Review – Lifeless Planet

The Steam Sale is under way but I’ve been strangely unenthusiastic about it this time around. I’ve picked up a few things, but what I’ve been playing mostly this week is the game Lifeless Planet. It’s a science fiction game that is less about shooting things and more about exploration and story; in other words just what I usually look for. It’s a bit short and a bit wonky in places but overall was an interesting diversion.

This time around Nameless Protagonist™ is an astronaut who has been sent on a 15 year mission to another planet that is around 20 or 30 light years away. Apparently they are using a not-much-faster-than-light drive. They arrive and promptly crash. Nameless Protagonist™ wakes up to find that his colleagues are missing and the supposedly lush world they were travelling to is barren and lifeless. Still, he sets out to explore what he can of the world before his oxygen runs out.

You very soon finds that he isn’t the first person from Earth to arrive here; almost immediately you find a road that leads to an abandoned town that was apparently established by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. The inhabitants are missing or dead, except for a mysterious woman who can somehow live in the toxic atmosphere and who seems to want you to follow her. The story becomes a mystery to find out how this colony came to be here, what happened to it and who this woman is.

Strangely, most of your investigation involves jumping puzzles. You spend a lot of time jumping from rock to rock to structure to platform to pipe and back to rock. There are a few puzzle sequences solved by shoving some rocks around and a few others requiring the use of a mechanical arm on your suit (which oddly requires you to watch an animation of the arm extending every time you use it) but these are fairly obvious as the game throws up an indicator for the “push rock” or “use arm” control whenever you are somewhere that you need to use them so you just do the obvious thing.

I would have liked to see more depth in the investigation of the mystery but there is less exploration of the lost colony and more jumping from rock to rock. There are a series of documents and recordings to find that explain what happened but those are mostly found along the surprisingly linear path the game follows. There are a few others tucked away somewhere in odd corners of the map that I missed (at least one anyway since there’s an achievement for finding all of them that I missed; I also apparently missed finding a few mineral specimens for the same reason) but I was able to get the story without having to do a lot of searching around. I wish there had been slightly more emphasis on the mystery and less on the jumping.

In the end the story does reach a resolution. You discover where the colony came from, what happened to it, what happened to the planet and who the mystery woman is. You even set events in motion to restore the planet, though in that case you are less an active participant than someone who just happens to be there when it happens. A little more player involvement would have been good there.

There is a “subplot” involving Nameless Protagonist™’s wife that gets told through voiceovers that appear from time to time (and one really out-of-left-field platforming sequence that is apparently supposed to be a hallucination of some kind) but it is only tangentially related to the rest of the game. There is something in the voiceover about learning to let go and live your life but it almost feels like a forced fit with the rest of the plot.

Still, it was good to play something that actually revolved around exploration and discovery. And there is a post-credit sequence that strongly implies a sequel. Definitely worth giving it a try.

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