What makes a video game? Is it the story and plot, is it the characters? Is it the graphics or the interactivity afforded to us? These were questions I had to ask myself while I played through Lifeless Planet Premier Edition on the Xbox One. I have always loved video games but now that I am pushed to define that which I love, I find that it is a sentiment that is hard to put into words. I can’t say for a fact that the plot of a game is why it’s great, or the sound design or these high fangled “next gen” graphics, hell I can’t even say that the action or characters are what makes, what is, in the simplest terms, a tale being told, or more elaborately: a video game
This train of thought brought me to a rather startling conclusion about Lifeless Planet, and that conclusion is: this isn’t really a game at all. It is just a tale being told.
Lifeless Planet is a singularly unique title that was created by one man: David Board and started life as a Kickstarter campaign. This is a port from the original PC version, I never got the chance to play Lifeless Planet on the PC so as I entered the world, I really didn’t know what to expect.
You awake on a desolate and empty world, having spent fifteen years in cryo-sleep to explore a new habitable planet, but something has gone wrong. The world used to be full of vegetation and rich minerals but something has happened to transform the once rich world into a flying dead rock. Your sole mission is to find your crew and find out what has happened.
It’s an interesting take in setting and it would have been all too easy to take this premise and throw in some towering alien overlords, laser weapons and have a rampant shooter, Lifeless Planet goes in totally the opposite direction and instead manages to build a sorrowful and melancholy atmosphere that penetrates the whole experience.
Within the first five minutes of gameplay I stumbled across an abandoned settlement flying a Soviet flag: thus more intrigue. The plot of Lifeless Planet is the predominant component to the title so I won’t be going into too much detail as to avoid spoilers but know that it is an endearing, unsettling and surprisingly emotional story all in one. There are a few short cinematic scenes and while there’s not a great deal of voice acting I did love what there was. Exploring the environments and finding lost files, tapes and messages from the planets previous occupants builds a fantastic back story and the whispered Russian voice logs (helpfully translated into English on your PDA) kept pulling me back into the moment. It’s nice to see Russians portrayed as more than the generic bad guy, there was a time a few years ago that every game had “The Evil Russian”, once again it would have been all too easy to run with such commonplace stereotypes and turn away from the unique approach that Lifeless Planet has taken.
By and large the controls in Lifeless Planet are easy to get to grips with and interacting with the world can be done by either picking objects up or, a little later in the game, by using a robotic arm. Movement is simple and with a handy helmet light, there is little to fear in the dark. The only real downfall I found with the control scheme was while using my jetpack to jump around the world. There is very little control while in the air and it takes some getting used to. I found, more often than naught, that I fell to my death from a mistimed boost because I screwed up the initial “jump”. It got annoying near the end of the story as the platforming sections became more prominent and I became very intimate with the sound of my character splatting against some rocks.
While no one wants to hear themselves slapping down to their deaths, the sound design in Lifeless Planet is brilliant. There is an excellent score and hearing my faint breath reverberating inside of my helmet really put me on the Lifeless Planet. I really can’t say enough about the sound design, it is worked perfectly into the barren, almost minimalistic ambiance of the title.
Visually I think Lifeless Planet Premier Edition is stunning, but not for the graphics, they are sub-par in many cases but do an adequate job of building the world. Lifeless Planet isn’t beautiful because of how many polygons the developer stacks on top of each other (do we still use polygons?), but because of the world that has been created. For the most part the animations are smooth and your space suit adorned astronaut runs and jumps just fine, I did notice some jumpy movement when turning on the spot but the effect was negligible and doesn’t detract anything from the overall experience. The art design is fantastic in a barren kind of way. As I journeyed through the different areas looking to uncover what has happened, I was able to see distant vistas and mountain ranges as well as vast, almost insurmountable deserts. The change between wilderness and previously established civilisation is fantastic and the first time I wandered around the abandoned Soviet camp I was struck by the absence of life, and an adversity.
Lifeless Planet is unique in that there is no real enemy in the title, there are dangers of course, tricky platforming sections where I needed to use careful bursts from my ineffective jetpack to traverse mighty chasms, and a danger from the planet itself. I was slightly wrong-footed by the lack of an antagonist, even Mario had Bowser and this is another thing that makes me question Lifeless Planet’s validity as a “video game”.
The Xbox Marketplace describes Lifeless Planet Premier Edition as “a third-person action-adventure” but I think they have it wrong. I really liked Lifeless Planet and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants an interactive story, but there is something about this arid and desolate gameplay that makes me pause in the description. The way I see it, I journeyed through the Lifeless Planet with my character, there was no great quest, no might battle and while there are puzzle elements it’s not even a puzzle game. It’s a rather redundant point, as it is clearly a video game (I mean I played it on my Xbox One after all) but the description seems inapt. After finishing the game I felt like I do after watching a thought provoking and intense Sci-Fi movie, an experience that I enjoyed and will talk about for hours, but the characters achievements were not my own. It was his tale, I was just along for the ride.
Lifeless Planet is a unique title that makes some bold choices. All of the risks that have been taken pay off in what is probably one of the most surprising games of the year. The desolate and arid landscape along with the melancholy and slightly unsettling ambiance of the title pulled me in from start to finish. There are some issues with controls feeling sluggish and unresponsive at times, however, nothing that ruins the overall experience. Lifeless Planet isn’t your typical game but it is one hell of a journey.
- Graphics – 64/100
- Audio— 93/100
- Value For Money—69/100
Overall – 67.3