It is an unlikely spot of franchise convergence. Rumours place Dead Space 3 on a mysterious frozen planet, while in Lost Planet 3 the series' titular ice world looks, in places, a lot like Dead Space.
Hidden beneath the alien glaciers of E.D.N. III is an abandoned underground base, which, with its spooky metallic corridors and sinister spinning generator core, could have been plucked from a deck of the USG Ishimura. In place of Isaac Clarke, there is everyman protagonist Jim. In place of necromorphs, there is a small and vicious variant of akrid, eager to gnaw Jim's face off in a quick-time struggle.
Much as Isaac was a blue-collar type, Jim is a colonial labourer. The shoulder plates of his armoured work-wear resemble those of Isaac's spacesuit, and where Isaac's signature weapon was the primary tool of his day job, a plasma cutter, so too is Jim's: a mech suit meant for construction work, but handy also in a brawl with a giant akrid beastie.
And so this Lost Planet prequel combines third-person shooting and exploration of indoor spaces with the first-person piloting of a mech on E.D.N. III's snowfields. In the cockpit of his mech, Jim brings powerful robotic arms (one claw, one drill) to bear against the glowing weak spots of the enemy. Down on the ground, he is much more vulnerable--especially once he jogs and grapples far from the rig, out of signal range, leaving himself isolated in a way more befitting a crack at survival horror.
Jim is a warmer, more human hero than you might expect in a game about mech suits and alien monsters. He does dangerous work on a hostile world to support his wife and baby back home on Earth. "The more I earn, the sooner I get to hold you both again," he says, with a rustic drawl. (The developer has been coy so far about the voice-and-likeness actor playing Jim, but GameSpot commenter abex44 hazards the deeply plausible guess of Sam "The Force Unleashed" Witwer.)
Between the empowering sessions of stomping around in a robot suit and the bits spent exploring grim, industrial interiors, Lost Planet 3 is a game of contrasts. Even the soundtrack combines folksy guitar and, in the Dead Space-like corridor segments, classic violin horror stings.
Though the aesthetic similarity in places is strong, it remains to be seen if Lost Planet can muster as much nightmarish creativity as Dead Space. The boss fight at the heart of our hands-on was a bracing but by-the-book battle against an oversized akrid crab with an ice-armoured shell. It intermittently charged and halted, we intermittently combat-rolled out of the way and blasted its frozen carapace with a shotgun.
Given the acclaim heaped on Dead Space 2 and the relative drubbing taken by the last Lost Planet, we assume Dead Space 3's minor resemblance to this game (that is, mysterious ice planet) is coincidental. But Lost Planet 3, on the other hand, could do a lot worse than emulate that superior brand of science fiction. Can Lost Planet, in the hands of a new studio, reinvent itself as a story-driven sci-fi adventure? We're looking forward to finding out.
(For more on Lost Planet 3's new studio, new direction, and new action, check out last month's full preview.)