Preview: Lost Planet 3

May 31, 2012

The recent announcement of Lost Planet 3 was a surprise to many. After the icy reception following the release of the second game, many expected the series to remain buried. However, Capcom has sought to revive the franchise, not only casting the third entry as a prequel, but also handling development duties to an outside studio. Following the doctrine of outsourcing titles to western developers, Spark Unlimited have been handed the keys. This choice may seem untoward, given the studio’s pedigree with the less-than-average Turning Point and Legendary, but after going hands-on with Lost Planet 3, we might just be in for a turn of fortunes.

As mentioned, Lost Planet 3 takes place before the very first game, so Lost Planet 0 might be a more befitting name. The co-operative focus of the second game has also been dropped. Returning to series roots, Lost Planet 3 concentrates on the single-player adventure, but also a new protagonist. Players are familiarised with a pioneering character by the name of Jim, out to make his fortune as a construction driver on the frozen E.D.N-III. Narrative is a heavy focus, with a personalised account of Jim’s struggles to support his name wife and child back home worked into the early part of our demo.

After an quick introduction to the controls, we set out on our mech across the frozen landscape. Our first exposure to Lost Planet 3‘s gameplay shows a significant design change for the series. Whereas you previously piloted mechs from a third person perspective, players now drive from a first-person view, peering out from the inside of the cockpit. As such, you don’t feel as removed from the mechanised action, which is presently confined to simply navigating your machine forward and controlling the drills attached to left and right arms. Armoured Core-like combat with rocket launchers, machine guns and jet packs has been removed, but the drills can by useful for removing obstacles and boring into the heads of the game’s iconic enemy creatures, the Akrid. Given the concentration of previous entries on rapid mechanised combat, it will be interesting to see reactions to the new trimmed-down vehicular gameplay.

Surprisingly, Lost Planet 3 sets a high standard on presentation. Stomping along the ice, we were treated to an impressive view of the inhospitable E.D.N landscape. Fog and electrical storms framed snowy peeks stretching as far as the eye could see, with rays of the sun glimmering harshly through the ice. Interior environments also display a high level of detail, but the stunning outside vistas nevertheless stand as at the best treat for the eyes.

As Jim searches for a source of energy detected outside the main base, his mech is stranded in a blizzard. The harsh conditions quickly pass, but the mech becomes ¬†encased in ice. His means of travel completely immobilised, Jim ventures outside. On foot, the game returns to a traditional third-person perspective, and with a plasma-spewing rifle and pistol at his disposal, Jim can shoot the frozen ice off his mech. However, the Akrid suddenly emerge from ice, and we go on the offensive. If one of the creatures manages to get close enough and trap you under its feet, the game initiates a quicktime event, in which you have to lay an erratically moving crosshair over your prey’s jaws, and mash the A button plant a knife in a weak spot.

Jim eventually overpowers the pack of roaming Akrid and returns to the safety of his cockpit. Trudging on, we arrive at cave too small to accommodate our hulking mech. Jumping out, we again set out on foot to the interior of the icy establishment. Along the way, Jim utilises a grappling hook to reach higher ground (one of the awesome mechanics from the first game), and equips a newly-found shotgun.

Inside an opening, we encountered one of Lost Planet best-known features – the iconic boss Akrid. Boss fights follow the same path as before – shoot off all the glowing orange bits, and the Akrid will be defeated. Our first encounter with the boss went rather poorly, with the gigantic creature quickly overpowering our attempts at extermination. Once we discovered the right gameplay rhythm – timing leaps from the path of the Akrid correctly – shooting all the glowing orange pieces quickly removed the creature from our way.

After discovering the entrance to a hidden underground construction, we transitioned from the previous action-heavy gameplay into a survival-horror inspired journey though eerie and darkened corridors. Exploring the abandoned interior, we pondered how the base could have ended up buried under the ice. During these segments, the developers are borrowing heavily from Dead Space‘s playbook, especially with a head-up display activated from your wrist and displayed in front of the in-game character. Nevertheless, it all culminates in something that should appeal to existing Lost Planet fans and action-adventure game enthusiasts.

Despite coming off some less-than-stellar foundations, the Lost Planet 3 developers have sandwiched together elements of action, horror and vehicular gameplay to create what could be the most interesting title in the series to date. The focus on story, combined with the completely unexpected and astonishing presentation, should garner plenty of interest at E3. Expect to read more on Lost Planet 3 soon on Rocket Chainsaw.