Coming out of E3 2012, it was Lost Planet 3 and not Resident Evil 6 or DmC that had people praising Capcom. Having gotten a chance to play that demo in a quieter, less rushed setting at an event in New York last week, I can say that Lost Planet 3’s reputation is well earned. It’s a beguiling game, and not for the reasons you might suspect. There’s a strong heart pumping beneath this game’s icy veneer.
The game’s quality and the E3 accolades heaped on it were surprising for a number of reasons. First, Lost Planet could hardly be called a franchise. It’s first two entries feel totally disconnected from one another and Lost Planet 3 doesn’t help make the series coherent. In fact, it feels all too familiar to other games and media not made by Capcom. The snow and ice are back, but the grimy tale of miners on a distant planet feels as distant from the first game’s campy militaristic sci-fi as it does to the soulless antics of Lost Planet 2.
The action in Lost Planet 3, at least in this sample slice of the game, feels rote. Go here, shoot that, fight a giant crab boss. Know how you hurt the crab? Wait for him to rush you, dodge, and shoot his back. That’s the same boss pattern seen in Capcom games since the original Mega Man! Creepy crawly enemies straight out of Halo, the sort of abandoned outposts full of dead men that have typified every sci-fi horror recipe since Cameron’s Aliens and Carpenter’s The Thing (and H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness if you want to go farther.) Even the lumbering mechs in the game don’t feel too different other first-person games—Lost Planet 3 switches to that perspective in the mech—where you play as a lumbering heavy. The things you do in Lost Planet 3 are things you’ve done before.
Its lack of mechanical distinction doesn’t really matter though: Lost Planet 3, in this demo at least, has more heart in just half an hour of play than most games do over the course of 6 hours. Main character Jim’s message to his wife; a scene of him by himself in a shaking room drinking coffee that was recorded for a psychology analysis; a video message from his wife that plays over your first moments on E.D.N. II’s surface; these are all surprisingly quiet, human moments. I didn’t feel like these were characters in a game pushing me to the next drab mission objective. They felt like people. Andrew Szymanski, producer for the game at Spark, said that the game is being directed and written internally at the studio, but this game shows a patience and quality absent in Spark’s work like Legendary: The Box. It’s more than a little impressive.
Capcom and Spark aren’t detailing who is providing the motion capture performance and voice work of lead character Jim, or any of the game’s characters for that matter. They want to save that announcement for later. That at least suggests that the studio and the publisher know that this game is worth promoting as a story and not just another shoot ‘em up.
I finished the demo, listening to every dialogue and watching every scene in full, wanting badly to keep playing even though the shooting was so plain. Spark is promising an open game that has you pursuing missions at your leisure from a hub world, a good set up to keep the game moving at a more ponderous, less action spectacle, pace.
The original Lost Planet was born out of Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s infatuation with Halo. It was a competent shooter with an absolutely spectacular setting. Not much interesting happened on E.D.N. II—some people with mechs don’t like other people with mechs and bugs filled with orange juice don’t like anyone was what I got out of that game—but its crunching tundra covered in driving blizzards was a feast for the senses. Its multiplayer focused sequel dropped the snowfields in favor of jungle and desert settings that would have looked generic in 2005 let alone in 2010 when the game released. Lost Planet 2 also stripped away what little idiosyncratic charm the original’s third-person-shooting-meets-grapple-hook play had in the interests of chasing the almighty Call of Duty dollar, emphasizing player customization and growth. The games shared only the most superficial characteristics. Lost Planet 3 feels like its own beast too, but if it can maintain this affecting human element, if it can stay this restrained and personable, throughout then the Lost Planet franchise may have finally found its soul.