Review: Lifeless Planet

If there are many things I can’t stand, one of them is when travel doesn’t go according to plan, and Lifeless Planet tells such a tale of travel plans gone awry.  A crew of astronauts embark on a mission to explore a distant planet, one that is far enough away it takes several years to reach even traveling at double the speed of light.  This mission is a one way trip to explore this new world that is supposedly an ideal place to sustain human life, rich with life sustaining vegetation.  Reading over those previous sentences, this seems like an airtight plan with no realistic chance of anything going wrong.

Well, that optimism was short lived.  After a landing that was not textbook perfect our hero has a raging headache that he thinks may be a concussion.  It’s probably more likely because he is going through caffeine withdrawal due to being in a comatose state the past several years to minimize aging during travel, he just needs to pop some ibuprofen and stop whining.  Soon this trivial matter is forgotten because there are two slightly bigger problems afoot.  One is his crew members are missing, and the other is he is very low on oxygen.  So much for this being an inhabitable planet.  Luckily the fine folks at mission control had enough foresight to send oxygen refilling stations to arrive prior to our explorers, though there is a note questioning the necessity of them due to how supportive of life the environment is.  It looks like some of the intel that was gathered on this planet prior to the mission was somewhat suspect, since he is standing in a vast desert depending on imported air to survive.

Now that he has enough oxygen to not die, he begins the task of exploring this world which is really what Lifeless Planet is all about.  During the exploration some unsettling data is discovered: his crew was not the first group here.  Evidence of a settlement on this new world presents itself early on in this adventure, but there seems to be no living people present.  This presents two possible scenarios to our explorer, either we have arrived after others have colonized and something bad happened, or the entire journey was a hoax and we are still in Earth in a Planet of the Apes inspired human free world.  Some of the structures that are encountered are made to accommodate very tall beings, most likely of the nonhuman variety.  My theory was this world was inhabited by Draags, but sadly I have not encountered any at the time of this writing.

With gameplay that fits into the quasi genre of walking simulator, there is no combat to speak of in this virtually uninhabited world.  There are however plenty of ways to die.  Due to the nonviolent nature, the death frequency is nowhere near the likes of Dark Souls of Battletoads, but not dying at all does require some finesse.  During the review play through, the poor astronaut had his durability tested.  His attempt at being tough and puffing out his chest to a tornado ended in the tornado’s favor, as did his attempt at running through giant moving fan blades.  Players who utilize common sense and possess a semblance of a self preservation instinct will die far less often than this writer did, though some of those killer root monsters are particularly sneaky.

Lifeless Planet is an interesting game to play.  An accurate descriptive would be no combat, no real puzzles, just walk around a desolate world and use a very weak jetpack to assist with platforming, which is a terrible description because it makes the experience sound rather dull which it is anything but.  The pace at which information of this world and what happened is done in a way to keep things interesting.  It does take a while to get really interesting, but personal opinion is the payoff is worth the wait.  The environmental visuals are very well done, especially considering how small of a team was involved with the development.  The minimalist ambient soundtrack enhances the overall experience, filling the game with a sense of wonder and dread.  It could be said that playing through this feels more like an interactive cinematic presentation than a traditional game.

Because this title is meant to be an experience, no aspect of it is too unforgiving.  There are a few difficult jumping sections but solving those is a matter of figuring out exactly where to go and getting the timing of the jetpack boost right.  The controls are a little rough around the edges with some tightrope walking areas and with some of the lengthier platforming sections, but it is still nothing that cannot be overcome after a couple tries.  Sometimes what exactly to do next is not entirely clear, but that could very well be an intentional part of the design since it is about exploring an alien world.  There were not any parts that brought on excessive frustration or held up progress for more than a few minutes.

Closing Comments:

Lifeless Planet is all about exploration and atmosphere (groan).  The difficulty is not very high with the exception trophy completion, where completing a playthrough without dying or finishing the game in under four hours will present quite a challenge.  Even though there is a linear progression, the feeling of exploring a vast new world is successfully recreated.  Lifeless Planet is quite different from the majority of games I like, but playing it for this review was an enjoyable experience.  This type of game that may not be of interest to everyone, but for anyone looking for something left of center and if the premise of wandering around an alien world sounds appealing, this is a good title to check out.

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