There are times when it’s hard not to feel as though Capcom possesses both an endearing carelessness and a somewhat sadistic sense of humor when it comes to handling its own IP. Take the most recent news regarding its beloved cult action hero Viewtiful Joe. Interpretation #1: Joe’s back! Capcom was cool enough to let an indie developer use him in their 2D brawler! Interpretation #2: Wait, Capcom hasn’t completely forgotten about Joe? They neglected to acknowledge his existence for years, and have now green-lit him appearing in a 99¢ phone game? Why does he sound totally dweebie when he says “Henshin a go-go” now? This is just one example, but it’s a phenomenon that permeates many of their properties, be it Mega Man, Resident Evil, or yes, even Lost Planet.
Lost Planet 3 finds itself in a similar sort of pseudo-perverse situation. After a relatively disappointing second game, Capcom opted to hand the series over to new hands, perhaps for a fresh perspective, perhaps for an excuse to lower the budget, or perhaps because who knows why. And once again, the decision results in nothing but painful cognitive dissonance for series fans. “Wow, maybe a fresh take from a new developer is just what Lost Planet needs! But wow, it’s being given to Spark Unlimited, developer of Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary.” It’s like a stab to the gut, followed by a dose of elating analgesics, followed by another twist of the dagger. Rinse, repeat.
In line with Capcom’s aforementioned induction cycle of mental cruciation, Lost Planet 3 is both the best thing Spark has ever done and a game that is very, very far from flawless. A prequel to the previous entries, Lost Planet 3 puts the player in control of Jim Peyton, a Joe the Plumber colonist looking for work on the quickly developing planet E.D.N. III. Lost Planet vets will immediately recognize the locale, and despite its iced-over look, the corruption and turmoil the planet will eventually undergo is difficult to forget. Of course, Jim is just trying to make some cash to help out his wife and kids, and has no reason to believe working for the Neo-Venus Construction company will have negative repercussions. As the story progresses, though, you start getting that all-too-familiar sinking feeling, and Jim begins to uncover the more sinister nature of what NEVEC has in store. It’s not essential, but playing the previous games definitely adds to the narrative fun in this regard.
As mentioned, the game’s handling by Spark has both its positives and its drawbacks, but I was happy to find the number of good things going on here to be surprisingly high. Despite being clearly less flashy and blockbuster-y than the previous games, LP3 feels very much like a labor of love from the underdog studio. This is most apparent with the game’s characters and story. Despite seeming somewhat Nicolas Cage-y at first, Jim Peyton is actually very likable. The world he traverses is populated with other similarly lively characters, and though many of them can be somewhat one-dimensional, the game is upfront about it. No tricks here, just honest, straightforward characterization, and it works. Its somewhat by-the-book flavor is not a problem because the game never reaches for things it can’t grasp in the story department. Be it Jim himself, NEVEC higher-ups, or a goofy intern who soups up Jim’s mech without his permission, these characters are just real enough to be compelling and silly enough to not be taken too seriously. This isn’t BioShock Infinite, and the fact that Lost Planet 3 doesn’t try to be is exactly why its narrative succeeds.
Unfortunately, with gameplay and presentation there is a fair amount of overreaching going on, and the result is that some of it falls flat. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – underreaching proves to be just as much of a problem too. For whatever reason, the series seems to have decided it ought to take a bunch of cues from games like Dead Space and Metroid Prime. Whether this was mandated by Capcom I have no idea, but the results tend to just feel like knock-offs of those experiences.
Early in the game, for example, I found myself braving a harsh storm, looking for a component of my heavily damaged and recently crashed vessel. It was actually pretty spooky, and as I wandered through the dark passage of a cave I had just entered, I actually began to feel fully immersed – scared, alone, gripping my weapon with white knuckles as I frantically tried to keep an eye open in all directions – it’s was exactly what you want in a game like this. As if on cue, a dreadful plant-like creature fired itself out from a bulbous opening in the wall, and I jumped back in surprise. Before I could really react or shoot, though, it happened again. And again. And… again. A wall filled with repeating animated scare-loops, straight out of Dead Space For Dummies. Frustrated, I pushed the analog stick forward, once again a gamer holding a controller.
The above is just one example, and an early one at that, but similar disappointments permeate Lost Planet 3. I know the series has never been open world, but what’s with all the invisible walls? Linearity is often the name of the game, and though sometimes player boundaries are understandable, it’s hard to grasp why such strict invisible borders need to be implemented every-which-place. Can’t I just jump off that dark cave precipice and die, respawning where I started, instead of being blocked by an invisible barrier? It may seem like a small quip, but games like Uncharted manage to be extremely linear without ever feeling so, and I don’t see why LP3 can’t take similar cues.
I haven’t talked about LP3 as a shooter much, and its mainly because there’s not a whole lot to say. The third-person shooter aspect of the game strikes me as, for the most part, inoffensive. Surprisingly, it’s actually much less intensive than Lost Planet 2, especially when it comes to boss fights. You’ll never find yourself slammed against a wall, covered in swarming Akrid and unable to move as your character spasms in a glitchy blaze of glory like you did in that game, and I suppose that’s probably a plus overall. That said, simply removing those types of encounters entirely is an unfortunate way to fix the problem. LP3 is pretty much point and shoot, and though seeing Akrid explode in fireworks of orangey goop is still entertaining, it gets old without gimmicks and crazy bosses to spice things up.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Lost Planet without mechs, and mechs are most certainly present in this rendition, but with a twist. Since things haven’t really gone to hell on E.D.N. III yet, the rigs manned by Jim and his NEVEC cohorts are designed and specced out for mining, not militarization. You still get to fight, you’ll just be slaughtering Akrid with a massive mining drill instead. Overall the mech-gameplay is fun as always, and the fact that you can get park your rig back at homebase and get out whenever you like is a nice addition. The missions are even repeatable, in case you need to stock up on resources for whatever reason.
There is one last thing that needs mentioning, and it’s one that I’m not sure I fully understand. It’s the visuals. Though not an ugly game, Lost Planet 3 is far from the nicest thing I’ve seen on PS3. Muddy textures are commonplace, and though some character models look decent and faces are impressively emotive, the visuals overall tend to look kind of drab. As mentioned, there are some nice Metroid Prime-style frills and details in the environments, which are much appreciated. Good on Spark for trying to go the extra mile there. Unfortunately, it’s hard for them to standout amongst general grayness and an overall uninspired art style, and when you see a wandering NEVEC worker literally floating in the air next to the bed that he’s supposed to be sleeping on, you have to wonder whether the game should have focused on a better foundation before getting too detail-oriented.
All in all, Lost Planet 3 is probably worth your time if you’re a fan of the series, and is a valiant effort on the part of Spark Unlimited considering their track record and presumably limited budget. Though not stellar, the story is likable and a large part of why I’d recommend the game to anyone looking for a fun distraction or some interesting fiction to meander through. If you’re torn between spending your hard earned cash on this or saving up for the holidays, though, it’s unfortunately a very tough sell. It may have been a labor of love, but when Capcom asks the shop intern to build the entire mech, sometimes love just isn’t enough.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.