I’m reliably informed that it’s the sequel many developers like working on more than the original game or, presumably, the threequel. At that point, the initial concept hasn’t yet lost its allure while the inflated budget and recognition allows for greater scope and more of the features that were perhaps left on the cutting room floor the first time round to be incorporated.
With a muted critical reception and sales that failed to match the first game’s, it’s hard to imagine Lost Planet 2 was the sequel Capcom were hoping for back in 2010. It seems logical then, that the Japanese giant would want to steer the Lost Planet ship in a new direction.
And they have. Westerly, with no deviation.
Bucking contemporary trend, the focus is strictly on the single player. Lost Planet 3 is a prequel and the lavish, tropical paradises that characterised the second game are gone in favor of the austere frosty ice lands from Extreme Condition. The theme here is cold, cold isolation with an inkling of 21st century horror that never really takes hold during the demo.
The preview on show at Eurogamer begins with hero-man Jim Peyton kicking heels in a dreary old cave. Capcom have gone on record to say that Jim is no soldier. Instead he’s a blue-collar worker, a family man with a wife and a child patiently awaiting his return. Thing is, it matters not one jot whether he’s a hardened veteran of murder or not. Within seconds he’s mobbed by a swarm of malformed, oversized creepy-crawlies and he’s swatting them away with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for murder fetishists like Max Payne and Duke Nukem. Or me.
The spindly space gnat things accosting Jim subscribe to mankind’s collective dislike for all things with sharp teeth, spindle-shanked limbs and large skewering tails. They emerge from what look like sphincters, which warrants a quiet giggle, but like most fleshy things with organs and skin they’ve little to shield themselves from the thundering jurisdiction of a good old-fashioned scattergun.
Combat is meaty, but it’s a fairly vanilla third-person affair. Firing the shotgun feels a bit like unleashing a thousand Batman fists at a goon convention, both the sonic and physical feedback a real delight with little of what you’re aiming at left once you’ve squeezed the trigger. Jim, meanwhile, lumbers about in rote beefcake style and there’s knee-high cover strewn favorably about the place. The shooting feels post-Gears of War solid, if rarely ever spectacular.
Dead Space is the more obvious touchstone, though. When the space gnats get close they trigger a QTE and I’ll get this out-of-the-way now: there are dozens of QTEs in this short Lost Planet 3 demo.
They are, at least, somewhat unique, although they’re as tedious and tenuous as quick time events tend to be. Rather than simply hammering on the A button to stay alive, you have to wrestle an on-screen reticule so that it lines up with your aggressor. In trying to inject some tension into proceedings, the reticule judders and jerks around the screen awkward-like but it’s hard to fail, at least in a demo where it seems impossible to fail anything.
Successfully marry reticule to space gnat face and with a pinch of the trigger Jim begins a practiced stabbing routine, the camera edging in close so you can bear witness to all the bloody chaos. You repeat this merry jig a few times before the space gnat loses the will to live and Jim brushes himself off. And then you do it again the next time.
The trouble is of course, rather than heightening the tension these QTEs eradicate it. You know exactly how every QTE encounter will play out as soon as you’ve made it through the first one, which leaves only a sense of drudgery each time Jim collapses beneath a tide of limbs and pointy bits. It all works against the vague undercurrents of horror. That said, it’s difficult to be afraid of anything when you’re packing enough firepower to send Gears of War’s muscle puppets wailing back to their mummies.
Later on, after a bout of busy work pressing buttons and fixing radar towers with Jim’s virtual Vault-Boy, the demo’s first boss arrives; a half crab, half scorpion thing (which we’ll refer to as the Crabion).
Bosses remain a large part of Lost Planet’s appeal and this one’s a big, cantankerous thing, wrapped up in armour with pincers the size of a train carriage and a tail as dramatic in size. Fortunately for Jim, evolution missed a trick and like most of the Akrid, its joints are painted in dazzling oranges. That’s my cue. After a bit of foreplay (grenades aren’t its thing, but I don’t have many and the shotgun isn’t quite as potent as it was back in the cave) Jim’s Utility Rig rumbles onto the battlefield. It’s pitiful nature versus man’s unremitting fondness for building machines that pummel and destroy.
The Utility Rig follows faithfully in the same line of scientific farcicality as Dead Space’s “mining tools”. They are, supposedly, the cumbersome machines the E.D.N III colonisers use to keep them sheltered from the extreme conditions while they tinker with all the heavy machinery dotted around the ice world. This coincides with the game’s need to put players at the helm of a badass robot pulled up from the pits of hell. One arm boasts a triple drill that makes Bioshock’s Big Daddy look like a nursery school play thing, while the other is home to a grappling hook capable of plucking enemies out of the sky. Together? Lol. It’s the Big Daddy on steroids by way of, oh I don’t know, death incarnate.
I genuinely feel sorry for the Crabion as it’s wallowing there contemplating whatever a half crab half scorpion contemplates when staring death in the face. It opts for an attack, perhaps in the vain hope that I’m still learning the Utility Rig’s ropes. No such luck. The QTE prompt appears in predictable fashion and the Crabion signs along the dotted line. Game over. I’ve got him up by that big, gangly tail of his, exposing another fleshy orange weak spot that the triple-drill makes easy work of.
The Utility Rig reflects a story that Capcom hope will reignite Lost Planet’s waning appeal. Slower, bigger, harder-hitting. Throughout the course of the demos on show at Eurogamer, Jim makes a handful of Dead Space-like video calls to his wife and though there are no headphones – great going Capcom! – there’s a patent effort to infuse him with the likeability that Lost Planet’s characters never had. I cannot tell you if Jim is likeable, but I like his face more than I like most videogame character’s faces. And that’s surely something.
Regardless of Jim, it’s a tough ask of Spark to transform a game that was once typified by its decidedly arcadey co-op robot romps into one more concerned with its story, and I’d forgive any remnants of the former games’ fan base for eyeing this one with honed weariness. But if the goal is to haul Lost Planet in line with western videogame praxis then, by all accounts, Lost Planet 3 looks to be headed for success.
This preview was originally published on Strategy Informer.