Lost Planet 3 may lack cowboys, but it still feels like a western

The surprising stylistic change in Capcom's latest sci-fi shooter.

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Playing the new Lost Planet 3 demo here at Tokyo Game Show, there was something that struck me as particularly interesting about Capcom's latest sci-fi shooter. It's got nothing to do with how the game plays, its merits as a third-person shooter, or whether it can help rescue this once-promising franchise. All those are questions better answered by an experience lasting longer than 20 minutes. What grabbed me most about Lost Planet 3 is the overall tone and style of the game. I was surprised by just how much it feels like a western.

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Sure, there have been plenty of sci-fi westerns before. Starhawk did that earlier this year, and you certainly can't forget about Firefly. But in Lost Planet 3, it's more about the feel of a western rather than the look of one. It's not boots and bandoliers; it's the sense that this group of people is living in a dangerous new place and experiencing the hazards and growing pains of inhabiting an environment that doesn't really want them there.

That feeling sets in fast. The TGS demo starts with the main character, Jim Peyton, delivering a monologue about how he passes the time on this strange alien world. He talks in a southern drawl about keeping his mind occupied, trying to avoid feeling too lonesome this far from home, and finding motivation in thinking about his wife. All the while a sort of twangy soundtrack plays in the background. I half-expected to see a tumbleweed blow by.

Then the action starts. Peyton, like the Lost Planet heroes before him, has to survive by shooting insect-like aliens in the orange glowy bits while traversing from one frozen cavern to another. At times he'll jump into a big robotic mech suit to squash these bugs more thoroughly than he would on foot, including the boss fight I played where I got to pick up a massive scorpion-looking monster and drill it right in the weak spot. It was basically like a Big Daddy doing pest control on a frozen planet.

In other words, it plays like a Lost Planet game. Perhaps a bit more methodical and less squirrelly thanks to the lack of a grappling hook this time around, but a Lost Planet game just the same. And I think that's why the western thing interests me so much. It's not impeding on the core of the series; it's a new stylistic layer wrapped around it.

It all feels very lawless and wild. This is, after all, a prequel to the original game that focuses on the early days of colonists living on E.D.N. III. You meet these characters that feel very on-edge and paranoid about the dangers and hazards they're learning to deal with, from the alien life forms to the frozen climate that seems to be wearing them down. Running into one of these characters in the demo, I almost had flashbacks to some of the crazy personalities I met back in Red Dead Redemption.

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That's not to say that Lost Planet 3 will end up being as good of a game as Red Dead Redemption, of course. That's an incredibly high bar to clear. But there are stylistic similarities that grabbed me while I was playing, and that's something that impressed me. Going into the demo, I was expecting a story more in line with the campy sci-fi action fare of the previous games. What I got, though, was a game that's trying to maintain the core Lost Planet experience while adding in a very different--and very refreshing--sort of tone and feel. Hopefully the rest of the game winds up just as interesting as this little discovery.

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