Originally released on the PC in 2014 and again on Xbox One last year, Lifeless Planet finally crash lands on Sony’s home console with the Premier Edition, but has it been worth the wait? Independently developed by David Board and Alaska-based Stage 2 Studios, you play as a volunteer astronaut on a one-way mission to a supposedly uninhabited planet. But when things go south and the module crash lands, you must navigate this barren, inhospitable world to locate your missing crew members and learn why and how there is an abandoned, soviet base on an otherwise, deserted planet.
Lifeless Planet starts off strong but fails to sustain it across the duration of the game. From the very first moments you step into the main character’s shoes, you are engulfed by a gorgeous, seemingly endless environment that really brings the feeling of isolation. Given the chance, if you started walking off in any given direction, I’d be curious to see how long it takes before you can go no longer. It feels as though you can go as far as the eye can see, which for a game of this genre and indie origins, it’s an initially impressive feat.
Though the environments can be considered to be the key strength to Lifeless Planet, over the six-hour average run-time they can start to lose their appeal as you start to see the same rhythms and structures that border on the repetitive. As you stumble towards a string of power lines in the middle of the seemingly uninhabited world, this surreal aspect of an otherwise intriguing storyline gives the game a strong opening jump-start to the player’s experience. And while it does attempt to vary up the landscapes, it starts to feel that they have just thrown in as many environments as they can think of, rather than consider how they best serve and link to the core narrative. The abandoned Soviet village and the underground labs in the catacombs serve as intriguing and sometimes spine-tingling arenas for the player, particularly when you have little more than your flashlight to guide the way, but towards the end, aside from a couple of alien structures, you can see where the developers ran out of thoughtful ideas.
That being said, the Premier Edition does benefit from the upgraded engine, shaders and lighting effects, which presents a beautiful world for the player to explore. The main character also gets an upgraded makeover, but their animation still feels a bit stiff and clumsy, but these are easy things to forgive. In fact, what comes as a real shame is how the otherwise gorgeous art design is spoiled by the too frequent cutscenes. Not only do these break up the flow of play, but when up close and personal, Lifeless Planet takes on the appearance of a PS2 instalment rather than a PS4 upgrade. How this fares on its previous releases on the PC and the Xbox One can be left to other reviewers, but not only does this spoil one of the key strengths of the game, it does start to seem that the developers have cut corners rather than really invest their time for a PS4 release. When you are releasing anything titled a Premier Edition, is it justified to just slap a new coat of paint on it?
Lifeless Planet doesn’t do a particular great job at telling the player what is expected of them, which can be seen as both as a blessing and a curse. Games of today often rely too much on being hand-held through their experiences with objectives very specifically telling them what to do, and in some ways the absence of this mechanic in Lifeless Planet, not only contributes more to the feeling of isolation and being lost, but it prompts the player to explore. It does mean that more often or not, you’ll find yourself running around in circles trying to find your way forward, especially during the night-time levels, but with patience and perseverance you make it through.
Blinking lights in the distance pinpoint where a useful item can be found, often in the form of data or audio logs, which shed more light on the story and why this soviet base is not only here, but abandoned. Early on, the game shows great potential in building together its story from these pieces of information alone and the frequent narration offered by the lone astronaut. Yet another reason for why its cutscenes were unnecessary. Stumbling across a makeshift graveyard just outside of the soviet town was far more disturbing and intriguing than the cutscene of you finding one of your fallen crewmates.
However, there appeared to be a very damaging problem in my version of the game, which meant that data logs that were collected were not viewable in the holo-log section, showing nothing more than a blank screen. Audio logs that were also collected, all recited in Russian I may add, seemed to imply that a translation was available, of which I was unable to obtain. Considering how much I enjoyed the exploration aspect of finding collectibles such as these to begin with, discovering this issue very firmly put it in its grave. It’s possible to continue and understand the story without them; but a big chunk has been taken out of the experience. Having investigated to see if other players have had the same problem, it appears that most haven’t had this issue. This once again feels like the Premier Edition of Lifeless Planet doesn’t really feel like a polished product and more like a rushed release.
There isn’t an awful lot in the way of gameplay. Puzzle-solving can often be fun, but at best basic and across time gets a bit repetitive. New features are thrown it to shake up the gameplay, including a robotic arm to reach far away targets and an upgrade for your jetpack that allows you to propel further. But not long after they are introduced do they start to feel like scripted moments. The jetpack upgrades are only ever available when in need of them and you only ever become low on oxygen (which started off as a great way to build in some tension) when there is a fresh supply conveniently placed nearby. Rather than build these into the developing aspects of the game, they feel like they’ve been dropped in to try and keep things fresh when it fact they are just recycling rather than building on top of what they already have.
It’s a shame, because I had high hopes for this game. The core narrative, though far from being its most important aspect, had enough intrigue and mystery to get you hooked and giving credit where it’s due, it does maintain the mystery to the end. The gameplay may be basic, but in short bursts it is fun and easy to pick up and the environments, though often random and oddly placed, are beautiful to explore. It’s slow pace won’t be for everyone and a great deal of patience is required and while the gameplay in Lifeless Planet definitely isn’t great, it’s passable. The greatness lies in the mystery and exploration of this planet.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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