Space can be a lonely and desolate place, even fascinating, as mankind ponders on what secrets it may hold within it vast expanses and, if one day, we ever learn or discover the truth of alien races or a more sinister force that lies within our midst. It’s a concept that’s often explored through movies, whatever their genres, as well as within the interactive properties of video gaming. These mysteries, that surround us amongst the stars, is something that has been perfectly captured within Stage 2 Studios’, Lifeless Planet: Premier Edition as it orbits a release on the Nintendo Switch.
Published through Serenity Forge, this exploration adventure delves into a number of elements to create a sense of mystery and the unknown in a spectacular fashion. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact location in where this title is heading. Yes, it’s part sandbox and yes, it’s heavily explorative, but at the same time it’s also a puzzle-platformer and a walking simulator too. But overall, it’s simply a sci-fi adventure that is also tinged with a sprinkling of horror. These are all elements that are explored within the mechanics of Lifeless Planet and in doing so, it maintains an air of the unknown, as it simply keeps you guessing at what you may discover next as you search barren landscapes and deserted sites to ascertain who has been here before, what has been happening and what is happening now.
The story revolves around you, an American astronaut who, after a technical fault on board your space craft, is forced, along with the rest of your crew, to abandon ship. In your own escape pod, you are separated from your crew as you crash-land on an alien world, with no knowledge of where you are, what you might find and what you should do now. Everything around you is decayed, a seemingly lifeless planet that holds a wasteland for as far as the eye can see. In some ways, it reminded of Star Wars’ Tatooine; with its sandy tundras and jagged rocks. The whole premise of discovery here, is a compelling ride, with intriguing clues on where to go, or what to do, being dotted around the landscape; it’s almost like a mechanic that dangles a carrot in front of your nose, forcing you to go forward and embark on your quest.
The more you explore, the more you unravel, creating a gathering moss of intrigue as you begin to reveal mysteries that are deeper than you could initially perceive. Without giving anything away, you soon discover clues to suggest that mankind has been here before; all under the banner of the Soviet Union. Despite this though, everyone who may have been here before, has now gone; or have they? It’s in this way that the game builds on your tensions, promoting an interesting premise that draws you further into the world and its barren landscapes. This isn’t simply a game where you have to work out what to do though, as it does present some forms of, not only holding your hand slightly, but also in producing a narrative to create a story behind the discoveries you make here.
Although the landscapes seem vast and devoid of anything, there are little signals that you need to look for to help you on your way. These can range from footprints in the sand, wreckage from your space craft and glowing beacons that signify an object of importance. None of these particularly stand out at first glance, it’s only through thorough searching do you notice such things. However, despite the sandbox style and look of your environments, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the game is actually forcing you along a linear route to get from A to B; although what it presents inbetween points does offer some interesting finds and various problems the need to be overcome.
As mentioned, exploration is the key word within this game and it’s in this element of the gameplay that actually makes this a fun title. You never know what may happen next, or what you may find, as the game throws all manner of obstacles or interesting discoveries at you. Whether it be the need to find an oxygen supply, or a document that reveals a revelation or simply a path or puzzle that needs to be solved through jumping and jetpacking, to finding a keycode that is needed to enter a facility, you always feel a sense of urgency or intrigue that drives you forward to learning the truth behind what you are discovering.
Graphically, the game takes on two sides to its presentation. Overall, its general aesthetic is highly detailed and actually, quite impressive in places. However, there are some environments that look distinctly last-generation. Despite the bleakness and blandness of its wastelands, they’ve been represented in a very effective way; often causing me to stand still momentarily to take in the vistas around me. It seems to be more within the interior sections of the game that fall slightly below par. Saying that though, this is by no means an ugly game. It’s all further enhanced by an immersive soundtrack that matches the environments or situations perfectly.
This isn’t a game about combat either, as it’s mainly an exploration-based title. However, because of the stellar presentations in both its visual and audio qualities, it does produce quite a few heart-stopping moments that genuinely thrill. The controls can feel a bit wonky at times too, although not in a way that feels broken, but more in a floaty sense. However, this simply adds to the immersion of being on a strange and distant planet and although you can miss a jump or two because of it, it’s never a frustrating exercise.
Overall, Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition is a strangely compelling experience. It’s not particularly exciting or action-orientated, but what it does do well, is create a sense of intrigue and mystery that forces you to keep playing to its conclusion. However, on average, you’re looking at a three-to-four hour playtime here and, without wanting to give too much away, presents an overall experience that feels slightly undercooked or unfinished in its conclusion; which is a tad disappointing when your built towards such high expectations. Saying that though, exploring its detailed landscapes, discovering its secrets and solving its puzzles is an entertaining affair. It’s high presentational values rarely feel as if you’re playing an indie game and although you’re lost in space, this is a game that you can easily lose yourself in too.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.