After playing the PAX demo of Lifeless Planeta couple of months ago, we were finally able to discover the very beginning of the game in its beta form. David Board's title is indeed available on Steam for those willing to get early access to it. It took us about 90 minutes to complete this "demo" and it's now time for you to find out what we think of it. Of course, as usual, you also get to watch four gameplay videos that you can enjoy in glorious 1080p, whether you wish to download them or stream them with our brand new magic system.
Space, the final frontier...
It all begins with a crash on an unknown planet a group of astronauts are supposed to explore. A one way journey which doesn't seem to shape up well considering the main character finds himself completely stranded with an oxygen leak and missing companions. Contrary to the PAX demo which only included written documents, this beta version of the game now features the voices of the hero and the Russian (!) audio recordings he will find when discovering there were other human beings there at some point. Lifeless Planet is not a very talkative game however, which means you'll mainly get the character's overall feelings, while some more detailed reactions will be available in writing. It's quite a good idea actually as it emphasizes the sense of crushing loneliness which overwhelms the player as he struggles to find his way around the hostile environment. To understand what happened there, it will be necessary to gather every bit of information given with a dropper, adding to the feeling of mystery in quite an effective way. Now for those who thought David Board would take the easy way by using the same plot twist as in Planet of the Apes, don't worry, this lifeless planet is not earth several centuries after some catastrophic event. We won't say more, first because we actually don't know much more than that, and secondly because it wouldn't do you any favor to be spoiled if you intend to play the game one day.
Welcome on board
Gameplay-wise, Lifeless Planet is based on simple gameplay mechanics, with a mix of exploration and platforming sequences. However linear the game may be, there are pretty big areas to wander about and more often than not, you'll have to watch your environment closely to understand which way to go. It all depends on where you are actually. When going through an abandoned base, it will be pretty easy to find the way out. Outside on the other hand, it can become a bit trickier and you can sometimes be left wondering if there is a hidden passageway somewhere, or if you should literally take a leap of faith and make good use of your precious jet pack. Most of the time, it will simply allow you to add a gentle push to your jumps, making it possible to reach a nearby rock or platform, but at some point in the demo, you'll be able to enhance its abilities for a short period of time, thus getting more thrusting power to jump longer distances. Remember not to overuse it too soon though, or you won't have enough energy left to land safely. A bit of timing and precision are required but the game never becomes hard however, at least not in the early levels we've tried. Also available is a sort of mechanical arm which permits you to grab certain objects or even open a mysterious gate. Lifeless Planet also features a bunch of puzzles, which consist mainly in pressing buttons and moving rocks or barrels around. We'll have to see if the rest of the game will put more emphasis on reflection.
As impressively exotic as it is, David Board's game is no technical prowess in that it quite logically can't be compared to AAA titles. The landscapes you'll discover are still very immersive, the lighting effects look really nice too, but you can't expect a one man game to look as sharp as a big budget title involving a team of hundreds of people. With that in mind, Lifeless Planet looks quite gorgeous and it will definitively take you on a real journey. It's just a bit surprising to see that even our GTX 670 had trouble running the game smoothly in a few areas when high quality effects were activated. Being in its beta form, we suppose the game will be optimized as development goes, but however old our graphics card may be, it should hold 60 fps at any time. The drops we witnessed were never bad enough to make the experience unpleasant (or the game unplayable), but as the PAX demo ran very smoothly, we expected a bit more. That being said, the main difference when high quality effects were set on off was the absence of reflections on the character's visor. Not a big deal. From what we've seen, Lifeless Planet seems to aim at offering a certain variety, even though there has to be a bit of geological coherence in the way this rocky planet is built. Animations are a little too stiff to our liking and the physics engine is pretty basic but again, it never becomes an issue. As far as sound design is concerned, we must say it is pretty solid. Lifeless Planet's music isn't omnipresent but it makes it even more powerful and meaningful, adding to the mysterious atmosphere of the game.
Lifeless Planet offers quite a captivating experience. Its plot is intriguing enough to make you want to progress into the game, but it's also a pleasant title to play. The very idea of exploring an unknown planet is indeed appealing, reminding of old hits like Another World (Out of this World). The main character of David Board's game actually shares the same kind of fate as Lester Knight Chaykin, being lost on an unknown planet full of dangers. The absence of HUD or tutorial also reminds of Eric Chahi's masterpiece, as the player doesn't get the usual support he finds in the beginning of most games today. Lifeless Planet also gave us the same enjoyment as the exploration sequences aboard the Mako in Mass Effect, something not everyone liked at the time but that was really important to us. We can only hope that the rest of the game will manage to confirm our good feeling about the game, but for now, what we can say for sure is that we're definitely looking forward to seeing more.
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