Space exploration is one of those genres that just grabs a gamer’s attention. It’s the thrill of exploring picturesque, far away galaxies, encountering grotesque enemies, and surviving.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a release on PC, Lifeless Planet has now arrived on the Xbox One, which is the version we’ll be reviewing here.
The game opens abruptly with little information available. You’re an unnamed astronaut (a scientist to be exact) amongst a team of space explorers on your way to explore another planet. Your team reaches their objective but the mission is ultimately a failure, as the shuttle is beyond repair after a crash-landing.
When you wake up, there’s a leak in your oxygen tank and your crew are nowhere to be seen. You now have full-reign to traverse the environments, find your crew, and stay alive. However, players soon learn that their expedition wasn’t the first to arrive on this planet.
At first glance, Lifeless Planet isn’t a visually appealing game. There are lots of brown and grey above and below the planet’s undulating surfaces. But your drive to keep this scientist alive and learn more about this foreign world is strong. Small flickering glints of light provide visual markers for progression, which are gratefully received as it’s easy to get lost in the more expansive areas of the game.
The mood of Lifeless Planet would be completely lost, if not for a fantastic sci-fi-themed soundtrack that helps players maintain their sense of curiosity. The lighting and ambience also play a huge role in this regard, using wind, falling rocks, and waterfalls to keep the player at ease or on their toes. Furthermore, there are times when only your footsteps are audible, with no other sound effects or ambient music to be heard. This succeeds in not only making the player feel on-edge, but nails that sense of isolation.
The plot is a slow-burn and takes a while for the story to get interesting. However, it is engrossing enough that you’ll be constantly on the look-out for that next piece of vital information. Lifeless Planet uses audio logs, loose documents and geographical surveys as the main drivers of the story. While the latter adds little context, it’s nice to be able to listen to the scientist’s enthusiasm for the newly discovered samples. It’s a simple but effective way of progressing the plot without the need for fancy cutscenes or action sequences.
Though it might look uninspired, Lifeless Planet has an impressive field of view with plenty of screenshot opportunities. Throughout his adventures, your astronaut will discover dense and foggy forests, eye-catching bloodshot sunsets, as well as hypnotic night skies.
Still, amongst all this beauty, there are short, abrupt cutscenes that jump from one area of the planet to another. For example, I’d be above ground amongst a desert backdrop and then, after a cutscene, I was underground with my flashlight on. I couldn’t go back to my previous location, and was left wondering what had just happened. In these instances, it’s quite frustrating how Lifeless Planet has taken small sections of exploration away from the player without any narration from the scientist.
In-between checkpoints, you’ll either be doing three things: running, jumping or using the jet-pack. Unfortunately, these three fundamental mechanics, on top of an extendable robotic arm used to solve uncomplicated puzzles, cover the entirety of Lifeless Planet’s gameplay. Even though the platforming sections get slightly more challenging during the game’s latter stages, the Lifeless Planet eventually loses its lustre. Those plot-driving logs and documents eventually dry up too, leading to numerous long and uneventful sections of gameplay. While there is hostile plant life, Lifeless Planet’s main drawback is the threat level, which is unbelievably low. While most of the game’s difficulty lies in timing jetpack boosts across cavernous gaps, an occasional gale-force wind or collapsing pillar simply isn’t enough to keep players wary of their environment and any existent threats.
Upon refuelling your oxygen tank, a prompt saying “8 hours of oxygen remaining” will come up. This is good but, it’s only until you come across a rogue tank beside a safe house that you’ll start to black out. Oxygen consumption is basically a scripted event. Lifeless Planet needed a constant oxygen bar HUD to keep the micro-management of jetpack usage and liberal jumping in check.
Additionally, players cannot change directions in mid-air whilst using the jet-pack; its path is completely straight. A mechanic to control your momentum would have been extremely helpful, as there are several occasions when moving a little to the left or right would have saved the astronaut from death.
Lifeless Planet has a few other small irritations as well. You may experience some frame-rate issues and stutters in gameplay when entering the latter half of the game. This makes it incredibly frustrating when jet-packing across a gap, only for the game to stutter and catch up with your progress, just in time to see your scientist fall into an abyss.
On another minor note, Lifeless Planet has no enterable buildings from those who came before. The developers have missed an opportunity here to not only flesh out the world they’ve created, but to heighten the immersion in the game and feed players more logs and gripping document readings.
Stage 2 Studios have created a decent little game here. Lifeless Planet may have a hurried opening but, as the player enters the middle stages of the game, it’s the solid story which takes you on an eerie and inquisitive journey. Despite maintaining this atmosphere for a high proportion of the game, this title’s main issue lies in creative gameplay; there just isn’t enough of it. The sprawling terrain of this planet, in the midst of very limited enemies and finite realism, makes Lifeless Planet a one-way trip.
Lifeless Planet will leave you feeling spaced out.