This is a daring change of direction for Lost Planet. While the first two games were essentially fast-paced arcade shooters, the third is much slower and darker, with a focus on atmosphere and storytelling. You're still fighting aliens with conspicuous glowing weak spots on a frozen ice planet, but the tone, pace, and general feel is totally different - a result of development duties being passed on, for the first time, to a studio outside of Japan.
"There are a lot of connections to the original games," says producer Andrew Szymanski. "There are gameplay connections in terms of having recurring elements like the snow pirates, the Akrid, NEVEC, and the mecha. Then we have the narrative connections, as this is a prequel. A lot of time passes chronologically between this and the first game, so we don't carry directly in, but there are a lot of hints and things you'll notice if you've played the rest of the series."
You play as Nicolas Cage look-alike Jim Peyton, a colonist trying to make a living on an unforgiving, perpetually snowbound planet called E.D.N. II. "Jim is an everyman, but he's smart," says Szymanski. "He's taking part in a kind of space age gold rush. The colonists have discovered this resource, and they know it's valuable, but they don't know to refine it yet. They're hoping it will solve an energy crisis that's happening back on Earth."
"Jim is there to work. He doesn't care about the ecology, or studying the ecosystem, he just wants to do his job, earn some money, and help out his family. Of course, this being a video game, that doesn't last long and he gets caught up in larger mysteries. We're hoping the player will enjoy taking this journey with him and seeing how he reacts to these events."
After a brief, but intense, intro sequence that sees Jim defending himself from endless swarms of rampaging Akrid armed only with a pistol, the pace slows dramatically. We find ourself in the colonists' base - which is clearly inspired by the Hoth Rebel base in The Empire Strikes Back - and we're left to wander around freely, talking to NPCs, listening to audio logs, and exploring. Jim visits the quartermaster to pick up weapons, and we're introduced to his mech. It's not at all what we expected from a series that has traditionally been all about relentless action.
"We want to create mountains and valleys," says Szymanski. "Moments of high action followed by exploration or storytelling or something like that. That's really important for us because we want to build a world and make you feel like you're in Jim's shoes. You don't have to go around and talk to characters and find audio logs, but it's there if people want it. If your only goal is to the next objective, great, but the more you explore, the more you'll learn about the world."
"We use what we call a hub-and-spoke system. There are several hubs, each of which opens up into lots of new locations. Any area you've visited you can return to. The main story constantly pushes you through new environments, but you'll also have side missions and optional objectives where you can go back to places you visited earlier and access new areas with upgrades you've unlocked. We try to encourage exploration as much as possible."
"After every main mission milestone, when you go back to the base the dialogue will have changed. Time also passes at certain points, and that will affect your relationship with the characters. We want Jim to be as compelling as possible. But we've also surrounded him with some really colourful characters. We want them to feel like real, flawed people."