Spark Unlimited is responsible for Legendary: The Box and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty - two games scraping such low scores on Metacritic they'd barely hit an eighty if you added them together. It's absolutely the last studio you'd turn to if you were after a guaranteed critical and commercial hit; it's also the developer of Lost Planet 3. Spark is yet another developer the world has counted out, but it's all going to work out just fine says Capcom's Japan-based Producer Andrew Szymanski.
"Spark really had the passion and the ability to work with us to make [Lost Planet creator] Mr. Oguro's vision a reality," he explains. "I'll tell you - Lost Planet 3 has been a collaboration from day one. Myself and several other members of the teams that made the first two games were literally there from the first minute, working on the concept and working with Spark to achieve that concept.
"We know we can't just take a game and throw it West and say 'hey go run with it.' It has to come from Capcom; it has to unmistakably be a Capcom game and it has to do justice to the franchise. Even though we're taking it in a new direction, Lost Planet 3 feels like a Lost Planet game.
"That couldn't happen without very heavy involvement from the Japanese staff, from the creative direction from Mr. Oguro, and also from the design help and art direction coming out of Japan. Spark are taking this shared vision and turning it into reality, into software, and I think our demo proves they're doing a great job."
So, onto that demo. Lost Planet 3 is set in EDN III's distant past, long before the events of Lost Planet and the thaw which turned the ice world hot for Lost Planet 2. It's also a massive change in direction, dumping Lost Planet 2's co-op focused and grind-heavy campaign for a story-driven adventure in colossal open hubs where you'll talk to NPCs, uncover side quests, upgrade your gear, and build your own bipedal mech Rig from custom parts you'll unlock over the course of the campaign.
"It's very different," says Lost Planet boss Kenji Oguro. "Lost Planet 2 focused on online and multiplayer but Lost Planet 3 has a very strong narrative focus. I've had a lot of ideas about the series that I haven't been able to realise until now - in particular how I can make the player perform a certain action or make them feel a certain way. These are the kinds of things I put a lot of thought into realising the third Lost Planet. In that regard, it kind of makes good on a lot the lingering ideas we had for the series in general."
Jim, a common working fella, is among the first human colonists on EDN III, mining the planet down to its core and sending the minerals home to Earth where his family is awaiting his return. Jim has overcome his handicap of having Nicholas Cage's face by being a loving father, a hard worker, and a dependable Rig pilot for mining corporation NEVEC. The predecessor of Lost Planet's militarised VS mechs, NEVEC's basic Rig stands around thirty feet tall and is equipped with a drill arm and a claw arm, though even early in the game you'll overhear Jim's colleagues making demands for mounted weapons to combat the indigenous Akrid.
In the first Lost Planet NEVEC had become a dictatorial force, rounding up the rebel Snow Pirates and plotting to scour the planet of all life in their terraforming efforts, but 150 years earlier humanity went to war against the Akrid and lost.
In the years before that war, NEVEC sought to make the world habitable one acre at a time, using the thermal posts you'll have found littered throughout Lost Planet 1 and 2, but even in the glory days of the corporation there are rumours that maybe NEVEC isn't telling their workers the whole story about EDN III. It's a secret Jim will begin unravelling in the game's very first missions.
Lost Planet 3 begins at NEVEC's home base on EDN III. Jim sleeps in his Rig as a pre-recorded message to his wife is mailed back home. He's awoken by NEVEC's mechanic, fitting a zipline to the Rig for speedy access out in the field, and he'll need it, because ice storms can descend in seconds and Akrid swarm in their dozens out in EDN's frozen wastes.
Around the base Jim can talk with NPCs, accept side quests, upgrade his Rig and equipment using T-ENG - a commodity rather than a health resource in Lost Planet 3 - and buy new weapons, but for Capcom's Captivate demo from around an hour into the game it's straight into the story as Jim takes on a mission every other worker turned down.
A new breed of Akrid has them scared but the local NEVEC boss is prepared to pay double for Jim's help; a nearby location needs scouting, Akrid or no, and Jim is desperate enough to do it. The sooner he can get rich, the sooner he can return home, and so he mounts up in his Rig and prepares for launch.
Lost Planet, it's been said, was a mech sim masquerading as a third-person shooter and Kenji Oguro's mech fetish has never been more obvious than in Lost Planet 3. The Rig's startup sequence is pure anime fantasy - as the Rig's HUD boots up you'll step onto a conveyer and slide through underground tunnels, you'll get sprayed with de-icer and receive warnings about what categories of storm your Rig is rated to withstand, and finally you'll use the Rig's left grabbing arm to wrench open the frozen doors. The Rig is piloted in first person, with triggers and shoulder buttons handling primary and secondary left and right arm attacks.
Outside, EDN III is a beautiful hell; ice storms blanket the horizon, the bright sun flares in the sky, and the howling wind rattles the Rig. "We're not a true open world game in terms of going anywhere and doing anything at any time," says Szymanski. "We use a 'hub and spoke' system - certain areas in the world have branching paths you can go explore and achieve missions, provided you have the right kit for it. Until Jim gets the grappling hook, for instance, he's not going to be able to get up to higher areas. It's very much a driven story and a narrative driven experience. You have the core story missions that are one after the other and they lead you though the story and then you've also got optional side missions we use to flesh out the experience."
On his way to his objective Jim passes and ignores one of those sidequest beacons shortly before receiving an incoming storm warning - more storm than his Rig can handle - and it's on him before he can react. In seconds the Rig is frozen solid so Jim kicks his way out and begins machine-gunning the metre-thick ice from the Rig's joints. Attracted by the gunfire, Akrid swarm upon him and a lengthy siege ensues with Jim clearing ice between battles with the panther-like Akrid hunters.
Combat is stiffer than previous Lost Planets, with punchier guns and a left-trigger zoom lifted from every western shooter of the last half-decade. It's perfect for a multiplayer shooter, though not necessarily like the one Lost Planet fans know and love. "There will be multiplayer," says Szymanski. "We aren't giving away the details, but there will be multiplayer - it's a very important part of the franchise, and it's very important to us."
Boarding his de-iced Rig with his new zipline, Jim sets off on his way, heading to the cave system where every other Rig pilot turned back. Jim can disembark the Rig at any time, but your HUD is tied to the Rig's systems, so the further you travel on foot the more blind you'll be. Jim ziplines up to the caves and heads deep underground where he fights a screen-filling crab-like Akrid - a "boss" you'll later discover is just a common enemy in EDN III's wasteland. It's this monster who has the NEVEC workers scared, but Jim has a gun and a masculine beard, and he murders the creature by - what else - lighting up the glowing red spot with machine gun fire.
With the monster dead and its T-ENG harvested, Jim plants a thermal post and the entire cave defrosts in seconds, revealing that the crab's home was no cave; it's a colossal man-made structure of steel and glass. The "first" colonists on EDN III are anything but; man has been here before, and with his route back to his Rig cut off by the thaw, Jim has to head inside where Lost Planet becomes something very familiar.
These are claustrophobia-inducing halls illuminated by flickering lights where you'll be subjected to sudden ambushes by prowling Akrid. You'll find audio logs littered around the abandoned facility, use a holographic map and inventory Jim can project from his wrist, and activate giant clanking machines which seem to serve no purpose but to mangle limbs. This is Dead Space, then - it looks like Dead Space, plays like Dead Space, and until Jim gets back outside Lost Planet 3 becomes a Dead Space-inspired horror show.
"What you might call the 'horror' sections are for us about unravelling the mystery of what happened on EDN before Jim arrived," says Szymanski. "Going into any unknown environment is very scary and you don't know what's around the next corner. What we want the player to feel, regardless of the area, is a sense of wonder and awe and also a sense of, 'I don't know what I'm getting myself into.' That's concentrated in these interior sections because the physical environment is claustrophobic and it's constrictive, but it's worth noting that we want to create this pacing where you are experiencing different types of environment and not just having things jumping at you for the course of the entire game."
But seriously, it's Dead Space. As Jim pushes through the tunnels he finds himself looping back towards his Rig; HUD elements begin to re-appear and his radio crackles back to life. He exits the facility and catches sight of his Rig and yet another crab Akrid, but this time Jim'll Fix It with forty feet of mechanised mauling machine.
Behind the controls of the Rig it's a shorter fight; with careful timing you can grab the crab's incoming blows, wrench its claws aside and force the Rig's drill arm into the vulnerable spots. A second giant Akrid attacks moments after the crab falls, revealing another way to use the Rig in combat; Jim grabs the Akrid and wrenches its arms above its head, exposing a vulnerable belly before ejecting from the cockpit and blazing away at the weak spot with a shotgun on foot.
As Jim mounts up for the long walk home he receives an urgent storm warning - to his back is a storm towering a mile high and reaching across the horizon, ahead is a virtual minefield of half-buried crab Akrid. Caught between a rock and a cold place, Jim has no choice; he lowers the Rig's head, raises the Rig's claws, and gears up for a nightmare ride home. Cue the game's logo and a 2013 release date. It's a radical new direction for Lost Planet, but according to the series' creator, it's exactly what he had in mind all along. "I had a vision for Lost Planet that I wasn't able to realise for a variety of reasons" says Oguro. "One of them was of course technological - we were aiming to launch a game very near the launch of Xbox 360, so that was a challenge in itself. The other was that I had an idea, but I couldn't quite figure out how to turn it into a game... I wanted to do a much broader experience. I wanted the world to be much more vast and I wanted to give the player the ability to explore it. I couldn't figure it out so Lost Planet became more like an arcade experience."
"Now I have additional knowledge as a director, and we have additional technological skill at this stage in the console cycle, so for Lost Planet 3 we've been able to create a bigger world and match my original vision. This is what Lost Planet was meant to be, and I hope you'll be happy to play it next year."
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