Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Video Game Review: Lifeless Planet

Lifeless Planet, developed by Stage 2 Studios and put out by Serenity Forge, is a sci-fi planetary exploration game with elements of some classic puzzle-solvers.

My first impression was genuine intrigue as the opening scene shows the inside of a space capsule with an audio "replay" of a "media interview" between a news anchor and the protagonist. We learn right away that this planet is supposed to have significant signs of life, but when we land, we find out that those readings from Earth were way off.

From there, we go on a deep exploration of the planet, including what appears to be an abandoned soviet village, to find out what happened to the people, plants, and animals who used to live there. I won't spoil the story for you, but what I will say is that I didn't feel compelled to learn more.

My first impression of the game is that it looked very cool, especially considering the full game is under 1 GB of data. Some of the modeling felt rough, like they fit better on the PS3 than on my PS4, but overall, the scenery was beautiful and intriguing. The gameplay, too, is fairly intuitive and easy to get into. And the voice-acting is far and beyond better than half of the games I've played over the last decade.

That being said, this game let me down. To follow the actual storyline (of what happened on the planet, not what happened with the protagonist), the player is required to read a lot of text. The audio that accompanies much of the data I stumbled on was all in Russian, and since I don't speak Russian, I would've had to read paragraph after paragraph. But as a player, I didn't feel a draw to find out what had happened. "Story questions" that get set up didn't catch my interest strongly enough to push me through to find answers, and when I got those answers, they didn't live up to my expectations. I tried, from beginning to end, to engage in the world, form an attachment to the protagonist—who was interesting but still too two-dimensional to connect with—and find a compulsion to become a hardcore fan of this game.

In my opinion, too many pieces were missing. The story felt half-formed, there were a few minor gameplay glitches (when respawning, the camera glitches briefly, and occasional object interactions failed to work the first few times I tried), but most of all, the agency of the character simply wasn't there. This is in large part due to the fact that the challenges in gameplay, while smooth, are easy to beat. And the consequences of failure aren't strong enough. Fleshing out the protagonists backstory and motivation, and making it easier to engage with the history of the planet with less text would have gone a long way toward making me "need" to get to the end of the game to find out what happens. If they had also (or instead) given me a chance to "fight for my life" with enemies who chase after me that I can defeat with some combat mechanics or escape with clever ingenuity, that would have made this game SO much better more engaging. But, unfortunately, neither of those elements were present.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad game. And I'm interested to see what's coming out from both the developer and the publisher over the next few years. However, while it isn't bad, it's not finished. One of the two suggestions above would've made this game feel complete, like many indie games I've gotten into lately. And adding BOTH would've put it on par with some early-day PS3 tripple-a games with graphics that belong on a PS4.

Overall, I give this game 2/5, mostly because it's not a full game. It really feels like an extended demo. And as a demo, it's interesting.

Gaming is becoming a great way for Giles to relax these days, and he's excited to see where the indie game revolution takes the industry. Stay tuned for more reviews in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting sounding premise, I'm wondering how much of the game's story was influenced by Russian literature. I find many Russian novels and films end without any satisfying conclusions. I guess it is a cultural difference that requires further contemplation.