The Lost Planet series has been an odd one. I played the first title back in 2007 on my PC -- when it was developed directly by Capcom -- and found myself intrigued. It certainly had it's rough spots, but I genuinely enjoyed it. The second title was a bit of a disappointment as the franchise took a bad turn due to minor issues with graphics, gameplay that didn't change much, and a forgettable storyline. Lost Planet 3 takes an even stranger turn in this franchise, opting to go the prequel route and taking place long before the first game's timeline. I had some hopes for this title, but what I found was a roller coaster of excitement and frustration, all in one tightly wrapped package.
Capcom decided not to do development on Lost Planet 3, which is a curious decision for a franchise that has been only made by Capcom. Even with the change in developer, I was optimistic with what I had read about the title leading up to its launch. Prequel titles allow for a fresh start and can truly give a franchise a rebirth of sorts.
In Lost Planet 3, because it takes place roughly 50 years before the events of the original Lost Planet, the environment of EDN III is not the tropical world one would hope for but, instead, an icy hell. Jim Peyton is working for NEVEC, which, veterans of the game will recognize as antagonists from earlier in the series, are actually the good guys here. NEVEC has been contracted to send materials back to Earth, which is the primary reason Peyton is there. Of course, the planet is inhabited by the Akrid, the alien race that is native to the planet.Since NEVEC is there to make the planet fit for humanity, the Akrid have to be wiped out.
Lost Planet 3 runs on the Unreal Engine, which is a credit to the series. I've never had a problem with titles using the Unreal Engine considering that it's a well-known and proven engine to use. Movements are exactly like I expected in the early stages, considering that I've always had to adjust the sensitivity, since this version, Unreal Engine 3, is very sensitive on its default settings. Accurate motions to lock onto enemies are practically impossible without turning down the X and Y axis sensitivity to about setting 2 or 3. Depending on how one plays shooters, perhaps going a little higher is more enjoyable, but I personally do not see it. Handheld weapons, especially when dealing with swarms of enemies, can be a major pain if the settings are perfect for the gamer. The interface reminded me a lot of a mixture of Borderlands and Dead Space with the HUD pop-ups instead of a pause menu, allowing for on-the-fly changes and updates to job listings and settings, but it's not as robust of a system as those two titles. I can't fault Spark Unlimited for trying to implement it, though, as it still comes off as very clean.
Speaking of the HUD, the layout is simplistic and designed for maximum view. The top right carries a map with locations of enemies, goals, checkpoints, and so on. The middle of the screen has a reticle for the currently chosen weapon. Other than that, everything else is accessed by the pop-up HUDs controlled by the player for checking information. The problems come in with certain ways the gamer can pan around. The middle reticle never moves, even if doing a quick scroll of the room. This can really throw off players because the camera can freak out a bit and cause a player to fire in a direction unexpectedly. Outside of this minor annoyance, the display is simple and gets the job done. The protagonist, Jim Peyton, is a pretty easy character to root for during his interactions with others, especially with his commentary while blasting enemies. Sarcasm doesn't elude him.
Digging into the gameplay at heart, there is a lot left to be desired with taking on enemies. Fans of third-person shooters with over-the-shoulder cameras are going to recognize that this is not the best system. As I mentioned previously, the sensitivity is tough to adjust to, even after making the necessary changes to one's preferred style. There are a plethora of weapons to choose from as a gamer gets deeper into the game, but that can only make up for so much. Even getting past the minor issues with controls, the gameplay is just incredibly boring. Wave after wave of the same enemy will come at a gamer, and yet there is never really the feeling that there is danger. Many of the enemies are weak and take a long time to do a substantial attack. Also, those who are hoping for a return of mech combat from the second title are going to be severely disappointed. Mechs are in the game, yes. However, controlling one? Forget about it. This is meant to be a third-person shooter and that's it. There are some other changes that fans may not like, such as T-Energy being just a currency instead of used for other actions such as healing. These are changes that I definitely did not expect and, to be honest, I just can't get behind.
Cutscenes aren't an issue as the interaction between non-player characters and Jim Peyton are pretty smooth. There are no major graphical issues as the characters have great mannerisms and the voice acting is spot on. However, if there is one thing to complain about with the cutscenes, it's that early on there are a lot of them and they cannot be skipped, at least with the primary missions. Some players, myself included, like to get the general idea of the mission and just get to it. A lot of the cutscenes are unimportant to what is actually going on in the world and are just there for relief or character development, which is fine, but there doesn't need to be so much of that thrown in so early. Other than that, I did find a great connection with the primary characters.
One element that is truly unique and makes the game shine is Jim Peyton's connection with the rest of the characters and crew. It can be missed very early on in the game, but a couple of the characters explain that Jim Peyton has a variety of abilities and options at his disposal if he's linked up with the rest of the crew, including map layout, radar, and other useful elements that are revealed later on. However, everyone wants to do some detective work and exploration on their own, and doing so will eventually take Jim Peyton too far from the crew. Doing this results in a shutdown of systems, essentially making it Jim Peyton vs. Everything. The only complaint, though, is that while I feel this was added in by Spark Unlimited to be a way of creating suspense, it never does. It's basically a ho-hum moment of realization that now you have to progress on your own for a bit before rejoining the crew. It really is disappointing because it could have been so much more.
Lost Planet 3 has plenty of positive and negative aspects to it. Just when the game starts to show signs of progressing -- and turning into something that is going to challenge a player -- it starts getting stale. When a player gets close to thinking that nothing is going to change and that dull feeling will never go away, a mission suddenly gets interesting and drags the player back into it. However, these moments are like explosions: quick, exciting, but gone with the moment itself. The loss of mech battles and other gameplay elements being drastically changed drag the game down, but the third-person shooter elements added in bring it up a bit. Spark Unlimited certainly did their best, but I can't honestly say that this title is anything more than an average shooter that tried hard to be more.
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