Science Fiction began with an intense fascination of the possibilities and strangeness of science. DNA, space flight, alien civilizations, all encompass the fascinations of science fiction. What we know clashes with what we, as humans, do not know. Then, it mixes with the what if’s, the maybes, the possibilities. From science-fiction, there are adventure stories beyond our wildest imaginations. It is science fiction that the saga of Star Wars was formed, as well as the great galactic quests of Star Trek. We have seen great battles and vivid worlds. Though, there are sci-fi tales that poke the mind, ponder into the realms of reality, and make more transparent the tales of humans in the unknown.
In video games, science fiction does make for great titles, but oftentimes, it usually relies on the aspects of war, combat, and defeating an evil alliance race. It is not that those games, such as Halo and DOOM, are bad in any way. However, the purity of science fiction can easily be lost. It phenomenal to take a futuristic plasma cannon and take down a monstrous extraterrestrial. But. Whatever happened to learning more about the world and fiction of why you, the player, is fighting in that conflict?
We can see this focus in recent science fiction film, such as Ex Machina, which, in its case, focused on the deepening psychologies of man and artificial intelligence. That same year, Terminator: Genesis, which also had machines, focused on a kinetic, explosive battle against artificial intelligence to prevent a massive war in the future.
It’s this kind of direction I observed in playing Lifeless Planet, a new science-fiction adventure video game recently released for the PlayStation 4. In the same year, where science fiction games have us shooting something in the face with high-powered lasers, Lifeless Planet paves its own direction on a mysterious adventure. There is no combat whatsoever. There are no wars to fight. What occurs is an adventure of mystery, scientific imagination, and confidence into the unknown.
After a long, deep trip into the furthest reaches of space, you arrive at your destination, a lone, extra-solar planet, several light-years away from Earth, and everything you have come to know. Probes have indicated that this planet is abundant in an atmosphere, as well as an ecosystem capable of sustaining life. After awakening from cryo-sleep, the ship begins its rapid descent onto the planet. Immediately, there are malfunctions, and the ship plunges to the surface, making a rough impact. Knocked unconscious, one astronaut awakens to a barren desert, reaching vastly into the horizon. Fearing a concussion, he staggers to the nearest oxygen post, confounded by what he sees. This planet, void and lifeless, doesn’t line up with the intelligence given to him. In the distance, he sees something so unbelievable, it almost stuns him cold in his tracks.
A town, straight from a simple farm land from Earth, erected right before them. He is sure that this is some kind of hoax and yells in spite at the Earth space agency, who may be using him for some kind of psychological exercise. Soon, he discovers that perhaps, someone was here first. That is evidenced with the showing of a Soviet flag, various Russian- based equipment, and the fact that something is watching him from afar.
Our lone astronaut knows there is no backup, no way to call home, and no way off of this planet. He goes alone, in search of answers.
In Lifeless Planet, players take on the role of our lone astronaut and control his steps across this strange world. As your crew has been killed in the crash, it is only you on this planet. You will walk across various landscapes on the planet, from raging volcanoes to deep caverns. Your astronaut only has a jetpack and a robotic arm to successfully interact and navigate with the environment. You have no means of self-defense of any kind. Only your determination and observations will keep you alive.
Players will need to be observant of their environments, searching for hidden routes as well as evidence of what really happened on this planet. You will need to navigate obstacles to stay alive, as well as to discover more of what happened on this mysterious rock. While the game does give you small, subtle hints, Lifeless Planet does not hold your hand. You’ll need to use your keen eye and shrewd thinking to solve the path leading to the next area.
What follows is a very pure adventure, born out the very acute fascination into science fiction. Players are on another world, far from Earth. Far from the nearest human. You are an explorer on unaltered land. You really get the sense of feeling only a handful of real astronauts have had, and that is the feeling of stepping onto another celestial world, never before visited by man. Lifeless Planet gives players that strong sense of really feeling like an astronaut, and properly responding to the unknowns in your environment.
Better yet, the story is always in motion and never grows dry. As a player, I was constantly seeking what would happen next, which is one of the benefits of a new and unknown setting. What would become of our astronaut on this mission gone horribly wrong is a question that drives players across the barren lands of rocks and desert.
Part of the adventure in Lifeless Planet involves using a jetpack, collecting minerals, finding data tapes, and using a robotic arm. A variety of wise thoughts were used in the development of the story for Lifeless Planet. Even when I thought I knew what would happen, a complete twist happened. The documents you uncover showcase a very interesting scientific story involving the Soviet Space Agency of Communist Russia.
This is further evidenced by the fact that the “P” in “planet” Is replaced by the Hammer & Sickle that emblazoned the Red Flag during Russia’s communist rule. Each piece recovered had me further intrigued into the overall narrative, as well as delved deeper into the scientific explanation of what is going on. Players will also collect minerals hidden through the levels, giving a sense of normalcy to the experience. Our protagonist is an astronaut and, as such, a scientist, skilled in studying the natural world around him. These moments add a quick sense of normalcy to an otherwise slightly depressing situation.
Our astronaut has a jetpack for navigating the often uneven terrain before you. Moving and jumping feels neat, and further adds to that sense of exploration. It is an enjoyable thrill to make a long leap across a canyon. The robotic arm also allows for special “green fire” core to be collected and placed, once again adding to the sensations of scientific discovery.
Lifeless Planet, as adventurous as it is, is also not an easy game. Players will die quite a bit at the hands of traveling errors, hot lava, falling from great heights, and far worse. It can also be rather challenging, discovering new pathways around the terrain. The game can get visually dark at times, and navigating around that darkness is rather tricky. Some platforming involves the right combination of using the jump button and the jetpacks much as the geyser area, which has players ride up geysers to reach higher platforms.
Presentation-wise, the game is very solid. The environments look neat and believable, though they can get a little rough up close. However, the use of stark contrasts works, especially during nighttime levels. The music, though, really pulls that sense of scientific mystery upon you. Composer Rich Douglas gets the right mixture of Russian violins and a retro synthesizer to underscore this strange adventure you are on. The voice work, while limited, also does a fair job. Bob Carter voices the Astronaut. Hearing him as he spoke of his thoughts and observations gave the sense that he was a believable, almost-real character. He flashes back to his life back on Earth and relates certain moments to his current predicament.
Lifeless Planet is a special game and one that is sorely needed now in the sea of sci-fi games that come to the quick choice of shooting first and not asking questions. Lifeless Planet, on a technical level, is a reminder that video games can tell great adventures, solid stories, and use science without having to rely on violence. In that end, it looks pretty solid. As a game, Lifeless Planet reinforces the role that you are on an alien world, far away from help, determined to do what is necessary to survive, as well as use the power of science to achieve that goal. The planet may not have life, but the game feels like a breath of fresh air. Lifeless Planet is a wondrous game. Science aficionados and adventure enthusiasts shouldn’t miss this.
Lifeless Planet: Premier Edition was played and reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Computer Entertainment System, with a code generously supplied by Serenity Forge LLC.