Game Review: Lifeless Planet (PS4)

Being alone and helpless is one thing, being alone and helpless on a strange alien planet? That just sounds terrifying, especially when everything nearby is trying to kill you. Lifeless Planet is a throw back to the Cold War era science fiction stories of mankind’s desire for space travel. You play as one of three Astronauts who signed up for a one-way mission to explore a strange new world, only problem? Someone else beat you to it.

Upon crash landing on a dry desert location, you soon figure out that your companions are no where nearby. It’s not long before you find their bodies, and wonder how soon death would come for you as well. At first you are not sure about where you are, the Intel you were given is contrary to your surroundings. Soon enough you start to see power lines and houses and it’s just not clicking. What is going on here? Where the hell am I?

The story behind Lifeless Planet is told through a few methods. There is your Astronaut, the audio log books you find scattered around the world, and the actions that take place during the gameplay. The Astronaut, whom I wish had a name, as it would be easier to reference him as something other than the Astronaut, likes to talk to himself and he also keeps a written journal of the events that transpire. The log books you find detail what happened to the planet as well as those who colonized it before our hero could discover it. It’s actually a really well written story with many twists and turns.

As you traverse the scenery, you’ll come into contact with Aelita. A girl wearing a Soviet shirt and a pair of shorts. She speaks a different language than you and has a very odd condition that may be the secret to giving back life to this lifeless planet. As you collect each of the audio logs, you’ll discover her backstory and the events that lead to her condition.

Lifeless Planet is a puzzle-lite platformer. During its conceptualization stage, the game originally was intended to be an action platformer, but the action took a backseat to the change in concept to push the story out into the forefront. You’ll do a lot of walking, jumping and solve some extremely basic and sometimes borderline simplistic puzzles. I was never stumped at any particular junction and not one single puzzle makes you feel good about figuring it out as they are just far too easy and usually solved within the first few seconds of seeing them.

There are two nearly identical mechanics that force the game into some predictable moments; your Oxygen and Jet Pack fuel levels. At first, I assumed we would be finding oxygen canisters or another method to fill your tank at scarce intervals, making exploring a tense and frightful experience. Would you risk traversing the cliffs only to run out of air, or would you chance it to find something incredibly spectacular? Turns out that Oxygen and your Jet Pack fuel are tied to the narrative, meaning that you will require filling them at certain points in the story and are not gauge based at all, eliminating all tension the game could have had.

Despite some locations being rather huge and expansive, there isn’t a lot to explore here. Often the game pushes you further in a set direction with only one way to traverse, offering no backtracking to prior locations. Most of the time you’ll see exactly where you need to go as it’s usually painfully obvious how you need to continue. Sometimes you’ll come across a new area to discover, but it’s rather rare and most of the time it results in a dead end. Most locations look rather large but lack anything there to justify the scale of that area. Some locations are visited during the night in which you will utilize your space suit’s flash light. In some locations the flashlight works well, but in others it just fails completely. One level in particular is the Lava section towards the end of the game. It is nearly impossible to tell where you need to go and what section of it will engulf you in flames should you touch it.

Despite the poor flashlight, the darker areas have some great atmosphere, and it can be attributed to some stellar music. The soundtrack in the game is rather good and the music picks up in key sections of the game to heighten the suspense. The voice acting is pretty good, but most of it is not in English, as you are hearing the audio logs in Russian.

Being a platformer there is quite a bit of jumping and using your Jet Pack to get around. You will need Jet Pack fuel to multi-jump several times, as running out only lets you use it once, giving you essentially a double jump. The jumping isn’t precise in any real way and lead to many deaths because I would either jump too far, or not enough. While my own skill may have caused many of those deaths, it’s still not as tight as the mechanic should be. You gain access to a crane arm for your suit later on that allows you to activate key switches and pillars that need to accept a glowing green rock to usually unlock a door.

There are not typical enemies to avoid or take down here as the entirety of the threats you come across are thorn like plant creatures that will impale you if you get too close. You’ll run into other creatures later on, but they all seemed to just run away from me when I went right up to them.

Visually the game isn’t going to win any awards as it just isn’t any sort of big budget experience, but I feel the character models could have been far better. I’ve seen many indie and low budget games do far more with as little or even less of a budget. Indoor and cave-like levels look great, as does anything that has the green glow to it, but larger more expansive areas are just too plain looking and lack any detail to them what-so-ever.

Lifeless Planet first appeared on the scene back in 2011 as a Kickstarter game by Stage 2 Studios. They more than reached their funding target within 24 hours, ending with a pretty impressive $17,000. The widespread talk of this feat ended up securing them a publishing deal with Lace Games and KISS. Originally the title was going to release a year later, but it wasn’t until 2014 where the title would see an early access release on Steam, and a year later on Xbox One. The title has finally come to PlayStation 4 under publisher Serenity Forge, which is the version I have reviewed.

While Lifeless Planet didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping it would have, it’s still a decent enough game to explore. I enjoyed the story elements quite a bit, and discovering the secret behind Aelita was a pretty interesting concept. The imprecise jumping mechanics can make even the most simple jump feel like a monumental task, but the extremely good checkpoint system made it so I didn’t have to redo whole complete areas again and again. I wish that more had been done about the Oxygen system as it just plays it too safe with having it narrative based and not built around some type of tension. This lifeless planet is a good enough place to visit, but I sure wouldn’t want to live there.

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