Stomping in a mech-like rig across E.D.N III’s intimidating mountain ranges and cave systems is the game’s most cohesive pleasure. Developer Spark Unlimited presents a compelling story and exploration-based mission structure on its icy planet, but on top of some undoubtedly creaky action. Lost Planet 3 is symptomatic of this closing generation’s cover-based and waypoint-laden shooters, with only some minor paradigm-breaking moments to relish.
Jim Peyton is one of those highlights. You’ll spend a lot time running and gunning, but Jim’s not out for blood or revenge. He’s an engineer and rig operator, father and husband. He’s stationed out on E.D.N. III to harvest a unique thermal energy to solve Earth’s energy woes and rack up some danger pay along the way. It’s well-earned; the indigenous Akrid have a symbiotic relationship with T-energy, and they’re none too happy about Earth’s harvesting plans. For the first few hours, combat against these insectoids is staged entirely in self-defence, as protecting yourself while you mine deposits of glowing T-energy. It’s a refreshing setup, even if it eventually fades into the countless Akrid encounters along the way. And when Jim begins to uncover the motivations and particulars behind Earth’s operation, the story wisely keeps its human thread even as the stakes become more grandiose. The writing and performances are solid, and some of the supporting cast are excellent. The paranoid, mysterious bouts of exposition you have with Dr. Roman were the best moments of the game for me. To get into much more would spoil it. Suffice it to stay that the new story direction is a most welcome change to the Lost Planet series.
Alterations to the gameplay are less welcome. The urgent, high score focused action of the original Lost Planet is gone. So is the more deliberate, multiplayer-focused setup of the second title. Even Capcom’s proprietary MT Framework is left by the wayside. The developer uses the Unreal Engine instead, a telling sign of its intention to ape many, many shooters released over the last few years. Expect Jim to slow to a crawl and hold his hand to his ear while someone chirps exposition over a radio. Expect him to occasionally snap to cover and pop out a few shots at some humdrum enemies. Certainly expect to dispatch just about everything you see on screen with extreme prejudice. Placed next to the pragmatic storytelling, its bare bones third-person shooter template is all the more bare.
You may expect that such a heavily coded action game would have the essentials nailed down, but it’s the basic combat that drags down the game most. The shooting in Lost Planet 3 feels slow. A dragging movement speed combined with sparse attack attempts from the Akrid make it feel sort of like battles play out ever so slightly in slow motion. It’s simultaneously a bit jerky, too. Using your grappling hook to scale cliffs sends animations crashing into each other. In general, the action lacks immediacy or dynamism. Having enemies whose weak spots are literally bright orange spots made sense when the series was fast and arcade-like. Now it feels almost like a wink at the audience, and a slightly disdainful one at that.
The aforementioned rig sequences fare much better. Jim’s heavy engineering equipment is a twenty foot tall bipedal mech, equipped with a drill and winch. You use it to get from area to area and to fix equipment on the planet’s surface. Your view switches to first-person while in the rig, and there’s an admirable sense of scale when you look down on Akrid who towered over you on foot. Operating your rig’s equipment ends up being surprisingly fun, too. Those sequences are quasi-QTEs. Like a QTE, fixing a busted pipe or countering a boss Akrid’s strikes amounts to pressing a series of button commands, but each piece of your rig gets its own distinct button and control particulars. The way these segments feel like you’re truly operating a lumbering machine was endearing, and I enjoyed them much more than the bland core combat.
The expanse of E.D.N. III is not quite an open world, but areas are interconnected through a hub structure that gives you some leeway on where you go when. That means you can go out of your way to pursue side quests, most of which boil down to using your rig or accessing caves to mine extra T-energy posts. It’s too bad there isn’t more story involved in these diversions, because their pacing feels tighter and less combat-heavy than the main quest.
A few different competitive multiplayer modes offer to extend that range a little. Sadly, finding people online to play with was not possible for me, just over a week after the game’s release. It would appear that the game’s multiplayer following has already sort of moved on.
If you aim to play it, the PC version of Lost Planet 3 is the way to go. There are plenty of options to crank the graphics quality way up, and in my experience, everything was stable and smooth. The game has the capacity to look moody and beautiful, with dramatically lit planetary features stealing the show. Most of the time, though, that scenery is left behind in favor of drab ice caves or military installations. The character models and Akrid types look alright, but nothing about them stands out, either. Compared to the gorgeous visual palette in Lost Planet 2, it feels like a step backward.
Lost Planet 3 pulls off some genuinely interesting and entertaining things with its story and exploratory nature, but that potential is all but covered up by its middling action. It lies somewhere between the wants of series fans and the needs of those who have been playing these kinds of games for years, and I wouldn’t recommend you play it.