The world of videogames can be an unpredictable place at times. Not only were most people surprised that Lost Planet was getting a third instalment after Lost Planet 2 bombed at retail, but they were also surprised to learn that western developer Spark Unlimited are handling it. Spark Unlimited’s previous efforts, for the uninformed, include shoddy shooter Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary, a game that was anything but.
We assume that Spark Unlimited showed Capcom some mighty impressive tech demos to bag the Lost Planet franchise. Either that or Capcom saw them as a studio who could do great things with a little bit of input and direction. A combination of the two is most likely.
Lost Planet 3 starts off with a slow paced section to get you into the swing of things. Bearded blue collar worker Jim is informed of a huge power source and as an engineer for a mining corporation heâ€™s sent out to investigate.
This entails clambering into the cockpit of a hulking mech, or â€˜rigâ€™ as theyâ€™re known here. This rig is not loaded with guns and lasers as per those seen in the previous Lost Planet games – itâ€™s meant for mining so it’s armed with just a claw and a huge drill. The rig’s controls are very similar to what youâ€™d expect to find in a boxing game, with one of the rigâ€™s arms mapped onto each of the trigger buttons. Pressing both makes the rig put both arms up to block attacks.
Effort has been made to make you bond with the protagonist from the off. As youâ€™re strolling out of the snow-covered base while system checks are being run, his wife contacts him via a video call to share concerns for his safety, and you also learn here that Jim has a child. Thereâ€™s a strong sense of atmosphere too â€“ when the baseâ€™s blast doors opened for the first time to reveal a huge ice-encrusted hostile world, a small shiver went down our collective spine.
A little bit of humour has been thrown in for good measure. One of your co-pilots â€“ a rather juvenile trainee – gives you a geeky thumbs up with an even cheesier grin as you step into the rig for the first time. Turn the camera to the left when inside and a Hawaiian doll with a nodding head can be spotted.
The rig cannot be taken into areas with fierce weather conditions, thus requiring you to leap out and search areas on foot. When leaving the base youâ€™re also told that supplies are low and to look for any scrap, suggesting there will be extra loot to distract you off course.
After placing a beacon to trace the power source, alien dog-like Akrid soon appear. Combat is a mixture of third-person shooting, evasive manoeuvres and QTE events. When pinned down by the fearsome mutts the X button has to be bashed to pull out a knife, then you have just a few seconds to move a target over the enemyâ€™s head. The accompanying animation is pretty flashy, but after seeing it three times in the space of a minute it did start to get a little tedious. The rig is also used in combat and comparisons with Bioshockâ€™s Big Daddy can be made here. We were able to grab one of the hounds with the claw and then sink the drill into it, all from the comfort of the cockpit.
From what weâ€™ve played so far Lost Planet 3 isn’t quite there yet â€“ it needs just that little extra time to defrost, so to speak. Character movement feels a little light and twitchy and there are pauses in gameplay when the auto-saving feature kicks in. This is something we havenâ€™t come across for quite a while. Spark doesn’t quite appeared to have mastered the Unreal Engine in the same way that other developers have either. Itâ€™s a good looking game, certainly, but nothing has dropped our jaws so far. That even includes a boss battle with an enemy the same size of the rig itself.
Still, thereâ€™s still plenty of time to get things right. Capcom have kept Lost Planet 3 away from this yearâ€™s busy Christmas period, choosing instead to release it early 2013. Thereâ€™s no doubting that itâ€™s going to be Spark Unlimitedâ€™s best game yet, but, well, thatâ€™s not saying much.