Normally, when a new developer jumps on board of a well established series, it signifies the best moment to jump ship. People who were not involved in any way in the original product and have no connection or genuine interest to the progression of the story and series tend to not do a great job recreating what fans loved about the originals. Lost Planet 3, however, looks to be the kind of game that just might be the exception to this trend. While Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was a bit of a surprise hit, the sequel seemed to flounder and had so many flawed aspects of the design that it felt a bit like Capcom simply wasn’t trying. Considering the disappointment that many gamers (myself included) had with Lost Planet 2, Lost Planet 3 wasn’t a game that was particularly high on my radar. After seeing what Spark Unlimited has done with the title, however, my disinterest has turned into guarded optimism.
As tends to be the case whenever a series has been thoroughly run into the ground, Lost Planet 3 is going back in time before the events of the first two games and serves as a prequel for the series. The game takes place on the planet of E.D.N. III, still in the frozen condition we found it in during the events of the first game. You play as Jim Peyton, a full time miner in the employ of Neo-Venus Construction (NEVEC) and part time Nicholas Cage impersonator. NEVEC is looking for a way to mine resources to send back to Earth, and Peyton is looking for a way to earn enough cash to get back home to his family, and both problems seem to be resolved with the discovery of Thermal Energy. While Thermal Energy was important in the past to games (as a way to power up weapons or stop you from freezing to death), it looks to take an even more central role in this game as it serves as currency to buy weapons and ammo back in the base camp.
One of the big changes from the second game seems to be a much heavier emphasis on story this time around. Even early on in the game, you get the sense that something strange is going on and that NEVEC might not be as altruistic as they seem, something that is alluded to in equal parts foreshadowing and the fact we already know exactly what happens in the first and second games. The early parts of the game show the colonists working for NEVEC in a struggle against the Akrid, the bug-like alien inhabitants of the planet that clearly aren’t too fond of the pink squishy things drilling everywhere and making noise. However, at some point another group of individuals known as the Snow Pirates, who have a clear hatred of NEVEC and what they are doing to bleed their planet dry, get their hands on Jim. Jim is about to be killed by the Snow Pirates, when the daughter of the leader runs out and saves his life. Think Aliens meet Pocahontas when it comes to the plot, a combination I had never before considered but sounds oh so right.
This emphasis on story will be helped by the greater sense of exploration in Lost Planet 3 and the main hub area populated by various NPCs. The game utilizes a mission based structure, and Jim can embark on either story based missions or optional side missions allowing you to help fellow colonists, get a bit more story, and accrue additional resources. The dialogue of the NPCs changes frequently, and various audio logs lying around give you interesting bits of backstory that help flesh out the plot even further. Whether or not the plot will actually be good remains to be seen, but early indicators make it seem like they are at least trying to remedy all the mistakes that were made in Lost Planet 2 with its nearly absent story line.
Gameplay is what you would expect from a fairly standard third person shooter. Cover is utilized to hide from projectile firing insects, and you can use a variety of guns to turn your alien foes into piles of brightly colored goo. Large enemies still have big, glowing “shoot me here please” weak spots, a design flaw that you think evolution would have worked out by now. Quick time events also show up during the early portions of the gameplay, but they don’t seem to be a very integral part and are used primarily only in the more cinematic moments. While later stages have yet to be shown, it’s so far solid, if somewhat predictable and expected.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the single player campaign that has been shown off so far is the rig based combat. Your rig can be built and upgraded throughout the course of the game, and serves as a boost in battle when you can access it. The rig comes complete with a drill arm which is great for bashing enemies up close, while the claw arm can be used for grabbing on to foes. One of the upgrades for the claw arm is a winch, which allows you to shoot out the claw arms, causing massive damage to small enemies or allowing you to latch on to bigger enemies from afar. After grabbing them, you can draw them in to you and bash them with your free arm as they try to escape. It is a nice variation from the fairly standard gun battles elsewhere in the game and should add some much needed variety to the gameplay.
While Spark Unlimited definitely has given a renewed focus to the single player campaign, it does not mean that multiplayer has been abandoned entirely. As we previously reported, Lost Planet 3 gives you four separate game modes to play over six different maps. The two modes that have been detailed so far are Akrid Survival and Scenario. Scenario Mode is a fairly clever competitive mode, with each of the six different maps having different objectives to complete. Players are divided into two teams of NEVEC or Snow Pirates, with one team acting as an offense and the other acting as the defense. One map has the NEVEC utilizing a large vehicle to plow into a Snow Pirate base, and the Snow Pirates need to stop the assault while the NEVEC need to protect the vehicle and use it get into the enemies’ base. Each of the maps come with completely different objectives, giving the maps very different feels to them.
Akrid Survival is an interesting co-op/competitive hybrid which divides you into two separate three member teams. Each team is set up on opposite ends of the map and take on swarms of Akrids. After two separate waves of enemies are cleared, the barriers in the map get lifted and it suddenly becomes a competitive mode. It is an interesting twist on what are essentially two standard multiplayer game types, but this is something we’d need to get our hands on before fully determining how entertaining it is. While both seem like good modes on their own, the sudden switch might be jarring especially if there is no logical reason for linking the two together or any benefit for performing well against the Akrid swarms.
While they haven’t revealed everything about the multiplayer, there still is a lot to like about the details they’ve given us so far. The grappling hook looks to play a far bigger role in the multiplayer than the single player, and there are even some maps that feature mech on mech action. A character progression sphere should add some extra depth to the multiplayer, and by winning matches you earn credits that can be used to purchase a variety of extras for use in the multiplayer. You can unlock new weapons, abilities, and even character skins. There is a lot to do and see in multiplayer, and while it might not be as big as past titles it does look really refined and well thought out.
Lost Planet 3 also looks and sounds great, with well detailed backgrounds and expressive facial animation. Overall, it seems like a very promising package. I had essentially given up on the series after I couldn’t motivate myself to finish Lost Planet 2, but getting a new developer seems to be ready to pay off dividends for this series. Although big fans of the second game are probably going to hate this as it represents a drastically different package, fans of the first should start paying attention. Hopefully the game doesn’t suffer any further delays, as this is something we’re looking forward to seeing through to the end.