An elderly Jim Peyton would like to get a few things off his chest before he dies – the secrets, the lies, the many battles of youthful days gone by. Also, the huge rocks that just fell on him.
As his granddaughter scrambles to pry him out of a cave-in coffin, she's drawn into an epic flashback that beats a season of Dallas, both in terms of length and inopportune timing. We're not meant to take this as a vocal description of every granular detail of Lost Planet 3, of course, but it sure feels that way sometimes.
"And then I waited for the mega crab monster to charge me ... again," Peyton sputters. "So, I rolled out of the way ... again ... and I shot it in the back and then ... wait, I think I reloaded my gun first and THEN I rolled." He expends another pained breath. "Have I mentioned how I shot the glowing weakpoint?"
Lost Planet 3 is a game about attempting to get on with it and failing miserably. Nearly every battle feels drawn out like a cheese pizza slice that won't let go of the pie, and the rudimentary shooting and movement make no attempt to spice things up. Generic beasts emerge from the ice to be slaughtered in wave after wave, and the battles against bullet-sponge behemoths give the game a damning value-add, in that they never end. This is also the game with a turret section in which you do not even get to control the turret.
You do fix it, though, in a quick-time expression of nice guy Jim and his occupation on the ice-ball planet of E.D.N. III. When he first arrives on the frigid frontier, his beard still a warm shade of brown, it's to work for NEVEC (Neo-Venus Construction), a company looking to get its claws into the hostile planet and harvest its mysterious thermal energy. The cold is unimaginable, inhumane and unrelenting, or so Peyton keeps telling his earnestly played wife back home.
Spoiler: It's impossible to die from the cold in Lost Planet 3.
This is the basis for many of the problems in Spark Unlimited's vision, which is not mechanically or technologically supported. Thermal energy from kills is converted to an effectively generic currency, with which you can upgrade your weapons or purchase more damaging ammunition. Straying from the home base – the repurposed remainder of a spaceship dangling over an icy precipice – has little consequence in the survival game, as does leaving your bipedal mining mech behind. It severs Peyton's "umbilical" data connection to the rig, which means a slower rate of health regeneration, no radar and a baffling inability to tell how many bullets are left in his gun. These are hollow threats in a linear, bland shooter that has no interest in letting you explore.
The planet itself hones its harshness to a beautiful state, with window-rattling storms and jagged peaks conveying a truly alien, unwelcoming place. Traveling in a mech is a lumbering act, however, and it becomes bothersome to notice a landscape stitched together from small chunks and encircled by loading screens. An instant travel option is a welcome convenience, but the world and its construction through the Unreal Engine never feels whole or contiguous. At least there is an aspiration to follow in the footsteps of Super Metroid, with new rig claws and grappling hooks unlocking more areas.
One of the central questions in the plot is why NEVEC's expedition won't allow miners to weaponize their machines. There are monsters out there, after all, and grabbing them by the tail and drilling them to bits seems like a misappropriation of work tools. Therein lies the gimmick, however, and one of the game's other failures. Mech combat is often just as tedious as when you're on foot (no worries about weaponization there, apparently), playing out as a clumsy pattern of blocking, grabbing and drilling when the prompt tells you it's time. The mechs in the obligatory, wholly unremarkable multiplayer mode do have guns, but that's not really the solution either.
Lost Planet 3 is most thoughtful in its cliched but well structured story, which pares down the sci-fi to tap on issues like militarization, corporate responsibility and restrained use of environmental resources. Peyton carries out mandatary and optional tasks for several clashing figures on the planet, including a forthright weather nut and a brutally focused scientist, who can't help but view a colleague's death as a productivity issue. There's even a little bit of Dances with Icicles once other inhabitants of the wasteland turn up. It's not Shakespeare or anything, but ... it's not Lost Planet 1 either.
Jim Peyton's story as played in Lost Planet 3 is a mixed proposition, in need of trimming to the monster-shooting tedium, yet anemic in its core interactions. The workmanlike effort by Spark Unlimited, its best yet, comes out less believable and less interesting than Grandpa Peyton's final words: the story of a man immune to the cold, who wasted most of his life shooting monsters in the back.
This review is based on the PC version of Lost Planet 3, provided by Capcom. We also tested a pre-release build of the Xbox 360 version, which exhibited some framerate problems.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.