Lifeless Planet – Early Access Review
By Megan Mellers
The first thing I do in Lifeless Planet is almost die. Which is appropriate, considering the title.I awaken as a dumpy little astronaut, dazed to discover himself next to his space shuttle on a strange planet with no sign of his crew anywhere. Turning in circles, I absorb the Mars-like terrain until—uh oh. Apparently I’m running out of oxygen and, the game helpfully informs me, I had better find some more, fast. But I see nothing besides red rocks in any direction! I thought this game was supposed to be linear!
As darkness begins to vignette my vision and my headphones fill with the sound of labored breathing, I pick a direction, any direction, and run—or at least waddle bouncily—for my life.
Without giving anything away, I’ll say that I manage to live another day, to explore new territories, to utilize new technology, and to admire every inch of this Steam Early Access adventure gem.Created by David Board as essentially a one-man-band endeavor, Lifeless Planet pushes lots of good buttons, from the nerd-appeal of space travel to the satisfying feeling of an old-fashioned, simple adventure game. Players control a space-suited adventurer who, in the search for his missing crew, uncovers a web of mystery that hints at both alien and human activity.
Board’s level design is linear in a well-thought out sense. There’s really only one way to progress, but you’re never 100% sure you’ve figured it out until you succeed. A perfunctory collectibles system, which will hopefully be fleshed out in future versions, adds extra interest (and science!). Players make their way across a solid variety of landscapes, lured on by the occasional mysterious event. Between graphics and sound design, the ambiance is palpable; this is a perfect game to play in a dark room with a good pair of headphones.
The games’ smattering of puzzles are still extremely basic—most of them took only a few seconds of poking around to find the solution hidden behind a nearby rock. The only stumper I solved entirely by accident, so I unfortunately can’t comment on its cleverness. Players who need more than narrative, atmosphere, and some fun platforming to hold their interest might start running dry after a few levels. But if they do, they’re arguably missing out.Another admirable element of Lifeless Planet is the physics. Sure, you have a jetpack, but unlike Tomb Raider you don’t find yourself magnetically sucked to the correct platform. If you don’t account for this planet’s lighter gravity, you’ll find yourself sailing cheerfully over your target into the abyss beyond.
Interestingly, Board’s current Steam release only offers about six levels of the game, which initially gives the disappointing feeling of having paid for a demo. However, his choice actually demonstrates a commitment to quality. Rather than joining the hoards of “complete” early access games that offer only about 10% of their full functionality, Board offered only as much of the game as he felt he could get to something more like 90% functionality.
This attention to detail infuses the game and speaks well of its future. In the final product I would hope to see a little more narrative background (the protagonist has thus far remained completely anonymous), some more complete implementation of collectable and oxygen systems, and perhaps some more challenging puzzles.The first draft of Lifeless Planet, however, is worth almost any gamer’s 90 minutes of attention, and delivers a truly stellar level of atmosphere (pardon the pun).
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/megan.jpg”] Megan Mellers is a freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest with her engineer fiancé. She graduated with a degree in English from George Fox University and pursues both creative writing and non-fiction, while grading student papers to make ends meet. Her poetry has appeared in 491 Magazine. She started gaming only a few years ago, which means she’s had a lot of catching up to do. Her favorite games are the ones that challenge her to inhabit them and make her own rules. Currently, that means playing Sleeping Dogs, Mirror’s Edge, and Oblivion/Skyrim while combing the internet for the perfect survival sandbox game that probably doesn’t exist yet. [/author]