When I was younger I wanted to be an astronaut, what child of the 70/80s didn’t! So when a code for Lifeless Planet landed in our inbox I was quick to snap it up, but what I didn’t plan on was something far from the space adventures I dreamed of as a child.
You step into the moon boots of a nameless astronaut, seeking out life on a distant planet. After crash landing and losing your crew, it’s quite the surprise when you stumble across an abandoned Russian settlement.
An empty ghost town in the middle of a dusty desert is rather unsettling and soon you’ll discover that the planet’s root wildlife is trying to kill you, but rather than focus on action, Lifeless Planet’s gameplay is very subtle, particularly in its storytelling – focusing on creating an isolating experience of discovery as the sole survivor of an exploratory mission.
Lifeless Planet tries to create a deep emotion by focusing on isolation and loneliness, but I feel that many may miss the point of what it sets out to achieve. With a lack of cutscenes, it’s left to the superb voice acting to drive the story forward, although you will also need to read the various data packs you find in order to make some sense of what has happened to the Russians that first inhabited the planet.
The story is quite vague, which only serves to drive you forward in the hope of making sense of the world you find yourself in. Soon after landing, you meet a strange girl who seems to want to help you – but why is she helping? How did she get there? Why doesn’t she need a space suit? Some of these questions will be answered, but by the end of the game I had more questions than answers.
The landscapes of Lifeless Planet are vast and beautiful to behold. Fantastic textures and vibrant colours make up the varied landscapes, inviting you to stray from the cleverly laid out path that is subtly taking you by the hand. Wander off into the expanses of each area to find numerous collectibles, although doing so will almost certainly confuse your sense of direction, meaning you will often become lost and disorientated, driving home the feeling of isolation. A shallow depth of field accentuates this, with the focus remaining on the astronaut with the edges of the screen and distant objects appearing blurred.
At times you really do feel alone, lost and slightly sad – for the most part there’s also no soundtrack or ambient sounds to keep you company – adding to the feeling of loneliness. It also helps to give the soundtrack more impact when the music does kick in, often when something is about to happen or a new discovery is just over the next rock. Unfortunately the soundtrack does overwhelm the narrative – with no option to tweak the levels – but for the most part it’s well delivered.
Lifeless Planet’s merits are in the telling of its (ambiguous) tale, and the sense of isolation and loneliness it creates – if you’re expecting a puzzle platformer, you might feel somewhat underwhelmed by its basic jump puzzles and simple mini games. The gameplay isn’t without its faults either – lacking the polish that a larger team would have brought to the table.
At times, oxygen and jet pack fuel is limited, and while this could have been a great mechanic to explore, the game decides when you need to suddenly replenish your levels, with an oxygen station never too far out of reach – it makes for quite a disjointed experience and diminishes the immersion of your solitude, particularly when there’s a station perfectly placed in the middle of nowhere!
A game set on a far off planet just begs for some fantastic physics based movement, and while the jetpack can take some getting used to when chaining jumps, the movement feels out of sorts with the environments that you are in.
There also seems to be a lack of physics to objects too. When pushing boulders they glide across the landscape, but the sound effects of crumbling rock dictate that the boulder should have some weight to its movement – the visual effect just doesn’t work well enough to cement the illusion.
Finally, the flow from one environment into another didn’t work for me. I often found myself in the middle of a new location, with no real journey of how I got there – with such great exploration on show throughout the levels, this heavy-handed technique of pushing the adventure forward through the locations breaks the sense of exploring an uncharted world.
Lifeless Planet is a mixed bag of ideas. It’s beautiful landscapes and stunning soundtrack are overshadowed but simplistic gameplay that shows signs of brilliance but falls short of being anything memorable, although I must admit to being rather taken by its tale, and its attempt to create a feeling of despair and loneliness. Action Adventure? More like Walking Sim – you will find yourself walking for what seems like an eternity!
Thanks to Stage 2 Studios for supplying TiX with a download code
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