It all starts with you looking out of a small window, hurtling away from earth at thousands of miles per hour. You’re an astronaut in a spacecraft watching the earth getting smaller and smaller until it’s a tiny dot. A picture of a loved one blu-tacked to the side of the spacecraft window. Who is she? Your mission? Unknown. Blackout. Instantly you find yourself hurtling down towards the atmosphere of a small planet, is it Earth? Blackout. You’re now standing on this planet, in your spacesuit; your craft is destroyed behind you. The world is beautiful, but barren and as the title says…lifeless. Your oxygen levels are dangerously low and you see something flashing in the distance. What do you want to do?
Writing the review for this game is the hardest one I’ve had to write. It skimmed between brilliance to annoyance to the sublime to frustration. It’s a slippery eel of a game to get hold of and at the same time very unique. The best trick it performs is to convince you that you’re playing an open world game, but the reality is that the path is very linear. There are no arrows or directions or pop up guides to help you on this path. You just scan the horizon and see something you think is interesting and head towards it. Ninety per cent of the time that path is the right one the game wants you go to. All you have in your arsenal as you explore this world is jump, then later you have double jump and glide. That’s it. There are no guns or strafing or special powers at your disposal; you see a path and try to find the best way to traverse it. In one way this makes the game like an old fashioned platformer, but there is far more to it then that. I don’t want to spoil it too much or give anything away, but as you quickly progress you discover some man-made settlement’s and then a mysterious girl watching you from afar….
Lets talk about the brilliance first up. The world is amazing, desolate but stunning, strange but familiar and most importantly it makes you feel very small and insignificant. You glance up at mountains, canyons and deserts that would take you a lifetime to explore. The locations develop and change dramatically throughout the game, ghostly springs and dead forests pop up against the backdrop of unworldly monoliths. How the developer got this all crammed into 1.1gb is a feat within itself. I found myself taking screenshots quite a lot in game and showing them to my uninterested girlfriend with shouts of “that’s amazing” to deaf ears. Closer up the smaller graphical touches like characters and objects are nothing outstanding, but the vast world it does exceptionally well.
Now here comes the annoyance. The basic mechanics of the game which are jumping and using your jet pack doesn’t work as well as it should. I spent many a frustrated five minutes or even once half an hour jumping unsuccessfully at rocks to try to get over to the other side. Then once you crack it and get there, it doesn’t seem to make any logic to how you actually achieved it. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad I did, but the random element made me uneasy. One section later on in the game drove me so mad because it was near impossible to achieve, I nearly gave up on the game completely. But the story pulled me back.
The sublime is found in the story and the soundtrack. It’s a really well crafted bit of sci- fi narrative that feels like it is straight from a 1970’s movie. It has a great premise and some nice voice over work that develops the mythology and demands for you to keep progressing through to the end. Personally, I think the soundtrack is a work of genius. It’s a mixture of scary, subtle and the grand, reminding me of films like 2001 and more recent Interstellar. It constantly helps build the world and compliments the story to perfection. Choral choirs, synths chords are all in the locker and crafted into a unique substantial score.
I completed the whole game in around 11 hours and for an indie game this is very unusual length indeed. I wasn’t bored once and I was intrigued enough to keep wanting to find out more about the story. You might find certain sections repetitive and certain puzzles are sometimes unwanted, but the overall playability is very good. There are some framerate issues and pop in problems, but overall it wasn’t a worry. I don’t think it has any replay value after you have completed the game however, as I can’t imagine going back to the world any time soon. It also has no online elements, which isn’t a bad thing.
When the credits roll one of the most amazing things is the seeing the production team involved in the game. It seemed that one man (David Broad) wrote, coded and designed the game. One sound designer/composer, small production team etc.…Now compare that to an Assassin’s Creed game where I could finish the game, go out run a marathon, have a curry and a massage, then come back and the list of Ubisoft employers working on the game would still be rolling on. Their achievement on it’s own in making this game from a kickstarter with such a small team deserves all the plaudits in the world.
Now, the frustrating bit comes down to me not knowing if I can recommend this game or not. I clearly loved my experience of playing through the game in Lifeless Planet. The vast world, story and soundtrack is top class on the way to the bank. However the mechanics of the actual gameplay would put most gamers off in the first five minutes and they would throw it in the bin. Also it’s a very niche experience and might not appeal to everyone, but on the other hand it’s an original, fascinating gaming experience that I would recommend anyone to take a punt on.