that, you learn to appreciate your mining rig early. It's huge, chunky, and slow compared to the Vital Suits a few decades down the timeline, but it's strong and can take a beating. Fighting akrid both in and out of the suit is a neat experience, especially when you struggle to take down a boss on foot, dodging attacks and stealing moments to fire at its weak points, slowly working through limbs and armour... and later get to fight the same creature in your colossal mech suit and just rip arms off and smash the bug into the snow. I also appreciate the mentions of why there are no actual weapons despite the hostile giant bugs (because weaponizing them makes it a military operation, not civilian).
Fighting a crab monster on foot...
The really neat thing about the rig, though, is the umbilical field. Jim's suit uses a lot of power just to keep him warm, but if you're close enough to your rig, it beams additional energy to power your loadout and radar displays, as well as a healing boost. So even when you're not piloting the rig, it's still your lifeline - you're vulnerable when you get too far, as your healing drops off and you have less information about your gear and the environment. It's a great mechanic to get the player to feel as attached to the rig as Jim does.
...and in your rig.
That said, I was a little surprised to find the survival elements mostly eliminated. The cold's constant drain on your thermal energy, and the constant pressure to keep finding more, was a staple of the last two games in the series. Here in Lost Planet 3, it's just a currency. I would've loved to see it as both a currency AND a lifeline, adding some tension to the decision on when to spend and when to save, but as is the system makes the ice planet feel less hostile and frigid, which is a real disappointment considering how great the planet looks and sounds. 
There's a huge variety in the texture, shape, and colour of ice, and different areas all manage to feel distinct. "Ice levels" in games are often pretty samey, but this entire game is ice levels and it works. The sound helps a lot too - the echoing groans and cracks of the shifting ice provide a great audio backdrop. On the other hand, there are some disappointments. For a game set entirely on a planet covered in ice and snow, there's a shocking lack of effort put into footprints, cracks, or other dynamic effects or disturbances by people, rigs, creatures, or weather.
Over-the-shoulder grenade launcher like a boss.
Lost Planet 3's story is not what I expected, but it turned out real solid. Jim's relationship with his wife is strong - every so often during area transitions you get a clip of their one-way video messages. There are intriguing secrets, and twists come from places and characters you don't expect, even though they make sense in hindsight. And I'm a fan of how it sets up the original game, with the origin of the harmonizer technology, a look at what came before the VS mechs, and quite a bit more about Gale (a young mechanic here, but the father of the player character in the original game).
I'm not 100% clear on where old Jim is in the series timeline, though - especially when the ending has his granddaughter dramatically state that she has a plan to save the planet from NEVEC. I thought that happened at the end of Lost Planet 2 - or did it not? Because I don't remember Jim's granddaughter in LP2, so I'm not sure what's being set up by the ending.

So, did I like Lost Planet 3? Yes, I sure did. The visuals of the frozen wastes of E.D.N. III are great, even if the graphics are a little lacking in other areas. Gameplay is solid, and I especially enjoyed the split and contrast between piloting the rig and exploring on foot. Surprisingly, I even liked doing the grunt work, getting another perspective of life on E.D.N. III. I definitely enjoyed Lost Planet 3 more than the metascore would suggest, even though it's missing a trademark feature of the series and the planet - that thermal energy survival element.

Recommendation: play it.

Oh yeah, DLC. Didn't touch any of it except the cutscene pack, but I never died in the rig even without the DLC upgrades, so I can't see any of them as being vital. Also never played multiplayer, but I expect it's probably dead.

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