Game review: Lifeless Planet isn’t great, but it does show the unique potential of video gaming

The way it combines mystery, atmosphere and exploration can’t be done with any other medium, although hardened gamers may want to save their dollars for more challenging fare

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 12:02pm

Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition

Stage 2 Studios

3 stars

I get my fair share of grief about being a video game critic – chuckles mostly, which shows that most people just don’t take this medium seriously. But that’s their loss.

Lifeless Planet is an example of the kind of game these people should play. It isn’t exactly a groundbreaking experience – it didn’t blow me away with interplanetary adventures or anything like that – but if I had to choose between, say, watching The Martian or playing this game, I’d definitely take Lifeless Planet.

Both stories follow a tried-and-tested path – you’re stranded on a “lifeless planet” and need to survive while finding out what happened – and the game mostly belongs to the currently popular walking simulator genre. There are no real threats or combat, but you can die in a variety of ways – falling down cliffs, getting trapped inside a tornado, running into spinning blades. That does provide some morbid thrills, but really, it’s all about the story here

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Although it begins with a fairly tired concept and slow-going narrative, the game eventually blossoms into a six-hour descent into madness. You start to empathise with the solitary explorer, engaging in his solitude and grappling with the paradoxically claustrophobic situation of being trapped in the vast reaches of endless space. It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t really have to as the combination of mystery, ambiguity, atmosphere and exploration come together to create an experience that can’t be translated into any other medium.

Lifeless Planet was made mostly by one developer, and it shows – the graphics aren’t much better than most smartphone games and the controls feel like they could easily port to any device. It also followed what’s now becoming a distressingly staggered timeline for indie games – launched on Kickstarter in 2011, with an expected release the following year, it only popped onto Steam’s Early Access in 2014, and is now available for about HK$150 on PlayStation 4.

That’s not a bad price to pay, but I’m saving my dollars for the similarly themed but much more expansive No Man’s Sky. For anyone who’s been living under a rock, No Man’s Sky is the kind of release many gamers have been waiting for all their lives – pure sci-fi exploration throughout an almost infinite universe. There are still a couple weeks left before that comes out, so if you’re getting desperate, give Lifeless Planet a whirl.