There are flashes of greatness in Lost Planet 3. Its story has some surprisingly excellent acting, its icy world is struck by impressively intense storm effects, and a couple of times the stars align and its third-person shooting and rock’em sock’em giant-robot-versus-monsters combat modes work together to produce a novel boss fight. But flashes are all they are, and the often frustrating metaphorical dimness between them makes up the bulk of its 15-hour single-player campaign gets in the way of admiring them.
This is a typical “going native” plot, in the same vein as movies like Pocahontas and Avatar, but Lost Planet 3’s prequel tale (set around 50 years before the original) is its best feature. It’s all thanks to well-acted and touching scenes where the main character, James Peyton, and his wife exchange video messages. They talk about things like their son’s first steps, which he’s missing while off on planet EDN III mining for T-energy (AKA unobtainium) to support them. Peyton’s a convincing everyman hero, and the thoughtful detail of the photo of his wife pinned to his drilling mech’s cockpit constantly reminds us of why he’s willing to endure life on this frozen, monster-infested hellscape of a planet.
I’m also seriously impressed by the villain, an ends-justify-the-means soldier whose actions aren’t all that unreasonable when you consider he’s fighting to save Earth. His performance, too, is
excellent, and only becomes cartoonishly villainous in the final battles.
Of course, there’s some full-on awful acting going on, too. And though the pre-rendered cutscenes have some good expressive animations, those that are done in-game are often hilariously clumsy, gesticulating like marionettes. It’s mostly from minor characters, but it’s jarringly inconsistent. It both makes the good actors look better and Lost Planet 3 as a whole look bad.
But we’re all here to shoot aliens, right? Again, Lost Planet 3 has the pretty good idea of mixing up combat by letting us drive a 40-foot-tall mech, then jump out and blast away at towering beasts. It goes a long way toward distracting from the fact that both modes are too simplistic and clunky to carry a game on their own.
The on-foot combat, for instance, is so generic it barely merits mention, with no notable weapons to make it feel novel. Especially about eight hours in, when you go from swatting swarms of alien Akrid bugs to human mercenaries with dumber-than-average AI, it turns from bland to blander. All it has going for it is a new twist on quick time events that requires you to aim a hunting knife at the alien that’s trying to eat you. Also, there are some really janky animations in here. The most annoying and frequent one is when Peyton fires his Batman-esque grappling hook, and he’s pulled up a weird angle.
Mech combat is more interesting, at least for a while. Because it’s a piece of mining equipment and not military hardware, it relies almost exclusively on melee combat, and fighting the massive crustacean-like Akrid monsters has a very Pacific Rim feel to it. It’s a disappointingly passive type of brawl, though – for the most part it’s about waiting for an enemy to attack (which always flashes a button prompt) then countering it and then engaging in a slightly interactive quick time event move to drill into its soft fleshy bits. Each enemy type has a different pattern, at least, and it never misses a chance to slosh gallons of neon-orange alien blood on the mech’s canopy, adding some needed color to the bleak white of EDN III’s landscape.
Mixing the two modes has potential, but it’s rarely achieved because of constraining level design that often forces one type of combat or the other, sometimes by actually locking us into the cockpit “for your protection.” Only one fight, in which you have to use the mech and third-person shooting mechanics together to expose a weak spot, actually made good creative use of the combination.
Lost Planet 3 masquerades as an open-world game, but it’s much more limited than that. Like id’s Rage, it’s a maze of interconnected corridors you have to navigate to reach the next linear mission, with a couple of bases to return to afterward. But the icy landscape isn’t interesting enough, and the mech isn’t fast on its feet enough to avoid having trudging between locations feel like a chore. Expect to get some use out of that fast-travel system.
But the biggest frustration of Lost Planet 3’s level design is its lack of consistency. Getting locked in the mech and auto-killed instead of ejected sucks. Can you grapple that ledge? Probably not, but you have to check. Can you fall off that cliff? Probably not, but just when you’ve gotten used to the idea that an invisible wall will stop you, you fall to your death. Also, I was constantly getting caught on the geometry of the environment, particularly in tight corridors.
Naturally, Lost Planet 3 includes the obligatory 10-player team-based competitive multiplayer, with six maps and a very typical persistent skill-progression system. The gimmick here is that objectives shift over the course of a match, giving you some good variety. For instance, what begins as two teams competing to hunt down an alien beast turns into a capture the flag match when you have to grab its remains and return them to your base, or the final round of what starts as a co-op bug-swatting game turns into a King of the Hill territory control game. But with shooting mechanics that are no more than average underneath it all, don’t expect big things from these modes.
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