…Wow; what an experience. The last few hours of Lifeless Planet left me breathless – frightened, intrepid and isolated in a truly foreign environment, manipulating alien machinery with no idea of what the outcome would be. Pushing on and on and on towards an unknown goal, the only option was to continue. Although it was unknown if salvation was ahead, there was absolutely no point in going back.
Somewhere, in a desert far behind me, was the wreckage of the shuttle my crew and I had arrived in. My only chance of getting off this alien world, some thirty light-years from Earth, was to push on into unknown lands, avoiding the dangers of the environment, and follow my one lead – a mysterious Russian girl.
I hadn’t been this engrossed in an adventure game since I completed Myst V, some six years ago. That fact kind of took me by surprise, because at its core – as it starts out at least – Lifeless Planet is a simple 3D platformer with sparse environments, simple animation and basic graphics and textures.
In contrast, the thing that immediately stands out as exceptional is the quality of the soundtrack; the music is stunning. Whether you’re following the disparate footsteps of your missing crew across an endless expanse of desert, or hiking over a crest to lay eyes upon huge, alien structures built by unknown hands, the cellos, violins and synths combine to create a sweeping vista of a score, expertly structured to fit your current situation with utter perfection. It’s this element that not only helps the game stand out as an exceptional indie title, but which also goes a long way to creating the perfect atmosphere. It helps mould a simple platformer into an experience.
The music doesn’t do this alone, however. There’s also the mystery – the feeling of discovery, the journey into the unknown. The curiosity which drives mankind to discover new things, to search for answers to conundrums; this is not only the gameplay element which kept me playing, but it’s also the central theme to the story. And that’s the third thing which keeps you yearning for more.
Search off the beaten path, and you can discover all manner of things – audio logs, for example – which gradually reveal what happened on this planet before your arrival. Not every question is answered however, and the restraint the game shows in giving you parts of a backstory whilst leaving certain elements unresolved enhances the experience even more.
The core gameplay is a simple matter of moving from A to B, progressing from one environment to the next, through a combination of platforming and mechanical puzzle solving. As a game, without the above elements – the music, story and atmosphere – it would be a bland experience. But does this mean you shouldn’t play it? Well, that’s up to you. I loved it. I mean, the experience has really stayed with me to such a point that I was eager to immediately restart it and play through again going for the ‘no deaths’ achievement. Not all games are about innovative gameplay or outstanding graphics; different titles suck you in and keep you playing through different means. Myst, The Walking Dead, Thomas Was Alone – it’s the story, the interactions, the characters and sense of wonder and exploration which hold your attention.
If that sounds like a great experience to you, then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, clear the room, switch off your phone and become absorbed in this alien world and its history. Take it slow, and revel in every step. Live the game through the eyes of the astronaut you play as, and allow his wondrous yet harrowing experience to become yours.
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