I’ve been a supporter of Lost Planet 3 ever since I played the demo last year simply because I completely “got” the direction Capcom and developer Spark Unlimited set for the upcoming prequel. While that first demo was put together to show off certain areas in the game and how well-designed and acted the cinematic sequences were, the version I played last week here in NYC was the first area of the game that showed off a solid story and gameplay progression that made the 45 or so minutes fly by too quickly.
Those folks unfairly criticizing the game for nonsense reasons will hopefully not affect the sales one bit should they actually get their hands around a controller and have their minds changed. Of course, you can’t care what some less informed people say on the internet, right? That said, my more informed powers of “I played it and see where it’s going” trump anyone with a bile covered keyboard who still thinks this is a “sequel” and not going to cover elements in the other LP games…
Capcom’s PR Manager Jason Andersen was on hand to point me around the new build and it was really interesting to see how well the game flows as it introduces its lead character Jim Payton to gamers as an average working-class guy who just wants to earn his keep at his new job. The game starts off during the aftermath of a huge crash landing that brings him to his new job as a miner on E.D.N. III, but the cinematic wasn’t shown because Capcom wants to give players to experience the entire sequence and how well it folds into the gameplay.
Yes, a snippet of the opening has been part of the Pirate reveal trailer above for a few weeks, but I’d imagine seeing the complete opening and not a scant few seconds will make a world of difference to some gamers who’ll have controllers in their hands and can hop into the game proper once the cinema is over. Of course, the early minutes of the game with Jim navigating near and around flaming hunks of landing craft in search of something important made quite an impression as to the severity of the crash as well as the scope of the environments.
Once the item was acquired, it was time for a bit of action as Jim was picked up by a land transport that had a sort of grinder attached to its front. A bit of cinematic movement later had Jim needing to hop off and draw his sidearm to battle a few waves of Akrid, fighting his way to one side of the transport to assist in clearing a blockage. The enemies here were fast, but a bit of rolling and some quick shooting (and well-timed reloads) kept him alive. Once the machine was cleared, it was off to the main base that acts as the game’s central hub for a “meet the new boss” cut scene that also introduced a few other characters.
One thing you’ll notice is that you’re always IN the game world in the story mode. As with the Dead Space games, the HUD is minimalist and outside of the pause screen, menus pop up thanks to Jim’s handy wrist display. Some have criticized Spark for taking this route, but the streamlining works in the game’s favor (and yes, that interface is too good to be limited to one game franchise). I didn’t ask, but I’m betting that one reason why Jim’s not wearing any headgear in the game. Hiding his handsome mug under a helmet would just make too many jaded gamers toss out comparisons to Issac Clarke (although there certainly were NO horror elements in the game from what I could see).
After meeting up with a bizarre NPC in a hot tub (no, it’s not what you’re thinking at all, unless you were thinking crazy Aussie guy with a penchant for tight compression pants and chickens – don’t ask), it was off to see the base’s mechanic Gale about setting up Jim’s rig. While exploring the base, you’ll see areas under construction or closed off at the beginning that will open up as the story progresses. A trip to the weapons shop to grab a shotgun and then it was off to climb into Jim’s rig and get the game’s first mission underway. Rather than hit you over the head with text boxes for missions, Jim will receive orders and updates through radio transmissions and/or talking with other characters. This keeps you immersed in the game world and almost constantly in motion outside the cinemas.
A fellow miner needed to be tracked down after going missing for a bit too long, so it was off to a not so far away location (that was a nice trip thanks to fantastically fluid mech controls, by the way) where a smashed rig was found and after some blasting of smaller scrambling Akrid was done, Jim found the lost miner behind a makeshift barricade. Before he could get the chance to hop over and join him, two well-armored Akrid bosses rolled into the area and it was off to the races. This particular battle wasn’t tough, but it was tricky thanks to having to deal with the bosses’ running bash attacks and smaller Akrid popping up to distract and chomp away. Thankfully, the “aim for the glowing bits” tactic from previous LP games is in full effect and after a few close calls, both creatures and their annoying entourage were sent permanently packing.
Amusingly enough, the now safe miner wasn’t exactly giddy about Jim’s saving his bacon, but at least a backhanded thanks delivered in a snarky French accent is better than none at all. I was about to head Jim back to base to check in when Anderson suggested I instead hang a long left and swing around to a new area past where the boss battle took place. As I guided Jim around the icy and dark caverns into a tight series of even darker tunnels, Anderson noted that the game would have a number of side missions that weren’t part of the main story where some great gear and other goodies could be acquired. Of course, it wasn’t exactly an easy task, as between the waves of Akrid spewing from disgusting-looking wall orifices and the dozens of icky red sacs that acted as motion detecting trip mines, things got quite tense.
Jim’s grenades, shotgun and unlimited pistol ammo helped out a lot here, as did a few items found in a chest or two along the way to the final room where tings got really hectic. After a few really close calls, the final room was cleared out and Jim was able to grab some nice bonuses as well as a data file that added to the lore he collects while exploring. Andersen also noted that these areas are entirely optional and made to give players who decide to explore a bit some added challenge in a risk versus reward manner. While heading back to the boss area, more Akrid popped up to keep things from being a dull backtrack hike, a nice touch that added a bit of unpredictability to the game. As Jim reached the open area he came from, a radio transmission ordered him back to base and a quick run to the rig was required as a new swarm on Akrid made for a bit of a “get the hell out of Dodge or die” momentum.
On the way back to the base, there were Akrid aplenty that could be avoided or fought, new ice to break that formed thanks to the driving snow and incessant heavy winds and then three switches that needed to be activated using the rig’s arms to turn huge wheels using the analog sticks. Again, the intuitive controls for the rig come into play here and will also be needed during some of the game’s larger boss battles (as I noted in my first hands-on preview). Once those three switches were wheeled into place and a tiny bit of exposition later, the demo was over.
Based on this opening mission, it’s clear that the game has a nice, solid flow to it that takes you from one point to another as it shows you the ropes in an unobtrusive manner that really makes you feel as if you’re Jim Payton and not some person holding a controller sitting on his or her couch. It’s pretty clear that Spark wants you to sit down and immerse yourself into the game world, take in the sights and enjoy the ride they’ve created. Multiplayer wasn’t set up at the event, but Andersen noted it would surprise some players expecting the usual from an action shooter. A few videos have been revealed that show off some of the MP modes, but there’s more to come on what’s yet to be seen.
From a presentation standpoint, Spark is really making that Unreal engine sing here. Characters and environments are amazingly detailed and believable, the weather system on E.D.N. makes for some stunning snowstorms and other great effects, and there are nice little touches such as huge stalactites that can be shattered by the rig, some fine motion capture work and other touches that show this is a very well made game experience. Jim’s working class normal guy (and that Grizzly Adams beard) have been getting some prickly guff online, but he’s supposed to be a regular Joe (er, Jim) and comes off as likable and so far, loyal company guy who just wants to make a living and send money to his family back home.
Of course, the story will take a turn for him and that company as things turn out not to be as they seem on a few fronts, but that’s all for the final review. With an August 27, 2013 release date, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 owners who aren’t out baking themselves in the hot sun can look forward to some flash-frozen fun in the far reaches of space when the game hits retail and digital stores. Back in a bit with more on Lost Planet 3 – stay tuned…