|System: PC, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Spark Unlimited|
|Release: August 27, 2013|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Mild Language, Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Remember the Lost Planet series? After a promising start with cult favorite Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, the series took a nosedive with both gamers and critics in the co-op focused, bug-riddled Lost Planet 2. Three years later, Capcom is giving the series another go. This time, it's being developed by Spark Unlimited, a Western studio best known for creating Call of Duty: Finest Hour. Spark is returning to a game that is more like the first one: a single-player, story-driven adventure accompanied by several multiplayer modes.
Like many entries in series that are looking for a bit of a reboot, Lost Planet 3 is a prequel. It takes place in the earliest days of the planet E.D.N. III's colonization, well before the events of the first Lost Planet game, which means that E.D.N. is still a frozen wasteland rather than the thawed out tropical planet it became in Lost Planet 2. The game's star is Jim Peyton, an ordinary workingman with a utility rig.
Jim's got a family to support back on Earth. He's no hardened space marine, just a guy earning his hazard pay by helping the NEVIC corporation survey the planet in search of mineral and energy resources. Calling it “hazard” pay, though, is likely understating the issue. Jim's rig isn't the kind of weaponized mech that starred in the first two games. It's a mining rig with a drill arm and a claw arm, which isn't the first tool you'd want for facing off against the native insectoid, Akrid. Jim will have to survive a world where both the environment and the inhabitants are out to get him—not to mention what happens when he learns that his employer is more sinister than he first imagined.
While the original Lost Planet is more of an arcade-style action game, Lost Planet 3 aims to have a greater focus on the exploration of this wild planet. It has a mission-based structure that allows players to freely explore various areas of the world. The player can hop in and out of the rig while exploring, talk to the locals, upgrade or build new rigs, and take on side missions. Thermal energy, which is used as a survival timer to up the ante in the first game, is now a kind of currency that Jim can collect and exchange for new weapons and other resources back at his base.
There will still be plenty of action, as Lost Planet 3 remains a shooter at heart. Despite the mission structure and themes of survival and isolation, it's not moving into the survival horror or RPG genres. Spark wants to keep the feeling of the action that players enjoyed from the first games, but improve the controls to make them more intuitive and remove frustrations.
When Jim is on foot, the game will play like a third-person shooter. There's a cover system, and Jim will have a variety of weapons that he can use for different situations. The Akrid encounters we've seen in previews show a wide variety of alien bugs to fight, each with different kinds of attacks and strategies.
Jim can also hop into his rig, which switches the player to a first-person view. This huge machine will help Jim take on some of the larger inhabitants of E.D.N. III, as well as solve various environmental challenges. Its two arms can be upgraded in various ways, though it appears that it will mostly be used for melee-based combat rather than shooting matches.
The combat scenarios have generally been strong in this series, though. It's the improvements in storytelling that Spark appears most interested in highlighting, especially since the first two games were criticized for weak stories and wooden voice performances. The team is working to create a believable group of down-to-earth people who are colonizing this hostile planet, and will be using full performance capture instead of simple voiceovers. The cinematic scenes we've seen so far look decent in that regard, with characters who sound like actual people.
More interested in shooting bugs and other hostiles with friends than in the exploits of Mr. Peyton? Lost Planet 3 features four types of multiplayer matches. Scenario mode pits a team of attackers against a team of defenders, each of which will be given different objectives that they'll have to meet. These objectives will change as the match progresses, causing teams to have to react on the fly. Akrid Survival is a hybrid cooperative/competitive mode that sees two teams of three players facing off against waves of Akrid; afterwards, they engage in an elimination match against each other.
The other two multiplayer modes haven't been revealed yet, but the game's producer has stated that there will be six maps total, and all four modes can be played on any of the maps. The developers have noted that the popular grappling hook will be available and will play a larger role in multiplayer than it will in the single-player campaign.
Lost Planet's world, encounter designs, and multiplayer maps have always scored well with gamers, while its story, controls, and certain player-unfriendly design decisions have hampered its appeal. Can Spark Unlimited keep the good parts of the franchise while shoring up its weaknesses? The company seems to be making a good-faith effort to do so, and we'll have our final judgment on the matter when Lost Planet 3 comes out in August.
Date: May 17, 2013