Lifeless Planet Review

June 7, 2014

“Unfortunately, the full version of Lifeless Planet is still full of bugs and glitches, as well as horrendous pacing, and some seriously shoddy level design.” Find out what went wrong in our full review.

DeveloperStage 2 Studios
PublisherLace Games
Review Platform: PC (Steam)
Review Copy Provided ByLace Games
Release Date:  June 6th, 2014

I’ve previewed several Steam Early Access games for GIZORAMA since the platform’s inception. Some have been great, some have been terrible, and some have demonstrated enormous potential whilst still lacking the essential polish of full game. Lifeless Planetthe first of these games to see a full release on Steam, fell into the latter category of Early Access games. It was great at building tension and building its world, it just needed to iron out some of its pesky platforming issues and bugs. Unfortunately, the full version of Lifeless Planet is still full of bugs and glitches, as well as horrendous pacing, and some seriously shoddy level design.

Lifeless Planet follows an unnamed astronaut when his space shuttle crashes on said planet. From here, he searches for his crew mates and for answers upon discovering the Soviet Union’s presence in the form of abandoned towns and research facilities. What begins as an intriguing sci-fi mystery soon descends into a meandering mish mash of plot elements that crop up and disappear seemingly at random. Information about the astronaut’s wife is teased through audio recordings of an interview he took part in on Earth, but these sections are few and far between, and aren’t fleshed out enough to make you care a great deal. What’s more baffling is, these throwaway back story beats serve as the game’s inevitable ending and supposed payoff, though it feels more like a desperate, last minute attempt to inject emotion and sentiment into a game that otherwise severely lacks these elements.

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One of the game’s better moments, before things fittingly come tumbling down.

The entire game doesn’t seem to know what it’s about. Is it about solving the mystery of why and how the Soviets got here? Is it about the mysterious woman the character meets at the beginning of the game? Is it about his wife? Is it about the Triffid-style plant monsters that begin to grow and attack the player from beneath the planet’s surface? The game is about all of these and none of them. Most of these story threads just sort of peter out, either through lack of resolution, development or simply because the game loses interest in one and moves on to the next. Sections regarding the Soviet’s dealings on the planet were probably the game’s most effective moments, particularly when they’re delivered in authentic Russian language audio logs, but these moments just sort of disappear about half way through.

When I played Lifeless Planet in Early Access, only the first hour and a half of the game was available, with the rest being promised at a later date. This section of the game is still great, it builds tension well and crafts its world and story elements well. Environments range from wide open, desolated spaces on the planets surface, to claustrophobic, dark corridors in the Soviet research facility. After the Early Access portion of the game, though, every environment is simply a vast expanse of chasms and platforming sections in different shades of brown, each more frustrating than the last.

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The game introduces plant-life enemies, though they become more of an insta-kill annoyance than an engaging challenge.

It’s at this point that the game forgets it was telling a story. There’s a narrative at the beginning, and some semblance of one at the end, but there’s an entire 3 hour midsection of the game that serves no purpose but to fill for time with needless and infuriating jumping sections. You see, the astronaut is easy to control when he’s walking or running on relatively level ground, but when he jumps he controls sluggishly. These sequences reminded me of the Mako parts of the first Mass Effect game; you explore barren environments devoid of activity while you control an avatar that handles like a severely obese man on a bouncy castle. There’s no let up with these parts either. It’s just jumping section after jumping section, until the very thought of jumping makes your heart sink and your skin crawl.

The endless jumping would be bad enough without the game’s poor level design. Levels after the Early Access portion all just blend into the same conveniently (and inconveniently) placed brown platforms one must jump between as the astronauts jetpack ejects its depression “hiss” for the umpteenth time. One section of the game places you in an uneven mountain range of lava and molten rock, a sure sign that one is about to experience hellish gameplay. I was unprepared for how bad this section would actually be. Some of the rock textures were slightly redder than others, to indicate that these rocks would burn you to death if you touched them. Fair enough, no argument there. That is until you step on to an identical rock texture that doesn’t burn you at all. At this point, the entire canyon became fair game for an unbearable slog of trial and error jumping to see which textures would burn me and which ones wouldn’t. This is to say nothing of the invisible walls of fire that also plague what I’m sure is actually an accurate representation of Hell itself. At one point this section started to become so unnavigable that I lost my way and couldn’t remember where I’d entered from. I thought I’d found my way back, but the game had actually just assigned me a previous checkpoint for going the wrong way, instead of taking me to the correct checkpoint I’d already passed.

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Your guess was, and is, as good as mine.

There are also some puzzles in the game, but these require little to no intellectual capacity and usually end up being “put ball in hole” puzzles or “shift block into other block” activities. This lack of competent gameplay wouldn’t matter if the game’s story had reared its head a few more times, but there are far too many long sequences where nothing is going on at all.

All of this is packaged in a game that is plagued with bugs and a general lack of polish. There were parts where I died, only to respawn next to my own corpse. At another point I fell down a hole in a scripted dream sequence, only to die when I “hit” the floor in the “real world”. It’s a shame too, because the first part of the game looks pretty great. It’s not graphically intensive or anything, but it’s designed pretty well for the most part. There’s also a great soundtrack to be found in Lifeless Planet too, one that mixes sombre orchestral tones with pulsating synthesizers in a way that actually manages to feel fresh and interesting.

For all the good will its tries to gain at its outset and with its ending, Lifeless Planet is a game about one thing: jumping. Constant, frustrating, sub-Tomb Raider jumping that serves no purpose other than to make you want to tear out your own soul and throw it at your monitor. If I never have to jump again, it will be too soon.

Review Overview

2/5

A meandering and "barely there" plot interspersed with overly long and frequent sections of platforming which range from dull to rage inducing, Lifeless Planet squanders its immense promise when it abandons its interesting plot and gameplay elements for repeated puzzles and bafflingly bad jumping sections. Two hours of a promising game followed by four hours of hell. A depressing waste of a fantastic idea.

About Liam Lambert

Liam lives in York, UK, and is a writer/editor/Social Justice Waluigi. He is currently studying for a degree and drinking an ocean's worth of cranberry juice.
  • iksnilol

    I liked it, sure the jumps were sluggish and the volcano level was confusing to say the least but I liked it.

    *************************SPOILER ALERT!*********************************

    Just felt unfinished…I want to know what happened, how did they receive the astronaut? what happened to his wife? Who was Aleita (I probably spelled that wrong)? What happens to the Astronaut now? He is essentially a hundred year old relic suddenly arriving, that theme could have been explored (just imagine somebody from 100 years ago showing up on your doorstep). How he adapted to the new world, how he coped with everything.

    I hope for a sequel.

  • Anonymous

    I just didn’t understand this game. I played it fully from start to finish, and I’m just completely disappointed.

    I mean I guess this is supposed to be a platformer with some puzzle elements. Well the puzzle elements are really simple. It just makes me miss real platformers I would play in my childhood, like Sonic the Hedgehog. If I were to compare the two, I prefer sonic from 1991 in every way to this game published in 2014. Sonic had a real soundtrack unlike this game. Sonic’s platforming wasn’t repetitive. Even if no words were spoken or text written throughout any of the levels, I still had a much more satisfying story from Sonic than this game. This game uses physics and has fancy 3D graphics, and yet Sonic from 1991 had graphics that were vastly superior due to being more creative and colorful than LP ever was with its 50 shades of brownish red. LP’s controls are sluggish and frustrating compared to games from long ago. The level design in Sonic is so much better than this LP, which is just copy paste… I was expecting a beautiful and varied world to explore/discover at the least, Maybe some abandoned cities of an advanced civilization, for example. I didn’t think “lifeless planet” would be the same thing as “barren copy pasted planet”. I’m okay with elements of the story being vague and left to the reader to imagine, but I think another recent game – Transistor – did that well, and LP does not. The ending of LP was really lacking… there could have at least been some kind of epilogue.

    I know most people will think it weird that I compare LP to a game like sonic since they have little in common other than having platforming elements. I won’t deny that it is dissimilar, but I have no idea what to compare LP to since it doesn’t even feel like a real game in any sense, or comparable to any successful game. I’m just disappointed that games that I played nearly 15 years ago would still be 10x more fun than 95% of these mostly uninspired games I play today.

    If we were to compare it to puzzle games, this is also a joke compared to a series like Myst, which I have also played.

  • Glauco Fox

    ***************** CONTAIN SPOILERS *************************
    I really enjoyed it, although I think there are some loose endings on this game, here’s what I got from it:
    I think the whole game is a hallucination, this guy (the astronaut) is actually on a hospital (which you find at the bunker like facility at the beginning of the game. The interview is actually he talking to his doctor. He has suffered a breakdown and went nuts with guilt after he found his wife dead on his garden with moss covering her feet.
    The russian girl is actually his wife, which he desperately tries to save but can never catch up to her. The fact that the girl leaves mossy footprints is related to his wife story. He’s alone for the most part of the game, which makes sense since his wife is dead. The plants are the villain because they’re related to his wife death in a sense.
    What makes me more inclined to believe he’s dreaming is the fact that from one place to another you get, sort of, teleported, which is a bit confusing spawing mid way into another stage.
    I don’t know. I actually came here mostly because I wanted a more elaborated answer with this theory in mind.

    • Liam Lambert

      It definitely hints at this being true, particularly at the beginning of the game (as you said with the hospital bed appearing in the bunker etc). As cheap as it might have seemed to end on “It was all a dream”, it probably would have given more of a resolution than the game’s actual ending of “he gets home but it is the future” which just felt rushed and weird.

      I really wished the narrative had continued to engage me as it seemed to engage you, because I felt that the entire midsection of the game felt like a long, arduous game of cat and mouse with the Russian woman.

      I actually found reading your theory more interesting and thought provoking than the game itself when all was said and done!

      • Fernando Martin Olivera

        I don’t think that’s that way, at the end of the game in the last interview flashback it’s said that his wife was left on Life Support, I think the hospital hallucination belongs to that.
        I really enjoyed this game, as a hardcore fan of Sci-Fi I’m really used to be left wondering with endings that estimulate my mind to make theories of my own.

        • Liam Lambert

          I’m glad to hear that, as I wish I’d enjoyed it as much as others seemed to. The game’s mechanics were really what spoiled it for me in the end, rather than its plot which just underwhelmed me.

          Weirdly enough, though, the game has been on my mind for a while now. I guess I thought it was at least bad in an interesting way.

          • Same happened to me the first time i saw 2001: A Space Odyssey… I didn’t like it, but i wasn’t able to shake it out of my head for a long long time.
            I watched again some time later, and now it’s in my top 5 of movies.
            Sometimes, it’s just not the right time when we come across some things. That’s why I give second chances to everything.