Lost Planet 3 review: snow day

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win
Publisher Capcom
Developer Spark Unlimited
Release Date 2013-08-27

Lost Planet 3 is the latest Capcom property the Japanese publisher has farmed out to a western development studio, following the lead of Dead Rising and Bionic Commando.

While the original Lost Planet marked Capcom’s entrance into "next-gen" when it came out six years ago, 2010’s follow up failed to keep up the series’ momentum. With that, Capcom handed the keys to the snow-bound kingdom to California-based developer Spark Unlimited.

Spark Unlimited’s solution to Lost Planet’s sophomore slump: to take the series back before the original, and to completely rebuild the game’s basic structure from linear third-person shooting to something more open. In that regard, Spark Unlimited has made something more interesting than the glut of competent shooters out there. But Lost Planet 3 has trouble finding the gameplay competency of those games in some very basic ways.

Lost Planet 3 is full of on-the-nose corollaries between a future Earth's societal issues and the possibility of a real world energy crisis

Set decades before the events of either of its predecessors, Lost Planet 3 follows the exploits of "independent contractor" Jim Peyton as he lands on the icy, alien world EDN III. Peyton has been hired-on to perform various contracts for a scientific expedition seeking to investigate the potential super-energy source known as T-eng, which could be the answer to the Earth’s energy crisis.

Throughout Lost Planet 3, there are a number of pretty on-the-nose corollaries drawn between current fears of global warming and fossil fuel consumption and the game’s background story of the Earth’s slowly collapsing civilization. But this works to establish a sense of purpose and gravitas running beneath the different characters’ interactions with one another, and exactly what’s at stake as the story progresses.

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Non-vital

While Lost Planet 3 is technically a sequel — or rather, a prequel — the biggest fans of the series might have the hardest time getting interested in it. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and Lost Planet 2 both revolved heavily around fast-paced mech combat influenced by manga and anime giant robot conventions. Those are gone in Lost Planet 3. Even T-eng behaves differently here than it did in Lost Planets past, serving only as currency and providing no healing powers to speak of.

The only real connective tissue between this game and the others is the weather and the monstrous akrid, most of which are directly carried over from the other games. The story also takes place in continuity, albeit not in ways that are apparent until much later on in the game.

It’s this story and the world it takes place in that hit me the hardest in my initial time with Lost Planet 3. A lot of time and effort is on display in motion and performance-captured cutscenes, sure, but there’s obvious effort in keeping the story together. There aren’t big gaps of plot development or brute force narrative devices.

There’s a lot going on here — characters have histories and personalities and relationships that drive their actions in a fairly relatable, believable way, which, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting out of another third-person shooter. Granted, there are still some slightly troubling colonialist tropes in play — to explain more would spoil major story elements, so forgive me — but Lost Planet 3’s writing steps back from the brink and finds its original heart after those stumbles.

Lost Planet 3 depends on that story to hold it up through some inconsistent mechanical execution. On a basic level, the shooting is tolerable, but it’s never what I would call good, exactly. There are plenty of weapons to buy and upgrade and, from a bird’s eye view, it all behaves mostly the way you’d expect from a third-person shooter. On the ground, though, there’s a stiffness to aiming and movement that adds the feeling of unwelcome stickiness and clumsiness to combat. Combined with a toothless melee attack, I was waiting for on-foot fights with EDN III’s native alien life, the akrid, to be over as often as not.

Thankfully I was never waiting that long. The nimble robotic Vital Suits of previous Lost Planet games are absent from Lost Planet 3, but they've been replaced by more primitive bipedal construction vehicles known as Rigs. Peyton spends much of his time exploring EDN III and doing jobs in his rig, and in many ways, "Gertie" is as much a character as anyone else — Peyton’s working class attachment to the tool his life and livelihood depends on is contagious, particularly as you build her up via modifications and upgrades.

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As you perform contracts and kill akrid, you collect T-eng and specialized components to upgrade Gertie as well as Peyton’s gear, which ties into Lost Planet 3’s overall story progression. Lost Planet 3 is built around a sort of interconnected series of environments with what eventually becomes a couple of primary hubs — there’s even a fast-travel system available a few hours in. This introduces the opportunity for side missions and secrets to find that can yield tangible rewards and develop the game’s world and fiction.

That world and the way Payton navigates it are the best thing Lost Planet 3’s has going for it. It’s fun to sit in the rig and repair industrial equipment with a giant claw and drill, and it’s fun to wrestle giant akrid to the ground after fighting them on foot, dwarfed by their stature. And Lost Planet 3 works best when it keeps moving, when it lets the player keep moving. For much of the game, you’re doing fundamentally different things every five to ten minutes.

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Multiplayer

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get much playtime with Lost Planet 3’s multiplayer suite prior to embargo, but my limited experience left me underwhelmed. The mechanical problems that at their worst undermine Lost Planet 3’s campaign are even more plainly on display in multiplayer. Put simply, the shooting isn’t fun, and though there are plenty of objective-based modes to try, shooting is what you’ll be doing most. Fans of the series might give it a try anyway, though: it’s the only place you'll man weaponized mechs that approach the VS vehicles from previous Lost Planet games.

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When I was navigating new areas and keeping the plot going, unraveling the mystery of EDN III, it was easy for problems to stay out of focus on the periphery of my experience with the game. Spark Unlimited built a world I felt grounded in, and it felt more and more natural to explore it. But there are points where the minor annoyances come into sharp focus, and these were the points that most threatened to cast my enjoyment aside in lieu of frustration.

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The most obvious problems are technical. While Lost Planet 3 is frequently beautiful, the 360 version has severe framerate problems throughout. This manifests at the worst possible times — like, for example, you’re walking across a giant open ice plain in your rig and around half a dozen of the giant lobster-like dongo akrid are rolling toward you, requiring you to precisely time taps of the right bumper to avoid taking a severe amount of damage.

Here, the framerate combined with the stiff controls and sometimes excessively punishing combat design make for something I found impossible to enjoy. At other times, Lost Planet 3 will impart a one-off mechanical quirk early in the game, only to leave it abandoned until, say, the middle of a boss fight later on. I hope you remember that you can use the left stick while grappling an enemy with your rig’s claw to manipulate them later on. If not, you’re likely to die and reload over and over the way I did near the end of the game.

But it’s the lackluster shooting experience that keeps Lost Planet 3 from being the great, unexpected departure it might otherwise be for the Lost Planet series. Too often, I had to trek back through previously seen areas and fight previously conquered hordes of akrid, and as the game wound toward the end, my interest in how the story would involve was shaken by more and more firefights.

Wrap Up:

Lost Planet 3 is pulled between compelling structure and less competent gunplay

There’s a constant tug of war between the excellent structure and world that Spark has in Lost Planet 3 and the basic mechanical foundation they don’t quite nail. Spark Unlimited has made a game that is both more and less than the sum of its parts — but there’s enough ambition there to see what Lost Planet 3 could have been. It went beyond predictable third-person shooter conceits often enough to make me glad I explored it, even if I wondered where the "could have beens" would have gone.

Lost Planet 3 was reviewed using a retail Xbox 360 copy provided by Capcom. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
7.0 360
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