This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Lost Planet 3.
Lost Planet? Lost Concept, more like! It's an odd duck, this series; it's the poor little franchise nobody wanted to play with. Started out with a nice little idea about fighting giant insects in robot suits on an ice planet, but didn't raise much more than a non-committal "meh", possibly because of the annoying feature where your health constantly ticked down like you're allergic to mediocrity. Then it saw how popular co-op shooters were and went, "Hey, look at us! We can do that!" with Lost Planet 2, although I think Lost Planet 2 was only co-op so that afterwards you'd have someone you could turn to and ask, "What the fuck was that all about? What did we achieve? Who were we in the first place? And why were we all wearing bath tap Halloween costumes?"
But you may now gratefully forget about Lost Planet 2 because Lost Planet 3 is a prequel and back to being a single-player action-adventure on an ice planet with more of a narrative focus. Perhaps this will be what finally gives this neglected reindeer of a franchise its shiny red nose! Well, technically it is, because the reindeer is now a heavy drinker!
The story is told through flashbacks by a frankly irresponsibly old man, crushed by the kind of rockfall that will definitely kill you, but is easy-going enough about it to let you jabber your entire life story to a granddaughter you have apparently never gotten around to introducing yourself to. The man, let's call him Jim ('cause that's his name), came to the presumably ironically-named planet E.D.N. III to work as a contractor in a base populated exclusively by people putting on absurdly overplayed comedy foreign accents of inexplicably wide variety. Like Captain Planet and the Planeteers all got jaded in their thirties and moved to a different planet to go and be planeteers of. And they've all been sent there by the NEVEC Corporation, who are evil because they are a corporation in a sci-fi game. They might as well have been called "There's Shit We're Not Telling You, Ltd.", formerly trading as "Hope You Haven't Watched Any Alien Films Lately, PLC". So yes, they're basically just Weyland-Yutani but refreshingly up-front about things, 'cause everyone's fully aware that the planet's full of monsters and that the company could give two shits about their well-nibbled corpses.
But they're all pretty philosophical about it, and in a way, that's the problem. Jim joins the company, fixes some shit and kills monsters, after which Mr. Gabbity Greybeard in the future skips the story on a bit, saying, "Yeah, fixing shit and killing monsters pretty much became the routine at that point." and I was like, "Well, I'm glad somebody else said it!". But then, having acknowledged that it's fucking boring, the game bold-facedly continues to be mostly about fixing shit and killing monsters. Monsters basically materialize every time you fix shit; it's like they're some kind of corporeal manifestation of the developers realizing that there's supposed to be actual gameplay at some point. And if the protagonist doesn't give a budgie's kneecap for the risk of becoming lunch and reacts to it all with a pragmatic quip and weary sigh, then yay for him, but it's not exactly flipping my ball-bag.
By the way, I think I've figured out why every character talks like they're from different wings of the "It's a Small World" ride, 'cause when they're chatting over your radio, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart otherwise. Most of them talk in that sarcastic, quippy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer style that makes you sound equal parts smug and high-functioning autistic.
Hey, do you remember back in one of my E3 videos, I made a very hilarious joke in which I pretended to mistake the Dead Space 3 trailer for a new Lost Planet? How strangely prophetic that very hilarious joke now seems! Dead Space moved into fighting giant monsters in the snow, and Lost Planet has moved into engineers fighting monsters in tight hallways. It's like the two franchises met each other half-way and started sloppily making out.
So Lost Planet 3 features a lot of fast, melee-focused enemies bum-rushing a man who can just about waddle around like his trousers are round his ankles, but, lacking some equivalent of the Isaac Clarke trademark hissy-fit foot-stomp, all Jim can do is back up and shoot like a heroin addict looking for a good parking space, and often gets lost amid pylons of squawking failures of nature. At which point the engine starts chugging frogspawn martinis, 'cause no amount of fiddly analogue stick repair minigames can fix dodgy optimization. The game also tries to get you to take cover from monsters with projectile attacks because I think it might be in cahoots. "Why not velcro your fat arse to this piece of wall? It's not like any monsters are going to try to rush you or spawn in behind you or anything. Now hold still while I bandage your wounds with these strips of delicious bacon!"
Hey, Lost Planet 3? Your combat's derivative and shite! "Well, I can't think of what I could possibly do about that!", replies Lost Planet 3, oblivious to the giant robot suit in the background, holding up its hand and bobbing in its chair like an eager schoolboy. Oh, but this is covered in the plot: NEVland ECtani won't let you put guns on your giant robots 'cause they're supposed to be for engineering rather than combat. Presumably this is also why, by default, it's armoured with cardboard and tin foil and can take about one reasonably powerful titty twister before kicking you out, and can only bumble about the place with obnoxious slowness so that it doesn't shake up all the palettes of Coca-Cola it has to carry around as part of its engineering work. It's a pretty good skive that, isn't it though? "No, the game has to be boring and shit 'cause the plot says so, hands tied." If only Ride to Hell had thought of that. "Okay, Jake, we're just gonna start banging you over the head with this crowbar; say "when" as soon as everything makes sense!"
To be perfectly honest, I didn't play all the way through Lost Planet 3 'cause I had an Expo to get to, so maybe they do put a gold-plated crotch ballista on the giant robot after a while. But if it does, it takes way too long to get there. And there was something about the voice recording that was really scraping my taint. It's hard to explain, it's like the lines were recorded with the mic way too close to the actors' mouths, so every time they inhale it's like an affectionate dog is trying to suck my earwax out. Blimey, that's a small thing to have to try and get worked up about. But wait! If I was noticing something like that, then the rest of the game isn't being engaging enough to distract me from it! Phew! For a moment there, I thought I was being petty!
I gave Lost Planet 2 shit, but, you know, at least it had a weird, grindy, bathroom-plumbing-costumery-based identity of its own. Lost Planet 1 could be charitably described as "doing its thing" as well; even the constantly-draining health at least marked it out in some way, like a spear made out of frozen bullshit. But Lost Planet 3 seems to have made every effort to throw off any actual unique identity the series had in favour of stringing together a cardboard mantle sewn together from other people's castoffs. It's Dead Space without horror. It's Aliens without excitement. It's trying to fuck a sofa cushion without an appropriate level of determination.
- Has the bollocks of a brass monkey: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Yeah, so we already had suits of armour that ensure that your health doesn't keep ticking down but we all felt that this was basically just showing off
- Quick, lose it before another prequel finds it