The lights are on
The third entry in the Lost Planet series takes players back to a time before E.D.N. III was colonized. You play as Jim Peyton, a hard-working operator of a gigantic Rig mech, which he uses to harvest T-Energy. His job tasks him with trudging through freezing storms and swaths of ravenous Akrid - indigenous creatures with no love for the human colonizers. I got to play quite a bit of the prequel, and enjoyed tromping through the snow on foot and battling huge crab beasts in my Rig.
My hands-on time begins with a tour of Jim’s workplace. The gigantic indoor facility is property of Nevec, a company interested in harvesting T-Energy, a power source found on E.D.N. III. Nevec is the evil corporation from the previous Lost Planet games, but the company isn’t the bad guy yet in this prequel. Jim interacts with several fellow workers in the freezing base. Laroche is Jim’s hard-headed rival, Braddock is his firm but sympathetic boss, and Gale is his peppy and industrious mechanic. Gale has just attached an automatic belay system to Jim’s Rig as our hero approaches his vehicle for a dangerous mission. The base runs on T-Energy, and Braddock emphasizes the importance of securing this haul.
Getting into the Rig is as simple as running up to it and pressing a button. Jim is zipped into his cockpit instantly, and the camera shifts from third-person to first-person. Navigating the mech feels empowering. The sheer mass of the thing is conveyed as you lumber through the base towards the blast doors, but movement doesn’t feel rigid. The machinery controlling the doors has been frozen over, and I use a shoulder button to grab the metal pistons and force the mechanism upward, breaking off the ice. Cold rushes in as Jim pilots his Rig into the snowy outdoors. Frozen spires shoot up above the clouds, which crackle with lightning below the precipice. Lost Planet 3 is an impressive looking game. If you’re afraid the winter planet can only offer a bleak color palette, the warm orange glow of the sunset, cool blue ice formations, and roiling gray and black storms prove otherwise.
Jim passes debris shed from Laroche’s mech on the way to his destination. Gale asked Jim earlier to recover what he could from the site of a recent Akrid attack. I hop from the cockpit to the snowy ground below with the push of a button. Jim raises his hand to ward off the howling winds as he grabs salvages the equipment and returns to his mech. Side missions like these will earn Jim extra T-Energy, which he can put towards upgrading his weapons and the Rig itself.
Back in the Rig I continue on my path, but see a raging storm sweeping in on the horizon. I trudge forth into the bad weather, which instantly covers the Rig in a thick coat of ice. Jim kicks the cockpit loose and leaps down to survey the damage. Now it’s up to me to use my assault rifle to blast away the icy wiles holding the Rig prisoner. Just as I begin breaking off the ice, a pack of wolf-sized Akrids attack. The first one pounces on me and knocks me down. Instead of a button-mashing quicktime event, I must position a wavering reticule over the Akrid hound’s gaping orange maw, press a button, and watch Jim stab it in the face. After scrambling to my feet I gun for the rest of the packs glowing weeks spots, finish freeing the Rig, and hop back in.
When I finally reach the destination of the reported T-Energy signals, I’m greeted by a humongous Akrid crab. Unfortunately I had to ditch my Rig early in order to grappling hook up a ledge. I’ll have to kill this monster the old fashioned way. I roll dodge and blast away at the crab’s weak elbows in order to dismember its huge claws. After the front limbs are detached, it begins bellowing angrily at me, exposing its glowing orange mouth. I pitch a grenade into its noise-hole, and the explosion stuns the icy crustacean. I capitalize on the situation by running behind the beast and firing at its icicled hind quarters. Eventually the frozen armor flakes off enough to expose a pulsating orange weak spot. After some more dodging and forced grenade snacks, the scuttling foe perishes and I collect a pile of T-Energy.
The third-person shooting action feels great. From what I played, developer Spark unlimited knows how to provide capable controls and creative enemy encounters. Rolling around and firing from the hip keeps the action moving, and the lack of iron-sight precision never bothered me.
Unmolested, I’m finally able to set up the mining mechanism, which instantly melts away every inch of ice in the fast cavern. A mysterious structure is revealed, and Jim is compelled to search inside for T-Energy. The dark corridors of the derelict facility are filled with little skittering Akrid and dead bodies. Creeping through these dim hallways and never knowing when enemies would attack ratcheted up the suspense quite a bit, but it never slipped into Dead Space levels of intensity. Inside the facility I blast tons of tiny Akrids with my newly found shotgun, power down a huge generator, and search for T-Energy.
No fuel is found, unfortunately, so Jim makes his way to back to the Rig. A pack of angry Akrid emerge from the snow and charge after me as the Rig towers in the distance. I loved being free to take the risk to run to my Rig instead of facing these foes head-on. Reunited with my Rig, I was able to turn on these now diminutive pests and punish them with huge crushing claws and a shredding drill.
The fun is cut short when another crab creature emerges from the snow. The behemoth creature swings one massive claw at me, and I raise the Rig’s arms to block. I take the opportunity to parry, throwing the crab off balance. I take the opportunity to grab one of the crab’s claws like I did the blast door’s pistons earlier. The beast shrieks as I crack off the limb like an entrée at a seafood restaurant. The monster rails on me with its good claw, which damages my Rig enough to put it out of commission and force me out. I finish off the crab on foot, and the fight plays out much like the earlier one. Fighting with the Rig opens up new options for players. Spark Unlimited says that instead of severing the crab’s arm, I could have held onto it with my huge mechanical arm, exited the Rig, and positioned myself behind the helpless beast and blasted away at its vulnerable back.
After defeating the beast I saddled up in the Rig again with the intent of searching for more T-Energy. A cutscene kicks in which features Jim stumbling upon an icy field littered with dozens of the fierce crab Akrid. This deadly encounter marked the end of my hands-on time with Lost Planet 3. I had gone into the demo with little expectations, and left feeling like it could be one of the most underappreciated games of E3 2012. Splitting your time between the Rig and running around on foot really mixes up the gameplay, and I love having the freedom of choice. Whether you enjoyed the previous games or not, don’t give Lost Planet 3 the cold shoulder. The game arrives on PS3, 360, and PC in 2013.
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