The planet may not be the only lifeless aspect.
Few things can be more fright-inducing than exploring an unknown distant land – especially when there’s seemingly no chance of returning home. Isolation and uncertainty leads to heightened anxiety which only makes the dread that much more palpable. Lifeless Planet certainly captures a glimpse of that but fails to instill the feeling throughout with its drab looking areas. Exploration ends up becoming a chore and that’s only compounded by the poor and at times infuriating platforming. However those willing to deal with the shortcomings will find a somewhat interesting narrative woven within its bland visuals.
Leaving Earth behind, a nameless astronaut sets forth on a mission to find signs of life on distant planets. Although it isn’t long before he’s awaken to the spacecraft spiraling out of control, ultimately crash landing upon a foreign planet. At first glance it seems to be uninhabited, but it quickly becomes apparent that isn’t – or at least wasn’t – the case. Stumbling upon a deserted Russian town opens up a bounty of questions, ones that will only be answered by finding audio recordings and memos left in the abandoned settlements. These help paint a picture of the planet’s demise, but things continue to get troublesome when a mysterious lifeform shows its face. Tracking down this strange being becomes the primary goal as you continue to unravel the truth behind this strange planet. Along the way, plant like creatures attempt to impale, suffocate or pull you under the ground. The only way to avoid this fate is to avoid the creatures all together which sometimes can be tricky.
*Normally this is where a gameplay screenshot would be inserted, but oddly enough the screenshot feature is unavailable at all times for Lifeless Planet.*
While discovering the truth about the planet’s past is interesting, story bits are scattered few and far between. The majority of your time will be traversing and exploring the different areas. However, the problem with that is the platforming feels right out of the N64 era. Poor camera controls make easy jumps more difficult than they should be. It becomes more demanding towards the later portions of the adventure. At that point it is clear how poor the platforming really is. This can lead to some frustration. The astronaut is equipped with a jetpack which allows a doublejump of sorts. Unexpectedly, it really only gives a small elevation boost when used. Finding special tanks in your travels will enable an extended boost mode which lets you jump further with the jetpack, giving the ability to gain a substantial amount of height. Sadly though, these are limited to certain areas of the game which were designed with it in mind – making the normal jetpack underwhelming in comparison.
In addition to platforming, there are a number of different puzzles placed along the critical path, sadly though none that require too much thought. Generally these take form in finding a small energy boulder and bringing it to a different location so you can use the astronauts robotic arm to place it in a hole. The robotic arm will also be used to press combinations on locked doors, but I found myself randomly pressing them until it would open. One push block puzzle left me in astonishment of how poorly the blocks moved. As far as exploration goes, there’s always a single path that leads to the next area with little off the beaten path. Early on, I paid more attention to the surrounds hoping to find a branching path worth seeing, but quickly that became a fool's errand. Instead, I found myself searching for the quickest path to the next area.
It’s clear that the design of the planet was meant to be barren and lifeless. Even with that in mind, it felt overly bland. There are some areas that stand out, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Molten rocks and lava made one’s section’s atmosphere dark and smoky. Initially this was a pleasant change of scenery but it only made finding the correct path more difficult – and not in a satisfying way. I found myself jumping into areas I wasn’t supposed to go, burning me alive as a result. In addition to the mundane visuals, there are invisible walls which restrict the area of play and even an instance where the outline of the worlds border was visible in the sky. Despite that, the soundtrack does a nice job of adding suspense and tension to story events. This was most notable when hostile plants took form of humans – an already eerie situation made far more chilling with the unsettling melody.
Unraveling the thread to reveal the truth behind Lifeless Planets narrative is definitely its strongest appeal. Unfortunately, doing so often feels more like a chore than a joy. The platforming here feels ancient The planet itself, while absolutely capturing the essence of it decaying, comes off as uninteresting to explore. Add in some monotonous puzzles, and what you’re left with is a rather forgettable experience.