As gaming continues to evolve, more and more games are becoming a melting pot of genres. In fact, it is rare to see a game that strictly falls into a single genre anymore. When pulled off correctly, this makes for a great game that is unique and manages to find the strengths of several genres and forego their inherent weaknesses. When done poorly, a game can feel disjointed, confused and unsure of what it really wants to be.
Lifeless Planet, the Kickstarter funded title by indie developer Stage 2 Studios, sadly falls into the latter category. The mysterious space adventure attempts to combine several different genres, which ends up throwing the game's focus off. That doesn't mean all is bad though, there is actually a ton to like about Lifeless Planet.
Aimed with the awesome, if not a little bit played out, premise of crash landing on a mysterious planet, Lifeless Planet allows you to live out a common childhood dream of being an astronaut. Here is the thing though, being an astronaut can suck. The player is in an uncharted area, with limited oxygen, and no assistance from others as his two companions were separated from him during the crash.
The player quickly finds some oxygen (which apparently lasts for eight in-game hours, or whenever the developer remembered to program that mechanic into the game), and stumbles upon a mysterious town on what was thought to be a lifeless planet. This sets in place an intriguing mystery, one that is worth not spoiling.
Lifeless Planet is at its best during its brief story moments. When not jumping on space rocks and proceeding in a linear progression, the player can find letters and audio-logs that have been left behind. Most of the storytelling is done through these collectibles (which is a bit of a shame as you can miss out on the story by not finding things), but they are generally not too out of the way. It's definitely a strong suit of Lifeless Planet, but not one without concern. When wrapping up its narrative, the game fails to provide a very satisfying tale. Ultimately, the journey is the part worth remembering, even if the destination is a bit disappointing.
Where Lifeless Planet really falters is in its gameplay. Mechanics (such as oxygen and rocket jumps) are introduced and then forgotten for hours at a time. The platforming feels spectacular at times, but it is very easy to miss jumps (and then have to replay segments) due to the way the game applies momentum to the hopping. It is fun to explore the planet's varied environments, but progression is almost always done in a linear way. So even if there is a huge area to explore, you are going to have to traverse the one path that is set. It is also very easy to get lost in the spacious environments, and we ended up accidentally backtracking several times.
Later on, Lifeless Planet fixes the confusing terrains by basically offering up entirely fixed paths for you to take. This was a smart decision by Stage 2 Studios, but one that sadly could not have been implemented early on due to storytelling reasons. There is also no combat for the game, so if you're looking to kill some space marines then you should look for another game. The focus here is on exploration, for better and for worse, with some brief puzzle solving being sprinkled in.
The puzzles found within Lifeless Planet is another one of the game's mechanics that could have been refined. While the puzzles are competently made and properly designed, they are just boring. It's the same mechanic of dropping items from 'Point A' to 'Point B' that gamers have seen for decades now. It doesn't take anything away from the game, but it certainly doesn't add much.
One area where Lifeless Planet really shines is in its graphical presentation. The planet, while initially boring and drab, quickly becomes colorful and full of interesting terrain. It doesn't quite reach the visual highs of a game like Journey, but it has some really impressive, breathtaking moments. A few areas in the game (specifically one at the very end), seem poorly rendered on Xbox One, but this hardly takes away from the rest of the experience.
Like the graphics, Lifeless Planet also excels in its audio presentation. It's a very atmosphere-heavy experience, and one that impresses with its soundtrack. Ambient sound effects are expertly used to make the world come to life, also.
Lifeless Planet isn't a bad game, far from it, in fact, but it seems to slightly miss the mark in everything it tries to do. Whether this was due to the title being overly ambitious, or just needing a little more time to bake in the oven, we'll never know. That being said, the game offers a lot of memorable moments throughout its several hour journey. Even if it may be flawed, Lifeless Planet is a game that wanted to do something different and that desire should be celebrated.