[NYCC 2012] Lost Planet 3 is bringing some humanity to the bug hunt
Lost Planet 3 was one of Capcom's biggest games at this year's New York Comic Con, and it, along with DmC: Devil May Cry and Remember Me mark a very different direction for Capcom in 2013. Just last year, their NYCC booth was all about Street Fighter X Tekken, Dragon's Dogma, and Asura's Wrath, internally-developed games with Capcom's trademark sensibilities. This year is more about Capcom as a publisher overseeing Western development studios. Lost Planet 3 shows exactly what that Western influence entails.
In a lot of ways Lost Planet 3 is familiar territory for fans of the series. Third-person shooting, Akrid bugs and giant bosses to battle, mechs, grappling hooks, and a snowy, alien world all combine to make fans feel at home with this prequel to the first game. It's in the details that this game starts to diverge from the originals. All the little quirks of a Japanese-developed shooter are gone. The controls are tight and should feel familiar to anyone who has played Gears of War or Call of Duty. There's no "play" to the aiming the way their was in the original (unless you want it, developer Spark Unlimited has added it as an optional homage to the original game).
What's most immediately different about Lost Planet 3 is its story-telling aspirations. In my interview with Capcom producer Andrew Szymanski he called the game, "a more narrative-driven and character-driven experience." At their panel, Capcom and Spark Unlimited went in depth about their process for creating cinematics. The game employs performance capture technology to create cutscenes that are well-acted and believable. In a behind-the-scenes video, the panel audience was shown a scene in which each actor, complete in body and face capture rigs, acted out their scenes together in a desolate, white studio. It may not sound like much, but because their bodies are captured along with their voices in the same take, the result is a genuine performance not unlike a Hollywood film. Once the scene is captured and rendered out, the team at Spark, through a special rig, are able to move a real cameraman through a virtual scene for the kind of stylized shots you typically don't see in game cutscenes.
The results were immediately apparent in the demo I played and the footage shown during the panel. The protagonist Jim, as well as the other characters in the plot seem realistic and human. That's not enough to sell a game on, but I'm excited for Lost Planet 3 in at least one sense: I know the story will be enjoyable to watch, regardless of how good or bad the gameplay is. Many gamers argue that cutscenes are unnecessary, but I think they can be justified if they aren't wasting your time.
As for the gameplay, Lost Planet 3 has a similar set of mechanics set by the first game, albiet put through a Western lens. For example, the grappling hook ability is back, but rather than allowing you to use it anywhere, Spark Unlimited has made it a context-sensitive tool. The goal was to keep the game more grounded and less silly. They've also added a cover system to the game, though it feels more like a prerequisite than something the game is committed to. The developers themselves admitted that it was a tool you could skip entirely and still get through the game, and I have to wonder why they included it at all.
In close encounters with the Akrid, the game will jump into a cinematic view where players struggle through an analog stick-based quicktime event. It's more fun than the standard QTE, and almost resembled the scripted shooting events in the Dead Space games. That said, I kind of wish they weren't included, because it just feels like yet another addition to the game that's a bit too typical in shooters.
What does set LP3 apart in terms of gameplay is the Rig. This huge mech is Jim's way of getting around and making money on E.D.N. III. As the Akrid's start attacking it becomes an impromptu combat tool. With a drill arm and a winch that can be fired out and reeled back in, players will have a creative means for taking out the game's larger enemies. In our interview, Szymanski clocked the on-foot vs. in-mech gameplay as a 60/40 split. That's a hefty chunk of game and one aspect to look forward to.
In our interview, Szymanski considered my comparisons to Dead Space 3 superficial, but I couldn't shake the feeling that a lot of what I'd seen in Lost Planet 3 had been done before. The everyman hero, the closer third-person perspective, the use of industrial tools as weapons, the enemies with weak spots on the limbs, the cinematic moments, and even some familiar violin stingers in the soundtrack all added up to a game that felt heavily inspired by Isaac Clarke's adventures. With a release around the same time frame, I hope that Lost Planet 3 has more surprises to keep it out of Dead Space 3's looming shadow. That said, at least it's borrowing from the best.
Overall, Lost Planet 3 is shaping up to be a highly-polished, focused, and narrative adventure. Between the bug-shooting, Rig-driving, and engaging cutscenes, it could end up being a great game. At the same time, I couldn't get past the feeling that in my time with it I hadn't seen anything new. In some ways it felt like a game that was more limited, more stream-lined, and less unique than its predecessors. It may be smoothing out Lost Planet's rough edges, but I worry that without them, there won't be anything compelling to grasp onto.