Title: Lifeless Planet
Price: USD 19.99 (Steam)
Hey you. Yes, you, at the back. I see you there, hopping from foot-to-foot, so full of your own humour you’re about to burst. Go on, get it out of your system.
“Walking Simulator 3000! Hurr hurr hurr!”
OK, good, now we’ve got that out of the way, perhaps the adults can continue. This is not a horror game, my usual focus for reviews, however I was intrigued by the visuals from publicity screenshots and videos for this game, which, while giving away one of the game’s distinct story points, did enough to attract but not so much as to deter. The protagonist is an astronaut from Earth, sent on a long range, one-way mission to a verdant life-supporting planet to assess it for Earth’s future needs. A crash landing leaves the player stranded solo, and in setting out to find the other members of the crew, stumbles upon a Soviet Russian colony town, long since abandoned. What follows is the dual task of surviving, and, as they have it in modern parlance, finding out WTF happened.
From a directly-controlled gameplay perspective, this is achieved by lumbering about in your spacesuit and jumping. It doesn’t take much poking about on the internet to find plenty of people who found this boring, leading to the tremendous witticism above. The game’s website does describe it as an action-adventure, which admittedly it isn’t: it’s a 3D platformer with strong narrative focus and some puzzle elements. That said, those seeking yet another FPS should probably have had adequate warning this was an Indie effort, and I’d also note Nintendo’s Mario mascot has delivered plenty of enjoyment over the years through little more than leaping and the pursuit of mushrooms.
Assessed on its own terms, then, Lifeless Planet gets an awful lot right. The story itself is reminiscent of the speculative and esoteric Science Fiction novels of the ’60s and ’70s, which is what attracted me in the first place. The story is revealed through visual clues in the main game and a small number of cutscenes, logs found throughout the game, and a voiceover narration comprising two parts: what appears to be the protagonist’s psychological evaluation before the mission, and his own commentary as he progresses through the game. There’s a good balance between exposition and player inference.
The environments themselves are varied and distinct, with a measured reveal of the fate of the Soviet colonists and the other events that have taken place on the planet (which will not be described here for spoiler reasons) as the player moves between these environments. Controls are simple, and for the most part work well.
Criticism must be levelled only at puzzles and price. Sometimes the puzzles are unnecessarily obscure, and with a simple control method, sometimes it’s not clear if you’ve got the wrong idea or the wrong execution. The scale of the environments can also be de-motivating when it is not clear which of the numerous structures within the current arena are for immediate attention, exacerbated by the above comment on puzzle obscurity. This may have the more exasperated player reaching for a YouTube walkthrough.
On the price front, I do recognise this is an Indie effort, and primarily the efforts of a single developer, David Board. Not only does he need to eat, but from this effort clearly also deserves a shot at making a career out of this. That said, it’s a 4 – 6 hour game, and while there are hidden collectibles, these jar with the atmosphere-driven exploration focus of the game and I would doubt there is significant replay value. USD 19.99 for 6 hours seems just a little too high. However, with the game now being offered in Humble Bundle and heading to Xbox One as well, hopefully the right balance between consumer value and income opportunities for the good Mr Board can be achieved.
|An interesting revisit of the SciFi style of the ’60s and ’70s, with a good balance of exposition and inference|
|Controls are simple and generally fit for purpose, with just a little floatiness making some of the platform elements a little harder than they should be|
|Medium – unclear objectives combined with controls which are just a little off can lead to wasted time|
|The game has more narrative focus and player activity than, say, Dear Esther, and the story exposition and atmosphere make it a rewarding experience – if you find it at the right price. Recommended for Genre Fans
This review was originally published on Fextralife.com. Used with permission