Monday, September 2, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Lost Planet 3 Review

Also available on PS3




In the third iteration of the Lost Planet series, some things are gained, and some are, appropriately enough, lost. Lost Planet 2 was a frustrating and beautiful concoction, loaded with grand ideas that all too often sacrificed basic playability. In this mediocre prequel to the original Lost Planet, the frustrations are minimal, but so are the ideas; its predecessor's variety and visual panache are steamrolled in favor of perfectly decent, perfectly standard shooting encounters. Lost Planet 3 is a difficult game to hate and an equally difficult game to adore. It might feature monstrous aliens, but it never thinks big.One aspect of this third-person shooter that will keep you thinking, however, is its story, a surprise given the series' lack of a personal touch and grand plot ambitions. The early hours move slowly, introducing you to hero Jim Peyton, who has journeyed across the blackness of space to the planet E.D.N. III to assist the Neo-Venus Construction company in its mining efforts. Jim is an excellent everyman, frequently exchanging personal video messages with his devoted wife, who is raising their newborn son while Jim works toward a brighter financial future. The couple labor to maintain a tone of normalcy, but never fully contain their misgivings and personal longing. The dialogue is natural and delivered gracefully; Jim's love is not characterized by overwhelming passion, but by quiet adoration and sincere concern.

While performing odd jobs and fighting off the wildlife that threatens the mining operation, Jim spots a figure eyeing him in the distance. Jim's paranoia turns to confusion as he uncovers truths about NEVEC and the indiscretions of the company's past. Here, the tale begins to follow recognizable paths, invoking elements of stories like Pocahontas and James Cameron's Avatar by contrasting the greed of the invader with the purity of the land. But it's how Lost Planet 3 subverts cliches that makes it so compelling. In fiction, lines like "I didn't know you had a wife" often lead to predictable story outcomes--but not here. Lost Planet 3 avoids overt moralizing and soap-opera melodrama, instead placing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and allowing them to find their way.

On E.D.N. III, it's best not to anger the wildlife.
On E.D.N. III, it's best not to anger the wildlife.

That isn't to say there aren't sour notes. A miner with a deplorable French accent tops that list, though an annoyingly chatty engineer can also grate on your nerves. Both ultimately earn a vital place in the story, though not before injuring your sense of good taste with their cliched characterizations. The game's tone wanders, sometimes shooting for "space cowboy" a la StarCraft or Firefly, and other times getting jokey, going so far as to point out its own mechanical shortcomings. A little lighthearted humor is appreciated, but when it's a bit of dialogue pointing out how often you have to turn on an elevator's power, you can't help but wish developer Spark Unlimited had avoided repetitive mission design rather than cracked wise about it.
That repetition is a problem. Many of Lost Planet 3's missions have you heading out into E.D.N. III's icy wilderness to perform odd jobs for NEVEC or other allies, flipping switches, riding elevators, and shooting some aliens in a comfortable but overfamiliar pattern. Like in the previous games, your primary foes are the akrid, aliens primarily known for their insectlike appearance and the glowing orange growths that indicate weak points. Previously, fighting the largest of these creatures could be both a stunning and frustrating affair, with their outlandish attacks sending you flying through the air and into drifts of snow, where you had to struggle to your feet and resume battle. Combat arenas were often large and gave you the opportunity to pilot combat mechs, and giant akrid forced you to use your wits when you weren't busy cursing the frustrations of irritating knockbacks

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