PlayStation Vita is firing on all cylinders lately, albeit veering from its original ‘PS3-on-the-road’-course to the ‘we-just-love-you-indie-guys!’-mantra. A road less traveled maybe, but a gamble…
The Lost Planet franchise has never been a series near-and-dear to me, despite the original being helmed by Blue Bomber’s father and mighty no. 1 Japanese game developer Inafune. It looked great at the time, really showing off the power of their new mt framework engine, but the gameplay was just a frigid mess… And don’t get me started on those woefully canned stagger-animations, pelting your character through the battlefield as rocket after rocket exploded on his chest.
It did, however, have this really cool Japanese vibe. The desolate, icy planet of E.D.N III and its endless, frozen wastelands were the perfect backdrop for the orange hues of its natural, monstrous and multi-legged inhabitants.
Part three is, interestingly enough, not developed in Japan but outsourced to Spark Unlimited, a company based in California. The first trailer certainly peaked my interested, but after googling Spark’s track-record, my heart sank. These where the guys and girls responsible for Turning Point and the horribly bad Legendary: The Box. Seriously? That’s like giving a toddler plastic tools and expect him to fix your leaking sink. Whatever Capcom was thinking, this could most certainly mean a frosty death for the franchise.
Luckily, Lost Planet 3 plays its card really well in its opening hours, putting resurfaced and agonizing memories of the bloody mess that was Legendary to rest. I’m straight as the shot of a rail gun, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Jim Peyton. He’s not your standard game protagonist, doesn’t possess bulging muscles and/or a gravelly voice, and actually looks more akin to a hippy from the Beatles-era. And his father is most definitely Nicolas Cage.
Jim is just a guy looking to make some money for his family and agrees to go to E.D.N III as a NEVEC-employee. His journey is off to a rather bumpy start, plunging with his ship into the planet’s atmosphere at an alarming rate and finding himself fighting off spider-like arachnids even before he has time to catch his breath.
Before long, he’s being rescued by his new employer and gets a warm welcome at the base, a building erected from salvaged ship parts. From this point, Lost Planet 3 diverts from its predecessors by presenting the player with an open world. Peyton has a giant robot – called a Rig here – which he can use to navigate the wide array of frozen chasms, eerie hives and abandoned stations, takes on missions and kills a boatload of increasingly lethal abominations.
Truthfully, the combat is just a bit too vanilla for my taste. You’ll get plenty of weapons to screw around with, but the default action is a bit too by-the-numbers for my taste. It really comes down to personal preference in this case, but I miss the exhilarating ‘aaawww yeah!’ feeling I get from games like The Last of Us, Uncharted, Grand Theft Auto V and Gears of War. It’s pretty decent, but it misses some oomph.
But, thankfully, some scenarios are extremely cool, making the combat just a tad more enjoyable. For instance, somewhere near the beginning is a fight with panther-like creatures while you are trying to shoot chunks of ice from your Rig. You’ve just survived a bizarre en electrifying storm, its remnants still hampering your visibility. Trudging through the snow and smoke you see the silhouettes of your adversaries break the light shafts emanating from a giant sun. Not only is it visually arresting, it’s the sort of stuff that makes you thing: ‘Hell yeah, I haven’t experienced this before! Can I get seconds?’
And sticking with the visuals for just a bit: this game certainly hits a couple of high notes, expertly sucking the player into this bleak and shivering world. Character models are – with the odd exception – excellent as well, breathing life into Peyton’s relationship with his wife and the people he meets at the base. Framerates do get pretty choppy at a regular clip however, and I’ve even had a couple of brief hang-ups during cut scenes. It doesn’t ruin the game too much, but I guess the Unreal Engine 3 still has some issues with the PlayStation 3, especially when layering a multitude of transparent stuff – like blood and dust – on top of each other.
Also worth mentioning is Lost Planet’s cool and risky soundtrack. You’ll get the standard, bombastic stuff during fights, but are treated to a refreshing serving of county-ish music while commandeering your Rig. Pretty good stuff, which alters the mood in a surprising way.
All in all, the campaign certainly isn’t a bad experience, but it stumbles a bit in the combat-department and pacing. You’ll sit through a lot of back-tracking and loading screens, which cripple the open-world aspect of the game, and will have to endure the same-y, punch-lacking battles a little too often.
So while it falls short just a bit for a full-on recommendation, I do admire the love and care Spark poured into this game. It’s by no means a huge success, but it’s leaps and bounds better than anything the company did before. Maybe they’ll get another chance at the franchise in the near future and can start producing a new wintry entry under the searing, Californian sun? Funny enough, I hope they do. There’s enough love present. Now let it out.
Note: Multiplayer had not been tested enough and will be added to this review in the future. Currently, the score reflects only the Single Player and will be updated accordingly.
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