I don't know guys... This one was a bit difficult for me to write, because I want to say nice things about it but I just... can't.
Let's see if I can find somewhere to start. I am a pretty big sci-fi nerd. Put the word "space" or "planet" or any other astronomical phenomenon in your product and I will probably be interested. I am pretty sure that is how I got my eyes on Lifeless Planet. Apparently I must've let the name woo me enough to buy it, because I did not read the plot synopsis on Steam, nor watch any images, revealing that you find a Russian town on this lifeless planet and thought that was a genuine plot twist (albeit about three minutes into the game) at first. While it's not a plot twist as such, uncovering why there is a Russian town on the planet is one of the driving forces of the story.
|50 shades of brown.|
You play as an American astronaut who wakes up after crash landing on a planet that you've been travelling towards with two colleagues. They're gone and you're about to suffocate. Good thing you've got the solution to that problem in your immediate vicinity and it literally takes no effort. That should be your first hint that this game isn't what you hoped for it to be, but you will trek on. You will think "oh boy, this place is ugly and boring to look at, but it's lifeless so that makes sense I guess". Maybe that will even make you excuse the fact that the game is sporting basically Playstation level graphics. Not Playstation 4 mind you, PSOne. Graphics are often the last thing I care about as long as they're functional enough to play the game, and here they work well enough in that regard. What I often forget about tedious graphics however is that they can make a tedious game even more tedious. See what I did there? Repetition is tedious.
Pretty immediately after you set off to find your lost colleagues you encounter buildings that look strangely familiar. They're clearly built by humans, so now you've got two mysteries on your hands. Why is the planet lifeless (because of course you didn't set out to explore a lifeless planet) and who got here before you? It takes another two seconds (I am exaggerating, but not by much) to find out that the Russians got here some decades before you through some portal. Sounds pretty promising right? Unfortunately that is as good as it is going to get.
The major problem with this game is that it just doesn't know what it wants to be. If it had settled on being a walking-simulator á la Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch and just focused on the story I think this could've had a lot of potential. But for some reason they've thrown in platforming. So much platforming. So much pointless platforming. Pointless because it's hardly ever a challenge and it always feels as just a way to make you travel from point A to point B or from unrealistically placed audiolog to unrealistically placed audiolog.
I usually love audiologs. I know a lot of people don't and think they're overused at this point. That's bullcrap, I think they're still a great way to convey story - but that doesn't mean you can just let them lay around anywhere you think it's time to continue the story-bit of your game. This game does this all the time though, and it's just structured so badly. You'll get to a platforming part and right before it you receive a tool to traverse through and right after the tool is snatched away again (until next platforming bit where it is specifically needed) and now it's time for some more story-telling so let's leave an audiolog lying around in the middle of nowhere for the player to find. It feels forced and unnatural game-design wise.
I think the bad structuring of the game is affecting the structuring of this blog post.
You'll get another tool that will allow you to move rocks from a little crevace to another crevace and that feels pointless too because there is just no challenge to it. Imagine if in the Mario games there was a switch that you needed to stand on at the end of each stage before you could enter goal. Not out of range or hard to get to or anything, just right there next to the goal.
|And here is an invisible wall, preventing me from going in this direction.|
A couple of times you'll get the prompt "NEW OBJECTIVE: You're running out of oxygen, find an oxygen source before you run out". This could've been interesting if it wasn't solved by the oxygen source often being only a few steps away. I have literally no idea what the purpose of these sections are.
The story is the best part of Lifeless Planet, but it's not given any time to grow, shine or even make much sense. And there is so much potential here, but other than the nameless protagonist and a Russian alienplantwoman (don't ask) there are no characters and even these two are as flat as a sheet of paper. The astronaut has a subplot about his wife that also doesn't amount to anything. Apparently, before the astronaut leaves for his mission, she goes missing in the forest by their house and when he finds her unconscious, moss has started to grow on her toes. How long has she been unconscious for?! But this doesn't lead anywhere or affect the game in any way. Maybe it is meant to make us understand the astronaut's choice to leave Earth and venture into space and... I really have to struggle to over-analyze the thinly slized pieces of story that we're gotten here. Each new revelation is thrown at you without much or anything inbetween making them feel grossly under-explained. This is actually well illustrated by the fact that after most of the cut-scenes you are inexplicably thrown into a completely different area and it's always very confusing. In one instance it's even suddenly night. Or the fact that you'll find random buildings and other derelict structures standing around without any consistency or sense of realism.
You never once feel like you're walking a planet that has been through what the audiologs tells you, every part feels like it's been designed to give you the next platforming "challenge". Over and over the game fails both at the story-telling, because it just doesn't sell the story with its setting, and the platforming because it just doesn't hold any challenge.
Here are some other random annoyances;
- Why do you have a "Save & Quit" option when it doesn't actually save? You'll be thrown back to the nearest checkpoint, which admittedly rarely is far off, but also almost always means you have to replay some part and thus is the opposite of the meaning of "save".
- Why can't I strafe? With all that walking you'll really miss a strafe option.
- This game has way too much running. All the platforming just feels like you're running, and in-between the platforming there is more running. It took me 5 hours to finish and it could've been done in two with some tighter writing and a whole lot less unnecessary platforming. It most likely would've left much less of a "meh" aftertaste too.
|Similar concepts, completely different results.|
I feel like this game really wants to be Another World, with its mysterious otherworldly setting and one-hit kill platforming challenges, but it fails in execution. Like I said in the beginning, I want to say some nice things about it too though. The checkpoints are very generous, which is nice because even though the platforming isn't challenging you'll die plenty from clunky controls and/or hard to judge distances. Oh, guess I went back to complaining again.
I really like the soundtrack, which actually puts down a great ambient sound that helps you endure all the brownish graphics you're about to experience. And Bob Carter who voices the astronaut has such a nice voice I really wish he had a lot more lines than he does.
Interestingly enough, Stage 2 Studios that made the game aren't your average game studio. Looking at their homepage (they don't have a wikipage from what I could find), they seem to be focusing on science-apps and movies and Lifeless Planet is meant as a way to promote interest in science and space-exploration. Well I am sorry to say, that is probably one of the last things it does!
For some reason I decided to finish this game, and I think that was purely on the fact that it was basically just to run through. But those are still five hours I actually wish I had put into something else. Here's a suggestion; Develop that story into a novel and I will gladly spend five hours reading it while listening to the soundtrack.