Lifeless Planet begins with a take-off from Earth, followed by a landing on a mysterious planet. It’s clear in the opening moments that something has gone wrong as you scramble to find oxygen and stay alive. You explore a large desert area, but the game offers no guidance or waypoints leading you to the oxygen. This desperate beginning sets the tone for the isolating adventure about to unfold, but also showcases some of its distracting limitations.
The story unfolds by exploring the planet, picking up assorted recordings and discarded documents, listening to inner-monologue and audio flashbacks, and taking in the world’s impressive landscape and alien structures. You do this by walking from point to point and solving simple puzzles, but the majority of gameplay comes from using your jetpack to platform your way across the world.
Navigating the world can be difficult at times. On many occasions, I wasn’t sure if I had taken the correct path; I got stuck on geometry and awkwardly jumped on platforms I might not have been intended to. I never got stuck to the point of frustration, but I occasionally felt like I had accidentally wandered beyond the boundaries of where players were meant to go. This helps to sell the foreign nature of the planet, but from a gameplay perspective it invokes a lack of confidence in direction, as opposed to the compelling mystery inherent in exploration.
Despite the established setting of a planet without life, exploring the surface and delving underground or into isolated abandoned buildings offers a diverse collection of interesting settings. Even with a night and day cycle, the way you explore these settings doesn’t change radically throughout the game, but each new area is exciting and awe-inspiring. Seeing power lines stretching into the distance or coming across a huge dam in the middle of a series of mountains is an awesome spectacle – especially since the planet is supposedly uninhabited. That spectacle suffers due to the simple character models and goofy animation. Watching your astronaut protagonist awkwardly hop around the environment or barely move during a cutscene diminishes some of the impact of the setting and story.
Diving too deep into the plot would ruin it, but you’re an astronaut with nothing to lose who has volunteered for a one-way mission to an ostensibly habitable planet. Once you land, you discover the planet is dying, opposing every scan and assumption that has been made about the planet from afar. It’s a strange, unsettling story that reveals itself at a fantastic pace. Things are straightforward rely on your desire to learn more about the planet, rather than throwing a lot of twists at you. Everything concludes in an incredibly satisfying way.
Lifeless Planet feels like the independent films from rookie directors who know exactly what they want to say, but perhaps lack the means to achieve it exactly as they envision. Despite the lack of polish, films like that can make compelling statements. The performances might not be top-notch, and the production value might be lacking, but you might still eagerly recommend them to friends – with the caveat that they’re indie.
The aspects of Lifeless Planet that succeed elevate it past the technical shortcomings, but only so far. You will find a compelling world and a story worth experiencing, but you do so at the expense of well-polished animation and gameplay that hinders the overall experience.
Lifeless Planet offers a memorable experience on an alien planet, but is hindered by its technical shortcomings.