When I first delved into Lifeless Planet, it had been a small while since I’ve gotten a Nintendo Switch game to cover. Then I got myself occupied with writing up about ones I’ve played after I was tasked to do this one. The reason why that is is because I had a hard time being invested with this one. It’s not so much that the game didn’t have any potential, but rather it did things that made it become a turnoff for me in the long run. Still, I fought through the venture, and now my thoughts are all laid out for me to type and share.
Lifeless Planet initially seems exactly like what it says in the title, aside from the fact you are exploring it. However, after your character tries to comfort a downed astronaut, a creature steals him away into the ground (with the game’s obnoxious use of HD Rumble making sure you know that). So it isn’t a lifeless planet, now is it? Well, granted, that’s not all the game is about. The real idea behind Lifeless Planet is the conception of going to this new planet. According to in-game readings, Russians made an attempt to evacuate to this territory, only to fail to take into account some necessities that eventually resulted in the planet being totally devoid of them.
There is a good idea behind the game, but the execution of the story bits leaves a fair amount to be desired. Any dynamic actions that occur are eclipsed by fade transitions, showing off a distinct lack of polish. Our protagonist also doesn’t really have anything to say on whatever he discovers. Sure, he goes into detail on what the thing in question may be in his logs, but he just goes along with it. The one-liners he spouts can come from Sonic the Hedgehog and the meaning would be the same. He doesn’t have any character other than his wife being in mind.
When it comes to delivering the grand scale of the planet, Lifeless Planet does do a good job at allowing us to take it in. The environments are indeed huge and vast. If this were Breath of the Wild, you’d want to explore as much of it as possible. It’s just a bit of a shame it sometimes get undermined by sub-par optimization. The framerate is under 30 per second, and some locations have textures that “flash” depending on the player’s motion. Of course, this is one of the few Nintendo Switch games where I can’t record or take screenshots of, so the people that ported this game probably knew it as well. What you’re seeing on this review in terms of pictures is the superior-looking Xbox One/PC version.
Perhaps the best part of the game is when it succeeds in housing an audible atmosphere. There are some good jingles that bring you into the idea you’re in foreign territory. And while I feel like the voice acting could have had better delivery to emphasize on the matter at hand, the voices themselves suit the few characters finely enough. If anything, there’s a glitch where audio recordings of Russian voices can continue playing even after you close out of the log. That really could’ve been fixed to minimize breaking the immersion.
Upon first glance, the game looks like it functions as a platformer. As you walk across long stretches of land to get from one place to another, though, you’d think this is more of a “walking simulator”. That’s probably the closest thing Lifeless Planet is to, but there are elements that make me feel like the game wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. Lifeless Planet doesn’t quite work as a “walking simulator” because the narrative isn’t unfolding by you walking from one place to another; the protagonist’s logging is where all the details are. This means you have to look away from the environment to look at a bunch of text if you want to know more about it. The two features simply aren’t woven in with each other.
But if this is meant to be a platform-adventure, then it doesn’t work as that since actions and events occur at a snail’s pace compared to the likes of Zelda or Mario. The astronaut is a very fragile figure; fall some feet downward and he dies. His jetpack serves as a double jump, but there’s rarely anything else to his abilities. There are moments like where you need to find an oxygen tank or where you could use several jetpack jumps, but the game throws in and subtracts these mechanics so infrequently that I don’t know why they’re there at all. That said, following along the terrain is actually where the game can be at its best. The paths may be linear, but they do give off the illusion of openness and figuring out where to go tends to feel a bit rewarding.
There is potential in what Lifeless Planet hoped to achieve, but there’s a lot that needs to be refined before it could get there. Between some confusing design decisions and things overlooked like glitches that get you stuck in rocks (Loading save files also take you back further than if you die somewhere), the game doesn’t feel all that finalized. It’s a shame because it does have an interesting concept that could make for something special if capitalized on properly. As is, it’s just a load of tedium I doubt I’d return to for a second playthrough.
Review copy provided by Serenity Forge