Video Game Review: ‘Lost Planet 3’ Has Warm Heart, Cold Gameplay

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CHICAGO - If you ask me the first console game to get giant robots punching each-other right is the N64 Cult Classic “Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon”, which is strange because that game is the most absurd thing I ever played. I booted it up recently and marveled at how a game that came out over a dozen years ago managed to combine feudal Japan, space aliens, fat jokes, blue hair, and a half mermaid girl to create a really memorable and genuinely funny experience. But the best part was boss fights involved you hopping into a giant robot on roller skates, and fighting gigantic enemies via a metal pipe and coin-shooting cannon from the POV of the cockpit. As a kid I thought, well, if a stupid comedy game can make robot action this awesome, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Video Game Rating: 3.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 3.5/5.0

And that next was apparently nothing. Aside from “Armored Core”, the dormant-but-excellent “Virtua On: Cyber Troopers” series, and a “Steel Batallion” here and there, the robot mech sim genre has been languid on consoles. Sure, there have been giant mech games, but those have almost always made you the robot, not really the person inside. So it was with a touch more anticipation than most that I gave “Lost Planet 3” a go, eager to channel my inner Charlie Hunnam.

First impressions are mixed. As Jim Peyton, a Josh-Groban-meets-norse-god looking fellah, you’re introduced to the snowy, most-would-say-”Hoth”-like world of E.D.N III the hard way via a particularly rough landing. From there you’re introduced to serviceable 3rd person shooter mechanics as you mow down several creates that look like something Pink Floyd drew up for the animated portions of “The Wall”. Eventually you run into the other humans on the planet, and you’ll have yourself a colorful and culturally diverse cast of characters, all of whom are personable, if not three dimensional.

Lost Planet 3
Lost Planet 3
Photo credit: Capcom

Head writer Richard Zangrande Gaubert deserves all the credit in the world for making a sci-fi game on a barren planet feel so human. The cast reminds me of a quasi-racially insensitive quote from Gene Roddenberry, where he used dated terms like “Chinaman” and “a black” to describe how important cultural unity was to “Star Trek”. Much like “Star Trek”, “Lost Planet” uses cultural tropes, along with better-than-decent voice acting to make it easier to identify with characters, be it via their accents, mannerisms, and other personal touches, of which there are many. Jim specifically has a photo of his wife in the cockpit of his Rig, and a personalized playlist you can listen to while in said rig, that his wife made for him. It’s easy to find yourself immersed in the world and characters of “Lost Planet 3”.

But then you have to play it, and it’s here the game falls into the “Bioshock: Infinite” problem of having to wade through the ‘game’ part of the game to see what happens in the story. It’s not that the gameplay isn’t fun, it is, especially when you finally get a clear shot at an enemy’s weak point, but you’ll likely find yourself rolling your eyes as the game pops up yet another wave of enemies to circle around and blast with your shotgun, when all you really want is to know what happens to Jim and his not-quite-friends. “Lost Planet 3” also shares “Infinite”’s interconnected nature, with backtracking and cut off paths that eventually open up as the story progresses, which gives things a subtle Metroid / Castlevania vibe.

But what about the mech combat? Well, it’s almost exactly like the combat in “Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon”, which is good, but not dynamic. It does that “Punch Out!” thing where you wait for an enemy to attack, block, then you attack, move around, block, then attack again. On one hand this makes fighting giant monsters really tense, as you wait for a bad guy to attack, half-ready to scream at your TV “Come at me bro!” in order to get off the killing the blow. On the other hand it sucks mech melee combat is stuck in 1998, or 89’ depending on your frame of reference. But beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

Lost Planet 3
Lost Planet 3
Photo credit: Capcom

Anyway, “Lost Planet 3” surprises in some areas, and is just about what you’d expect in others. The story, characterization, and characters are all interesting and easy to get invested in. The combat, both in-mech and out of it, is serviceable but repetitive. The game loses a few points for a couple of janky animations, gains them back for surprisingly robust weapon upgrades, loses them again for changing the enemies you fight several hours in, but then gains those points back when you realize it serves the story.

Thus the best way to describe “Lost Planet 3”, without using the word serviceable for a fourth time, would be…competent. It’s great in some parts and dull in others, and believe it or not, the best thing going for it is that seemingly no one is hyped for it. Therefore making its complete competence a welcome surprise, instead of a disappointment.

”Lost Planet 3” was developed by Spark Unlimited, and released by Capcom. The version reviewed by Paul Meekin (MeekinOnMovies) was for the Xbox 360 but the game is also available for the Playstation 3 and Windows PCs. video game critic Paul Meekin

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