The creation of Lifeless Planet goes back to its Kickstarter campaign from 2011. It had a funding goal of $8,500 which was more than doubled receiving $17,236 from 641 backers. The game was created by a small indie studio called Stage 2 which is mainly ran by one dude who goes by the name of David Board. Referencing his website and Kickstarter page, Board is a fan of old sci-fi movies and wanted to make a video game that focused on story and adventure with those likeable and charming sci-fi themes. It was officially released on PC on June 6th 2014, on XBOX in 2015, and on PlayStation 4 in July of this year.
The game is a third person action adventure platforming game that only features two characters, the playable astronaut and a mysterious Russian woman. After crash landing onto Mars, an astronaut finds himself stranded on a lifeless planet. The search for his crew leads to peculiar discoveries including a town and research facility created by the soviet era Russians. In an effort to find his crew he investigates the abandoned Russian settlements which leads him to many dangers and psychological episodes.
Lifeless Planet has a story and mood that definitely fits the old school B movie sci-fi style. I think this concept would have made a great low budget movie, more so than a video game. I had fun with this game and am more than satisfied with the $5 sale price, but it is not without its flaws.
This is a game created predominately by one dude and it feels like it. The graphics and art design are adequate but the environments felt unnatural and looked like an obstacle course built into the Mars landscape. Maybe this was intentional, a purposeful design to add to the super natural mysterious vibe, but to me it felt like I was playing a side scrolling platformer that was turned sideways and made 3D.
Referencing the website for the game where the goals and intentions are clearly listed one thing grabbed my attention. David Board stated that a good plot line does not always involve “words” instead the best story telling is portrayed through cinematic and dramatic visuals. The quote I am summarizing is below in its entirety:
“Now to me, “story” does not mean “words”… I’ve seen a lot of games that bombard the user with text on screen. This is great for some genres like RPGs, but even the best-written verbiage doesn’t make for a cinematic experience. I love how LIMBO has not a word of dialogue but says so much through its dramatic visuals. I plan to do something similar with Lifeless Planet by conveying as much as possible through visuals and sound. There will be text logs, documents, and other items that shed light on little details of the world, but these will be optional to finishing the game, serving instead to add depth to the world for those who want a little more…”
He states that “there will be text logs, documents, and other items that shed light on little details of the world,” implying that they will serve as depth to the story, not the main component. As I played through the game I thought several times that the logs were annoying and distracting and were a terrible way to tell the story of the game. Looking back at how I discovered the major plot points of the game I realized it was via the logs and text documents, not through visuals and cinematic scenes/game play. While advancing through the game, those text documents are found on the main path leading the player towards them, not in a manner that suggests they are optional. If I read the above quote from Board before I played the game, I may have played the game differently and made an effort not to read text documents and probably would have had a different experience.
The actual game play involved some indie game jank. There were multiple times where I got stuck in between two rocks and couldn’t escape and one time the textures I was standing on disappeared and sent me into a falling death animation. Overall this didn’t really dampen my enjoyment, but it was definitely present and required me to restart to the previous checkpoint several times.
The writing, game play, and music are all just mediocre. If this was your average independently developed game with pixellated graphics that tapped into cliché nostalgia I would have avoided it. The mediocre elements of the game are placed in a unique and creative world which stands out in the cluttered console indie game marketplace. Science fiction, space, minimalistic character driven plot, and mystery makes this game worth playing. The originality is difficult to write about and discuss as it would spoil major components of the game.
While Lifeless Planet is lacking in technical soundness and design, it is overflowing with potent originality and creativity.