Lifeless Planet would work better as a visual novel, that, or a desktop screenshot reservoir; desktops around the world could feature many of the game’s truly alien landscapes. Instead we have a game that features a trekking astronaut – who just crashed into a seemingly deserted planet – through a plethora of striking and diverse scenery, which consists of deserted lands, abandoned towns, claustrophobic caverns and many more. These environments sometimes mesh well and feel like an organic world, but more often than not the scenes feel disconnected, and only really flow through the loading screens that link them to one another.
Within these scenes feature the game’s core, which consists of simple platforming, basic puzzles, and a robotic arm. Lifeless Planet’s biggest problem is that it’s fundamentally too simplistic; every platforming segment can be done in a minute or so, every apparent puzzle can be figured out immediately and the robot arm segments are little more than a mini game. Throughout the game’s four or so hours, the gameplay never flourishes into something more complex, so the levels end up feeling like slightly different – yet still as mind numbingly simple – versions of previous ones.
The game’s massive disjuncture between one level to the next coupled with my-first-puzzle-platformer-mechanics makes it feel like the developer tacked on the gameplay as a vehicle that drives the story forward in the most indolent way; and that’s where Lifeless Planets prospers: in its story. The game’s themes and the motivation of the lead character don’t become apparent until the third act of the game, before that, the story is mysterious and intriguing, urging you to continue forward to earn some answers. The game doesn’t lead you on with the carrot on a stick approach, any mysteries it presents will be answered through many of the games collectible documents/logs, somewhat stilted narration and the limited number of cutscenes. From the offset I never had an idea where the game was going; it just kept throwing curveballs and swerves to keep things interesting, something that’s profoundly lacking within the gameplay.
Sadly, the game isn’t without its technical faults; running on a Nvidia 770 GPU and an i5-3570k CPU, the game often falls into sub 20 FPS territory. This combo can push modern games to 60 FPS at 1080p easily, yet can’t seem to keep a steady 30, let alone 60 FPS with Lifeless Planet. I will give credit where it’s due, the game is developed solely by David Board, who also provides bug fixes, updates and answers questions in the Lifeless Planet Steam forum, so the frame rate problems may be patched out later in the game’s lifecycle. What the game lacks in interesting gameplay, it definitely makes up for in support from its sole developer.
Lifeless Planet may not be the Planet of the Apes video game adaptation that we’re all yearning for, but it does feature its own imaginative world and interesting story; if coupled with intricate puzzles and platforming, this game, which essentially boils down to a playable visual novel – here’s looking at you Heavy Rain – could have flourished into a fully fledged video game, and a great one at that.