The Lost and The Damned
If you were to press me to name my favorite video game story I’d likely give an answer that would surprise you. I’ve always felt the most connected to the Infocom classic The Lurking Horror. A Lovecraftian horror story that takes place on a fictional campus (hint: it’s MIT) on an especially snowy evening leaving the protagonist unable to venture outside. Alas, a glitch strikes his midterm report forcing him to find his way across campus and a tense and atmospheric journey follows. I’ve been enamored with that setup for decades and during my time in Alaska (working in a campus computer lab no less) I repeatedly attempted to memorialize the game in film. All that came of that was several hours of scary snowy building.
So, when I learned that Capcom’s Lost Planet 3 purported to be a survival horror romp set as a prequel to the other games I was excited. I mean, the Planet was Lost because it was buried in snow, and I love me some cold-weather survival horror! Makes me feel right at home.
Those familiar with the Lost Planet series know that it’s pretty schizophrenic. The original game was a basic third-person shooter that looked pretty. The second game was very much a Monster Hunter style co-op game where you took on huge challenges. So it makes sense that the third game is a slow-paced horror game, right?
Imagine if you will that you are poor Jim Peyton. You’ve taken a job piloting a Utility Rig in the hostile environments of E.D.N. III to support your family back home. Sure, the job sucks, but the pay is pretty decent because Jim isn’t above going into some pretty hazardous situations to repair that damn widget that broke again. One of my favorite parts of Lost Planet 3 was the heavy narrative story that told the classic everyman tale of a regular blue-collar guy dropped into an untenable situation. Unlike someone like, say… Gordon Freeman, Jim isn’t tasked with shutting down the temporal rift generator or taking down the hive queen. Early on he just needs to fix some broken doors or bring an offline transmitter back up.
Of course soon things are breaking from more than just shoddy engineering. Suddenly our old friends the Akrid appear (well since this is a prequel I suppose they are new friends) and Jim is forced to get involved in incidents that no amount of bonus pay can make palatable.
While a lot of the action in LP3 takes place on foot with Jim graduating from simple mining tools to more advanced weaponry, the real star of the show is the Utility Rig that could have stepped right off the marine dropship heading for LV-426 (bay 12, please!). The rig helps protect Jim from some of the extreme conditions that a normal man couldn’t handle. The rig has a drill and a winch and a smattering of other tools that you can use both to repair damage all over the facility and also to defend yourself from those pesky Akrid.
Lost Planet 3 alternates between open planetscapes and claustrophobic corridors and both look pretty in their own stark and utilitarian way. The facility Jim is on is clearly designed for work and not much else, so you won’t find a lot of flair on the walls or gaudy nightclubs. You’ll find a lot of rusty steel and large steaming valves though, and that does help lend to the overpowering atmosFEAR that pervades the world. The best moments in the game come when Jim is alone in the howling wind, banging the buttons on your controller trying to get him to tighten a bolt faster when you hear a higher pitched howl in the distance… is it coming closer? Can’t stop working… ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!
Those tense moments are the best moments, especially when they are prefaced by Jim listening to a message from home, hearing his families struggles, the loneliness in his wife’s voice… Jim reminiscing about his time back on Earth and how desolate he feels… the story goes along great until things get a little crazy and off-the-rails towards the end (no one knows how to wrap things up, regardless of the medium). I honestly did not expect to come to this game and enjoy the character development as much as I did. You’ve surprised me Capcom!
Alas, the story eclipses the gameplay by a good margin. I enjoyed the times wandering alone and fixing broken things, but every time the damn Akrid showed up things got a little boring. It doesn’t help that all the forms the Akrid take are kind of boring and generic. From the little mushroom guys to the giant Hiveen they all seem like mindless drones you’ve seen in a billion games. I couldn’t help but think of The Flood from Halo as I plinked away at a horde of charging blobs. The combat is certainly serviceable, but it’s also boring. There isn’t any finesse to the gunplay and all the action feels like a chore to get to the next suspenseful part.
Even the attempt to break up the monotony with a few extra systems doesn’t really help. You can convert your rig to a drilling platform to try and harvest more energy for upgrading weapons, but that comes with the cost of increasing the spawn rate of those annoying Akrids so you have to learn to keep a delicate balance. In the end I didn’t feel the need to upgrade my weapons much though so I largely ignored that side of things.
There’s also multiplayer to consider, although even a couple weeks after launch the scene was pretty dead. As I said before, they haven’t brought back the Monster Hunter scene but they do have some interesting co-op options. You can hop into “scenario mode” that is essentially a little story slice to play through. Akrid Survival is your standard Horde mode while Extraction Mode is a modified capture the flag variant. Finally (for some reason) you can engage in bog-standard team deathmatch, but this isn’t a game that lends itself well to that mode.
Lost Planet 3 finds itself in a tough place. It stray so far from the formula of its predecessor it can’t hope to attract that same crowd. As a straight action game it’s slow-paced and filled with boring weaponry. Coming into it expecting survival horror left me a bit cold with the amount of generic action I had to deal with. It’s a shame that the game never finds any solid ground to stand on because the story was one of the more mature and relatable ones we’ve seen this generation. Maybe they can bring it all together for Lost Planet 4.