Purportedly more human, strategic, and—er, icy than the last game.
As I shuffled into the Lost Planet 3 private demo session, excerpts of icy artwork from the game lined the walls. Unlike Lost Planet 2’s grind-heavy gameplay set in lush, post-ice age jungle environments, in Lost Planet 3, it’s back to the icy wastelands of this dangerous celestial wonderland, fighting against the perils of a harsh environment and working to uncover the sinister secrets of a NEVEC organization which, as yet, has not revealed its true self-serving intentions.
Blue it is indeed. Better than brown?
You play Jim, a character with a remarkably down-to-Earth demeanor who contrasts heavily with the average FPS protagonist. Jim’s working for NEVEC running errands for the mining operations taking place there. The organization has been hard at work establishing various Thermal Energy stations to harvest the valuable stuff from its confines underneath the planet’s surface.
Jim, incidentally, is less concerned about the whims of his employers and is simply trying to make ends meet. From the opening movie, his video message left for his wife and son transparently explains his desire provide for them above all else. He’s cognizant of the suspicious circumstances surrounding their work on the planet and the likelihood that it harbors some unknown danger, but to him, it all adds up to hazard pay, and it’s a means toward an earlier retirement where he can start spending time with his loved ones and relinquish his work for good.
The development team has worked hard to make Jim a relatable protagonist, and from the early going, this appears to be successful, even though the conversations with his wife come off as a little bit forced. Nevertheless, it isn’t long before he’s grappling his way into his Rig Suit, a colossal slab of metal and armor which is designed completely around the task of surviving the unforgiving landscapes and frequent electrical storms of the surrounding area. Naturally, it isn’t but a few minutes on the snowy tundras before his armor is completely incapacitated by an uncommonly powerful storm. Stalled, Jim is forced to exit the armor and dispatch of some hostile Akrids (the franchise’s antagonistic alien species) before shooting the ice off his mech-like vehicle. And so begins the adventure into the depth of the planet.
This is part of the cave demo environment we witnessed behind closed doors.
The developer’s demo took place later on in the game. Jim’s objective (it’s all mission-based design) was to locate a particular thermal post in the level which had been overrun by alien lifeforms. He began in a cave whose walls were regularly adorned with sphincter-like “spawners” spewing enemies. The enemy type here was the familiar Akrid from the last game, though most every other enemy type in the actual demo at the show was new.
Jim was using a pistol which apparently has unlimited ammo, an obvious fallback weapon. More interesting was his considerably more useful Hunting Rifle, however, which is an heirloom that has been passed down in his family for generations.
Enemies still drop Thermal Energy in Lost Planet 3, but it’s no longer used to heat the character. There is no more “timer” as there was in the previous games where going for so long without it resulted in death. Instead, it’s now used as a resource used to purchase upgrades and other valuable things. In fact, one of the major sources of optional content in the game is the ability to survey the environment for abundant pockets of thermal energy, then install posts which will harvest that energy over time. The longer you leave the posts to do their work, the greater the payoff, but also the more significant the resistance and alien overgrowth which must be dealt with upon your return visit to collect the harvest. Other optional content includes voice logs from previous lost contractors which help flesh out the story if the player chooses to indulge.
Visually, what we saw looks great. The lighting effects as Jim traversed the cavern were pretty, and as the numerous alien egg sacs were fired upon, they splattered droplets of unidentifiable goo on the virtual camera lens. However, again, Lost Planet 3 is predicated on icy climates, so nearly everything, whether in the caves or outside in a snowstorm, is awash with a chilly bluish hue. I asked about this in an effort to coax some information about contrasting atmospheres and colors out of the developers, but the only answer I received was that the team feels like there will be a great deal of variety in spite of the icy foundations of the art style.
Monochromatic concerns aside, the game still knows beauty.
Something else of which the development team is quite proud is the dynamic weather system, which reportedly will sometimes honor scripted conditions, but that also can randomly affect the mood and difficulty of your journey. Such a system will help to mitigate any redundancy involved in retracing your steps through the environments, an activity which apparently will be occurring on a regular basis. Personally, I’m fine with backtracking when it’s intelligently implemented. I feel that it lends a sense of concrete place to your environments.
The team made mention of the “hub and spoke” design approach to the environments, including the interconnectedness that such an approach can provide. They even admitted during the demo session that they drew from other such successful backtracking-heavy formulas as Metroid (featuring the “off-limits” approach to environmental passages and treasures, where you can see it but you can’t reach it)—so one can only hope that the practice is as well-implemented in LP3 as it was in the best of that franchise. Still, they finally conceded that fast travel will also be an option in the game, but they emphasize that hopefully you will be discouraged from using it by the strong design.
The biggest concern I have about Lost Planet 3 coming out of the demo is the thickness and apparent homogeneity of the action. The developers articulated their loyalty to the action-centric roots of the franchise, but from what I witnessed, this directly translated to an endless swarm of like-designed Akrids bum-rushing our hero, Conduit-style, until the wall spawners were destroyed. I think he must have shot probably thirty or forty of these boring floor-crawlers on his way into the main chamber where the T-E post was located, and that just doesn’t look fun to me. However, there’s still quite a bit of time yet before we’ll be seeing the game hit store shelves, so perhaps it’s too early to criticize it based on the balance and variety of its gameplay.
ProTip: Just because you're inside your Rig Suit doesn't mean you're safe.
Stay tuned to DigitalChumps.com for lots more honest coverage on Lost Planet 3 in the coming months.