Lost Planet 3 is an upcoming third-person prequel developed by Spark Unlimited and set many years before the events of the first two games in the series. At gamescom 2012 we were fortunate enough to sit with members of the development team to discuss some of the features planned for the 2013 title.
Lost Planet 3 will be set during the initial colonisation of ice-locked planet E.D.N. III and the establishment of mining operations overseen by the Neo-Venus Construction company (NEVEC). The player-controlled character in the game, Jim, is a colonist, miner and NEVEC employee who has travelled to E.D.N III to find work and support his wife and child who remain back on Earth.
The game will be heavily story focused and set over a period of years; Jim is on E.D.N III with a job to do and a family to feed so the plot will follow him as he struggles to do his job, defend himself and the colonists from the indigenous Akrid population and gradually becomes embroiled in a much larger web of mysteries and conspiracies. One of the themes explored will be the effect of the human colonisation efforts on the Akrids - after all, E.D.N III is their planet, which the colonists intend to exploit for its resources.
Another theme that the team are keen to explore within the premise is the struggle to survive and colonise on a hostile frontier planet. When Jim is back at the base he is surrounded by fellow colonists but when sent out on a mission he is isolated and vulnerable. To assist in the untamed wilds Jim will be often accompanied by his trusted Utility Rig.
The Utility Rig is the logical precursor to the military-grade mechanised Vital Suits found in the first and second games, but whilst the VSs are packed with heavy weapons the Utility Rig is a more modest affair, designed for mining and construction rather than combat. The Rig is hardly defenseless though, as although its claws and drill attachment are designed for industrial use they still make rather effective, if crude, melee weapons against large Akrid threats.
As a sign of its antiquated technology when compared to the more advanced VSs, the Utility Rig is substantially larger than its military successors; to the extent that it is the largest mechanical suit in the Lost Planet series so far. This sense of scale is further heightened by the new first-person camera mode introduced while using the Rig.
In the previous Lost Planet games the third person camera view remained constant both when on foot and using one of the VS suits. When using a VS suit the camera would also zoom out, and the development team felt that this detracted somewhat from the sense of scale a player should feel when piloting one of the large mechs. The new first-person view helps maintain the sense of scale by suspending the player high above the ground and nearby buildings and face-to-face with the larger Akrid monsters.
The viewpoint also helps make the melee combat substantially more visceral. In one scene we see the Utility Rig grasp a massive Akrid what seems a mere inches from the pilots face and ram the drill arm into the side of it, spraying blood onto the front of the viewing screen which then drips down, temporarily obscuring the pilot’s view.
This development was a significant challenge for the new team as the new first-person view had to be built as new from the ground up, ensuring the sense of scale worked as intended and requiring experimentation with view height, rendering distance and working control schemes. We have to say we were impressed with the what we saw; a lot of emphasis has been placed on the Utility Rig and its presence is clearly intended to be an integral part of the game, essentially forming a ‘companion’ for Jim in his most isolated moments.
The larger Akrids themselves are suitable monstrous, in our demonstration we saw a new enemy, the Spitter: a huge and grotesque spider/crab/scorpion hybrid with a tail that spits poisoned goo. Enemies are accompanied by the usual ‘glowy’ bits that highlight points weak to attack. The large enemies are of roughly the same size as the previous games (“bigger is not always better” say the development staff) but there is a high degree of quality in the artistic style and the new first-person viewpoint adds a greater sense of scale when fighting them in the Utility Rig than that of it’s third-person predecessors.
As mentioned Jim is on the planet with a job to do and that job is to locate and mine for valuable resources and minerals. He and the rest of the colonisation team are also under pressure to find ways to exploit the planet’s natural pockets of thermal energy. As a result, aside from the overriding narrative missions are a number side missions available for Jim to undertake.
These missions involve locating and surveying pockets of thermal energy and the more of these missions Jim undertakes, the more energy he can collect. He can then take these energy resources back to base and present them to NEVEC who will purchase them for credits, which the player can use to buy skills and equipment upgrades for Jim. Given that these missions involve substantive exploration the game will not feature the ‘ticking timer’ of constantly depleting thermal energy such as found in Lost Planet 1 and 2.
The single player campaign promises to be a substantive experience with first playthrough estimated to take 10-12 hours for most players, rising up to a possible 15 if all side missions are undertaken, with rewards promised for completionists. As well as single player the game will feature online multiplayer, although the team declined to comment on the specifics of this feature at the time. Release date has yet to be announced but the game is expected to land sometime in 2013.