As Bill Ritch stood off-stage at Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City, May 2006, he can’t have known he was minutes away from Internet infamy. Onstage, Kaz Hirai was fumbling his way through the reveal of the PlayStation 3 at Sony’s E3 press conference. But Hirai’s wooden performance would be outshadowed by the time Ritch had finished explaining how Genji: Days of the Blade took advantage of Sony’s new hardware to deliver the kinds of gameplay experiences we could only dream about six months earlier.
The huge battles in Genji: Days of the Blade, explained an audibly nervous Ritch, were based on “famous battles which actually took place in ancient Japan.” Seconds later, the producer earnestly narrated the arrival of a “giant enemy crab” on the battlefield, and a new meme was born.
“So what I’ll do is use Benkei here to flip over this crab on its back... And you attack its weak point for massive damage.”
As the sun finally begins to set on the PlayStation 3, Capcom’s Lost Planet 3 arrives to take the maxim “start as you mean to finish” to newly perverse extremes. It’s been more than seven years since Benkei upended that helpless crustacean in front of thousands of journalists and bloggers, but in the icy ravines of E.D.N. III, everyman hero Jim Peyton is still shooting chitinous plated bugs in their softly glowing underbellies.
Lost Planet 3, the sequel to the sequel no one asked for, hasn’t had a rough ride to release, merely an anonymous one. When the game did finally wriggle its way into the headlines, it was with the gaffe that Capcom had chosen Spark Unlimited to develop the title because “quote unquote ‘good’ developers” wouldn’t want to work on the series.
Spark’s work here won’t much elevate the studio’s status. Lost Planet 3 is a drab and unsatisfying third-person action game unnecessarily padded to artificially lengthen the experience long after any enjoyment has been gnawed from its meagre bones.
A prequel to the original Lost Planet, the game tells the story of Jim Peyton, a working class everyman who gets embroiled in a Pocahontas-alike tale of corporate greed. Jim is in the employ of Weyland Yutani-alike NEVEC, a mining company extracting the energy resources of Hoth-alike planet E.D.N. III for export back to Earth. His mining work brings him into conflict with the Akrid, a terrestrial species ear marked for extinction by the aforementioned glowing weak spots.
Jim’s story marks one of the scant few successes in the game, but it is noteworthy. He’s a homesick man applying the skills he has to make ends meet on the harsh frontier in order to support his new family back on Earth. The love between Jim and his wife is relayed with remarkable subtlety and quiet dignity. It’s a genuine feat of storytelling totally at odds not just with the rest of this game, but superior to almost all games.
Its success only throws into sharper relief the other narrative shortcomings. The game cribs too generously, and refers back too freely to the existing body of sci-fi literature. All its nods to titans of the genre only serve to demonstrate Lost Planet 3’s failures.
Unsurprisingly, piloting Jim through his daily routine quickly devolves into a chore, and even as the action picks up, it hardly becomes more interesting. New to the series are a combat roll and a cover system. The latter of the two is serviceable but hardly feels necessary, as if it were included because that’s what third-person games do, rather than to deliberately stimulate gameplay dynamics.
The larger part of on-foot action is punctuated by faintly more interesting passages in Jim’s mech. The makeshift weapons have better report, and the sense of scale plays nicely against the more limited vision and movement options.
But by far the most damning aspect of this game is the mission design. Jim pings around zones from objective to objective completing an ongoing string of mundane maintenance tasks. The padding is so ubiquitous that even Spark is prepared to acknowledge it by having Jim begrudgingly remark upon the arbitrary repetition. It's as if the studio is labouring under the mistaken belief that by turning its flaws into a joke the criticism somehow becomes invalid.
Lost Planet 3 isn’t broken. The mechanics are sound and it isn't buggy, just listless. The real impression is that this is a studio and a publisher simply going through the motions of developing and bringing a product to market. Beyond the tender portrayal of Jim’s relationship with his wife, there’s no sense that much passion went into the creation of Lost Planet 3 at all. The fact that Capcom has nursed Lost Planet to a third installment is a marvel of tenacious publishing that probably defies the natural order, but it’s time to pull the plug.