Lost Planet 3: E3 demo hands-on raises our eyebrows
24th May 2012 | 11:46
Let's deal with the elephant in the room: the latest move in Capcom's make-nice-with-the-west strategy has seen it hand off Lost Planet to Spark Unlimited, the unknown studio behind mediocre releases Legendary: The Box and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty.
Like many, we were resolute in our disapproval - at least initially. While the series might not sit at the top of our list of most loved Capcom properties it's always been simmering with potential. All it needed was a good developer to bring it to boiling point, we thought, and Instead we've got Spark Unlimited.
We've started to change our tune recently because, after all, who could have predicted that Blue Castle, a similarly unproven studio, would be able to do Dead Rising justice? We didn't, and found ourselves eating a considerable amount of crow while playing their sequel.
And who can say Spark was given the kind of support and resources we imagine it's getting from Capcom while putting together its previous games? From a cold, hard business perspective Lost Planet is one of Capcom's premiere franchises, but is on shaky grounds. Its not-insubstantial fanbase is built on the cult popularity of an early Xbox 360 title and a dubious sequel - a crowd apt to cut its losses and run should the third game disappoint.
If our recent hands-on with Lost Planet 3 is any indication both parties are well aware of what's at stake. We're happy to say the short gameplay preview we had provided an encouraging glimpse at a game that takes the 'survival in inhospitable conditions' roots of the series and amps up the horror angle.
Our demo kicked off with an introduction to Lost Planet 3's leading man Jim Peyton, which the game makes a point of establishing as an everyman. While ostensibly quite a butch fella, very much in-line with the archetypal video game hero design of late, he's instantly likeable and carries more than a few similarities to StarCraft's Jim Raynor in that respect.
Maybe it's his soft Texan accent, or the carefree tone of his voice, or perhaps it's the fact that he says in his opening lines that he's "not a greedy man", has "never thought about money" but tough times have pushed him to realise "not caring about money was a luxury for those that had it", but it's hard not to like him. Jim just wants to make cash to support his wife and child living off-world by doing good, honest work. He's our kind of guy.
So, off we go on the daily grind, taking on a job deemed "too dangerous to attempt" by a cowardly colleague. With the promise of double pay we wander out into the harsh climate of E.D.N III to gather the T-Energy needed to secure and power the installation during an incoming storm.
Lost Planet's multipurpose Utility Rigs make a welcome return in the third game but felt slinkier than we remember. While movement is still deliberate the rig is very responsive, which in turn meant trudging around in the snow feels more graceful, even when the screen is constantly juddering and the camera is being knocked around subtly with each step.
Arctic winds eventually freeze the rig stiff so we're forced to jump out to shoot the ice away. No sooner do our feet touch snow than we're pinned down by a screeching Akrid looking to sink its teeth into Jim's face. To deal with the pest we're given a quick mini-game that involves guiding a knife to the enemy's face and then hammering the action button until the thing is thoroughly shredded. It's simple but satisfying.
Having defrosted the rig we decided to hop back in to see how it fairs in combat and - like movement - it's surprisingly capable. Along with the sweeping arm attacks it's also possible to grab hold of an enemy and plunge the drill into it. There's nothing like sadistically watching blood, guts and all other manner of liquid shower your rig's windscreen from the comfort of your pilot seat.
From then on it's an on-foot trek to our objective. Although Jim is well armed to battle Akrid, picking off enemies is a lot trickier than we expected, which is perhaps by design. Enemies are just a tad bit quicker than you so it feels like a mad scramble to keep a target centred long enough to put it down.
At the same time other critters are noisily scurrying around your periphery, so you're acutely aware of the fact that you could end up as Akrid chow if you're not swift on the trigger. It's this kind of finely tuned combat dynamic that defines Dead Space's underwear-soiling skirmishes and Spark seems to be placing it at the centre of its game too.
LOST IN SPACE
Much of the aesthetic and atmosphere design is also informed by Dead Space. The layered plate and flashy light look of Jim's armour makes it look like an early version of something Isaac Clarke might have worn.
Later on in the demo we discover an abandoned base which looks like it could very well have been a section of the USG Ishimura. At this point Lost Planet 3 goes all the way survival horror by swapping the snowy tundras, icy vistas and howling winds for cramped rooms with flickering lights, suspiciously dark corridors and clanging pipes - or is that an enemy trying to get the jump on us?
The game slows the pace down and uses all the usual survival horror tricks to make you think a group of Akrid are just waiting for you to come around the corner or turn your back on them. Obviously this is just a small slice of gameplay, and the true test of quality will be whether Spark can maintain this fine balance for an extended period. But nevertheless it's a very promising start.
Lost Planet 3 brings the spectacle in its boss battles. Mid-way through our demo we were put up against a turtle-like Akrid. Bringing it down involves frantically diving out of the way of the charging behemoth and occasionally stopping to take potshots when the thing swings itself into a stupor.
The end of the demo pitts us in a giant space-crab-versus-rig battle. This time we make short work of the thing by grabbing it by the arms and drilling at its joints before brutally yanking its limbs off and tossing them aside.
So far much of what we've seen is derivative but that doesn't necessarily mean its bad. Early signs for Lost Planet 3 are good; the demo has a level of polish and cinematic presentation that we've not seen in the series so far. Despite our early concerns, Spark Unlimited's new ideas could well turn out to be exactly what Lost Planet needs.