Posted on March 17, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Lost Planet 3 is 2013′s Best Game You Didn’t Play
Read Phil Owen’s interview with Lost Planet 3 developers Matt Sophos, Richard Gaubert and Orion Walker for a deeper look at how Spark Unlimited went about telling the game’s story and developing its charaters.
I didn’t have to pay for Lost Planet 3. Because he got into the Steam Family Sharing beta, GameFront contributor Phil Owen gave me access to the game for free.
But when it popped up during the Steam Christmas sale, I laid down $12 for a copy of Spark Unlimited’s title, because I wanted to pay at least something for a game I had enjoyed so much.
Lost Planet 3 ended up being one of my favorite games of 2013, though I heard little about it at its launch. GameFront didn’t even get around to reviewing it. Yet, despite being a prequel and an entry into a middling third-person shooter franchise, Lost Planet 3 manages to do some great things that other titles often stumble and fall over in their executions. It plays like a smart blockbuster, one of those classic films you love from childhood that holds up even later in life, like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lost Planet 3 manages this because even as you’re doing things that don’t really feel all that new or exciting, you care about the people that populate this world.
Spark Unlimited’s game is one of the best-kept secrets of 2013, and every item in its positive column comes down to characters. Where so many games struggle with delivering plot or creating a three-dimensional cast, Lost Planet 3 manages to fill its game with personalities that feel real. The game itself might sometimes fall into the well-trod warrens of third-person shooterdom, but its writing was some of the best of the year.
Primarily, that’s because of Jim Peyton, the protagonist character. Jim isn’t your usual action hero, although by the end of Lost Planet 3, he’s slain more than his fair share of ice planet monsters. He’s a blue-collar worker (sort of), however — he has taken a contract as a fix-it man who drives a big bipedal mech around the frozen world of EDN-III. His rig, as it’s called, isn’t built for combat, however. It’s for heavy machinery repairs. Peyton does get into a few mech battles along the way, but often his missions are about braving the cold in order to keep the rest of the base on EDN-III going.
Peyton’s goal is to make money to send home to Earth, where an energy crisis has crippled the economy. Back home, he’s left behind a wife and child, and he keeps up with them only through video messages he and his wife exchange. Those messages are short and yet incredibly poignant — they really do feel like letters sent between two people who love each other. Peyton’s video messages rarely get sappy or sentimental; the heaviest of subjects, like Peyton’s struggles with nearly dying or the growing hardships on EDN-III, for example, are never mentioned. But you can feel those things just below the surface, and it makes those little messages some of the best moments of the game.
The supporting cast around Peyton’s base on EDN-III is great as well. A mix of nationalities is represented through a solid voice-acting cast and a number of accents, and Lost Planet 3’s writing often manages to be humorous even when it’s dramatic — just like a well-written action film. The game never purports to be about big ideas, necessarily, but it always manages to be a study in great characters who come to rely on each other.
And even when cliches slip into the plot, Lost Planet 3 does a great job of both acknowledging them and turning them to an advantage. A late-game conversation between Peyton and a villain reveals just how similar the two men really are. Neither is fully good or fully bad, they both just have their priorities and people who they wish to protect.
If the game were presented differently, Peyton could easily be cast as a villain, but he’s also not a bad guy. He’s something of an ordinary person, finding himself in extraordinary circumstances, trying to make the best decisions for the people who matter to him.
Those little things band together to make Lost Planet 3 remarkable. It’s not a game about a soldier, it’s a game about a handyman. It doesn’t cast players into the role of a superhero, it puts them in the shoes of one somewhat-abnormally adept family man who’s looking to support a wife and kid. It doesn’t fill out its plot with mustache-twirling bad guys, it gives them a fair shake at being real and human.
What I love about Lost Planet 3 is that it does all these things seemingly effortlessly, even though clearly a vast amount of effort was required to accomplish them. Just look at the rest of the vast world of video games: Titles about even marginally ordinary people are a rarity. And yet, this is what makes really great storytelling — characters to whom players can relate, who are deep and interesting, who are more than just a pair of hands holding a shotgun and following orders.
We could use more games like Lost Planet 3. It deserves some recognition for delivering so solid a story and so many great characters, and it should rank among the other standout titles of 2013.