Lifeless Planet

lifeless planetThis doesn’t make sense.  I remember liftoff.  I remember the g-forces.  I remember the tension of going on a 15 year, one-way mission to a planet that we were certain contained life.  I remember waking from the crash to discover that my 2 colleagues were missing and I was in a barren dessert, running  out of air.  I walked in a random direction and was lucky enough to have found some oxygen, but I was nearly certain I saw a hospital bed on a mountain side. Alas, by the time I got to it, it vanished before my very eyes.  Yet, it’s what I found over the ridge that really confused me.  In fact, at that point, I was convinced I was hallucinating or suffering the effects of a concussion.  I found myself staring at electrical poles as they ran through a small town resembling something out of an old western.  And in the middle of it, was a Russian flag.  Where am I?

As you have probably gathered, these are not really my memories, but that of the unnamed astronaut you play in another recent freebie from Epic Games: Lifeless Planet.  I just put them to words based on the first 15 minutes of the game. Amazingly, the night before this was released for free, I had been looking at it but decided I wasn’t in the mood to drop the $20.  And although this is a good game, I’m glad I didn’t spend the money.  All told, I probably only got 4-5 hours out of it and it’s a walking simulator that doesn’t hold up as well as Tacoma did (and Tacoma did it in half the time!)  What my two recent forays into Walking Simulators have taught me however, is really what a Walking Simulator really is: it’s a story that is pieced together by your movement and a progression of events.  Maybe the best way to explain it is a choose your own adventure with graphics.  I mean, you are forced to the same conclusion no matter what, but when you make a bad call and die, you just reload so the parallel holds up.  In a choose your own adventure book, you make a bad call and either die or go back to make a different and hopefully better choice.  I doubt anyone puts one of those books down the moment they die, so I think it’s a good way to think of these games.

This story had me thinking we would be experiencing something akin to Planet of the Apes, (sorry: 50 year spoiler coming), where you find out you’re on earth of the distant future after humanity destroyed it.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and that was made very clear when I found one of my crew bleeding only to see him pulled under the ground by an unseen force.  (Think: Silurians pulling someone through the earth.)  That doesn’t change the fact that the logs you unlock still are pretty “in your face” that we are destroying our planet too.  I don’t mind this if it’s done with a bit less bludgeoning but it doesn’t take a lot away from the game.  And the game does hold the interest; I was curious about what was going on and pushed on even as I was getting a little tired of exploring vast areas that end up always leading to nothing except the odd mineral deposit.  You can’t do anything with those minerals, but they give you science logs that tell you real facts, but in the grand scheme, I felt like some of my exploration was for nothing.

As the story progresses, you realize you are not alone and there is an alien woman you begin tracking.  Her story is at the heart of the game and it’s what ended up driving me forward, working out small puzzles along the way to find out who she was.  She’s seen wearing a Soviet shirt, so I surmised she was not an alien, but that just made it more intriguing.  (Her glowing green eyes helped too.)

The visuals are good; nothing groundbreaking but certainly enjoyable.  I’d say the most impressive element for me was the astronaut’s face plate; it reflected things beautifully.  So much so, that I would periodically face the astronaut while pressing S (which is the run backwards key).  The result is that he’s running forward while the camera faces him, because I wanted to see how he looked and what was going on behind him while not missing what he was running to.  That was probably my most impressed moment with the graphics.  I did like the effect as oxygen depleted: the sides of your screen begin to dim.  I never went long without oxygen so I don’t know how dark the screen gets.  I also have to say the music impressed me immensely and I often drop background music down to avoid it taking away from the story.  This music was brooding and foreboding in all the best ways.

The voice acting is spot on.  There are only a handful of cast members which includes the astronaut, the Russian voice that reads the logs, the strange alien woman you encounter, and a therapist.  The therapist asks the main character questions we hear as if through flashbacks and we get to fill in some back story about our character, but it’s not anything … pardon the pun… astronomical.  The game does have an epilogue which is basically a few final words from our character talking about his wife and it’s a lovely sentiment.  A small graphic accompanies it but (as much as I want to) I won’t spoil it here, because I felt it added a sense of joy to an otherwise bleak game.

Would I suggest this game as heavily as I did Tacoma (my other recent walking simulator)?  No.  Certainly not at the regular price.  If you can get it for half that or less, it’s a good diversion with an interesting story.  The little jet pack you get to use, especially when its got the boost feature enabled, makes for a lot of fun jumps, but most of the game was spent exploring areas that were too big with too little payoff to fully appreciate.  The alien woman and the strange Russian town are mysteries worth solving but at the right price.  $20 was a bit steep for my liking and I’m very grateful to Epic Games for giving me the chance to try the game without having to spend the money.  I’d still love to know how many people ended up loving it.  Maybe I just needed a bit more life on my planet to really appreciate it.  ML

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