Mysteries often engage our own curiosity. At face value, that’s the driving force of the platformer title, Lifeless Planet. It’s a story that begins with one simple question that propagates a succession of further questions. Essentially, that is what scientists and explorers like the game’s fateful protagonist do; they wade into the unknown all whilst asking the universe for answers.
PC and other console gamers may already be familiar with the tale behind indie developer Stage 2’s Lifeless Planet and its mundane game mechanics. However, for the upcoming Switch release, I went into this adventure without any experience from the game’s release on any other platforms. The game begins with a nameless astronaut entering the atmosphere of an unknown planet. After experiencing a harsh landing, the lone protagonist surveys the barren, harsh reality of the planet’s environment. The explorer’s internal monologue becomes frustrated as he laments the contrast between the early studies of a lush, green world that catapulted him into this mission and the one that now stood before him.
Immediately, the player is beckoned to seek out an oxygen supply, so, understandably, the obvious choice is to head toward an oxygen reserve container emitting a twinkle of light in the distance. Clearly, the unnamed space agency planned ahead in the event the planet wasn’t what they’d thought.
Like a stroll through the park
Unfortunately, an added layer such as strategizing oxygen supply between refills is not an actual game mechanic. It’s unfortunate because additional layers of challenge are exactly what this game desperately needs. The platforming experience is realized in its most basic form as the player navigates linear levels from one point to the next. Players will execute jumps on top of large boulders or jutting cliffs, utilize a limited jetpack feature to traverse large gaps, and perform the simple act of walking – a lot.
Platformer-style games require tight controls; here, the controls felt a tad clunky, and the only true challenge in navigating certain environments came from trying not to fall to my doom as a result of said clunky controls. For example, the walkways in some points of the game are narrow or are small surfaces with a clearly fatal drop-off. Pulling back on the stick to make the character face the opposite direction doesn’t immediately turn the character around in place. Instead, the character takes a small step or two to perform a semi-circular turn to accomplish this. On the narrower platforms, this can result in death by misstep.
It is possible for one to state that, on the exterior, Lifeless Planet contains an element of the puzzle genre. Infrequently, puzzle-like gameplay is required to move onward. But again, these puzzles are entirely simplistic by design and can be solved rather quickly as the player glances at the surrounding environment for obvious solutions. Generally speaking, solutions are relegated to pushing a boulder or object into position, finding conveniently placed dynamite sticks to create a new path, or making use of the extended robotic arm.
Speaking of which, the robotic arm is literally only used to pick up an object or push interactive buttons that are out of reach. Not expanding the use of the robotic arm to build more complex puzzles feels like a missed opportunity. The character is already capable of picking up objects on his own, so bringing the other pressure sensitive features within his reach would entirely eliminate the need for the robotic arm.
An otherworldly Cold War tale
If there is any reason to roll credits on this title, it resides in the mysteries presented by the simple narrative. The explorer quickly learns that the Russians already settled this planet but have all disappeared. Through data logs found on pathways or near alien or Russian constructs, the player is able to start piecing together the events that occurred that led the Russians to this planet, how the planet became barren, and what happened to the Russian population. Moreover, an enigmatic, lone woman stalking the player becomes the key to answering some of the protagonist’s questions.
More to be desired
At times, I was compelled to move forward simply out of curiosity (and the sake of this review). In other moments, I wished I was nearing the end as Lifeless Planet began to feel like a chore due to the simple and repetitive nature of its gameplay. Depending on how quickly the player moves, this game can be completed in 4 or 5 hours. It is a title that might speak to fans of narrative-driven experiences. That’s not to say there is an entirely rich narrative here, but the mysteries surrounding the astronaut’s circumstances could drive one’s desire to progress. And the imaginative wonder that this journey’s final note ends with is poetic to a degree. The question is whether that is enough for you to invest here. Otherwise, platformer fans should look elsewhere to satiate their genre needs.
Release Date: September 6, 2018
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Platformer, Puzzle, Adventure
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Developer: Stage 2 Studios
A review code was provided by the publisher.
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.