In a strange coincidence, prior to playing Lifeless Planet, I had just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Upon completing the novel, I was intrigued by the possibility of a video game exploring similar themes, most notably, how to survive on a harsh and uninhabitable planet. While I knew that Stage 2 Studios’ effort wasn’t going to be an exact replication, I was still interested in a game that takes you to space, but doesn’t center on killing the first alien you set your sights on.
You are thrown right into the adventure right away in Lifeless Planet, as the start of the game has your scientist waking up on the surface of an unnamed planet. Dazed from the crash, and separated from your crew, you must not only find a way to survive, but also try to find out what happened to your team. While I’m not going to entirely spoil the plot, let’s just say that lifeless isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe this world.
Above anything else, the story of Lifeless Planet is the main reason for undertaking this trip. It is a uniquely sci-fi tale for the world of gaming, one that focuses more on introspection and exploration rather than mass murder and chaos. The writing can be a little cringe-worthy at times, sure, but I’ll take that over another generic sci-fi adventure any day.
While I usually get mad at games that dump walls of text at you in lieu of actual storytelling, I did enjoy coming across the various journals left behind on the planet. These brief snippets not only help push the main narrative forward, but they also provide smaller, more personable details that are much appreciated.
With the team at Stage 2 Studios purposefully focusing on the narrative, it would make sense that it is the strongest feature here. Unfortunately, this means that they apparently neglected the actual gameplay portion, as it is decidedly lacking.
As an open-world platformer, at the very least, I would expect some of the basic fundamentals to be in place. And while things aren’t overly complicated, as you basically only jump, push and carry, the sloppy mechanics here are a real nuisance. Too many times I would try to land a simple jump, only for my spaceman to slowly float over the platform I needed to land on. Sometimes I would fall off a cliff, and sometimes I wouldn’t, but I was always annoyed regardless. Pushing rocks and other objects feels just as clumsy, as my character could move them in the right direction, but sometimes they would just go sputtering off to wherever regardless.
Even describing Lifeless Planet as open-world feels like a stretch. It is indeed open-world, but only in the sense that you can walk around freely. The problem is, you’re not really going to find anything outside of the basic path the developer wants you to follow. You’ll occasionally stumble across some optional plant samples, but they have no bearing on the outcome of the game. Seeking them out is not worth roaming through the mostly dull landscape of this planet.
During your adventure, you will also come across the occasional puzzle. However, instead of these puzzles providing any sort of challenge, they are some of the simplest “riddles” I have solved in recent memory. Most of the time they boil down to this: Pick up a space rock and then put said rock into a mysterious space hole. Hope you didn’t strain yourself too hard coming up with that brain teaser, guys. Their only purpose seems to add more time to the length of the game and even then, it will take most people only a few hours to beat the campaign. Unless, of course, you come across some of the nasty bugs that I ran into.
On two separate occasions, I found large chunks of my time spent with Lifeless Planet being undone by bugs. The first instance occurred after powering down my Xbox One for a day or so, only to come back to a game that somehow forgot to save my progress. And since you can’t save the game yourself, you have to rely on the built-in autosave system. Annoying, but okay, I can move on from that.
However, another game breaking bug occurred near the end, as I accidentally dropped a space rock I needed into the wrong location. Instead of allowing me to pick up the rock and move it again, the space mineral fell through the planet. And again, since the game autosaves, I couldn’t load up a previous save. I was screwed, unless I wanted to start all over again. These weren’t the only two glitches I came across, either, as clipping through environments falling through the planet also occurred.
As mentioned before, the lackluster look of Lifeless Planet does little to inspire you to carry on exploring. To be fair, a few of the areas are great at either setting an eerie mood or inspiring awe, but for the most part, you are stuck walking around and looking at different shades of brown. Brown mountains, brown buildings, brown rocks, brown everything. With nothing worth taking the time to look at, there’s little reason to get out there and explore.
While the visuals may be lacking, I was a bit more impressed by the score and voice acting. The suspenseful, but scarce, music helps set a tense mood on the mysterious planet, and the added voice work, which is one of the bonuses of the Premier Edition of the game on the Xbox, helps give life to the assorted journals you come across.
The potential was certainly there for Lifeless Planet to be a breath of fresh air in the world of sci-fi gaming, as its story of exploration and discovery is rare, but that’s about the only noteworthy thing here. The clumsy controls somehow make simple actions annoying, while the game breaking glitches and dull graphics make the experience mostly unpleasant. Originality can only get you so far, and with little else going for it, there’s little reason to make this journey.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided for us.
The intriguing world of Lifeless Planet can't quite make up for the shoddy gameplay and frustrating glitches that accompany it.