Did you know that for less than $20US you can have a game experience that lets you walk away saying ‘Wow, what did I just play? Was that really an indie game? I didn’t pay $60+ for that.”? Indie developers are showing us more and more that the value of gameplay doesn’t have to come with the high price tag of a AAA developer. Lifeless Planet, from Stage 2 Studios, gives us an action game that has no shooting things up, yet still feels like a decent platformer but for the fact that it’s 3D.
In Lifeless Planet, Earth has discovered a planet teeming with life that is close enough to warrant a manned one-way mission. Of course, like all good action games that involve travelling to another planet, you crash land. Here you get to discover the planet and uncover the mystery behind your missing crew and try to get home. Things start to go off the rails when you encounter an abandoned Russian town on this planet. It’s difficult to say to much more about the story as every little bit of info I encountered story wise would be a spoiler if I posted it here.
Lifeless Planet gives you a gorgeous 3D, on rails, platform game that plays very smoothly. The game pays good attention to the sense of atmosphere needed when traversing various levels, so you get a really great mix of beautiful vistas and foreboding darkened spaces. Lots of little data packets are spread throughout the levels to further the story, along with some basic puzzle solving and route solving. There is also a small mix of “Run! Or you’ll be splattered!” thrown in too, and this is done in the right spots of the game so as to not disturb the overall flow of gameplay. You spend the entire game confined to your spacesuit, which gives the developers a good reason to give you a jetpack. A jetpack? NO!, you scream. Rest assured, the jetpack is a one-burst item, and only a small burst at that. Occasionally, you do get a small temporary upgrade to the fuel source at various points and this allows you to discover some hidden sections on levels as well as make it across larger gaps or get to higher ledges. The use of the jetpack here has been done well, and it is easy to see that it is considered more of a tool to achieve small goals rather than a thing you must use at every point everywhere in the game ever.
There were some issues with using the jetpack, mainly though these where just control errors as both analog sticks on the controller will move the player and the camera too, so this lead to quite a few deaths and a couple of Steam Achievements. I think that if the camera control could be limited to one stick and the direction control to the other, this might smooth over some accidental deaths. While the game ran very smoothly for the most part for myself, on two occasions it slowed to a crawl for no reason that I could fathom and caused some frustration with the frame rate drop. The only way to resolve that was to stick the game to the lowest setting as any other setting caused the frame rate drop. The first time was a large power generator I need to start to open a gate and the second was getting the bridge working in a valley.
Like most Steam games, this comes with a host of unlockable achievements, some of which you may decide not to do, like collecting all the data packets gives you the “Planetary Historian” achievement. The levels kind of hide some of these quite well so you will definitely miss all the data packets on the first run through. Whether you go back and collect all the achievements at the end of the game is up to you, but the problem there is that once you have completed Lifeless Planet, going back and collecting all the Steam achievements is not going to be fun, since you already know the story. My suggestion, if you want to collect them all, write the down first and then play the game and tick them all off as you go.
I hope to see more from the developer of Lifeless Planet. Maybe even a sequel? Like I said, this is one of those rare gems that surprises you and I think it is definitely on my shortlist for Game of the Year. Lifeless Planet is also proof that not all Kickstarter funded games get delayed indefinitely, never made or are generally rubbish. Lifeless Planet is available on Steam for PC and Mac, so go get it and enjoy.