At first glance, Lifeless Planet seems to contain all the moving parts of a successful indie game. It’s got an interesting story, a distant planet devoid of a once bustling community, and a mystery that begs to be solved. However, once players delve into Lifeless Planet’s simple gameplay, they quickly discover that their hopes were a little too high, and that the game fails to live up to its potential.
Now, before going any further with this review, we want to point out that Lifeless Planet was built almost entirely by one developer, David Board, using the Unity game engine. That fact on its own does give Lifeless Planet a few more points than if it were created by a full team of developers, especially if it came from a well-known studio.
However, despite its humble beginnings and unique origin, Lifeless Planet still struggles to maintain player interest throughout its narrative. In the game, players take on the role of an astronaut whose ship endured a 15-year trip to a distant planet that was thought to be inhabited by intelligent life. However, when the astronaut crash lands on the terrestrial sphere (and this is where the game begins), players discover that the planet wasn’t quite what they thought. Rather than being a home to neighborhoods of people, it is in fact a lifeless planet. As they progress through the game, players learn that Russian visitors set up a home on the planet, but were somehow wiped out prior to the player’s arrival.
That opening is enough to draw players in and set them on a course to figure out what happened to the people who once inhabited the planet. Who were they and what were they doing? And just as the main character is lost and confused, players are left to their own devices to solve the mystery.
Board was clever in the way he introduced players to Lifeless Planet, because it forces them to quickly integrate into the story and understand the plight of the main character. This is important because players spend most of their time alone, save for a few run-ins with a mysterious woman and the records of long-dead inhabitants.
However, where Lifeless Planet goes wrong is its inability to keep that interest for a long period of time. Likely in an effort to give players a sense of hopelessness, Lifeless Planet requires players to spend most of their time walking along the bland expanse of the lifeless world, with only a smattering of puzzles and experiences to break up the monotony. Thus players are left to wander along, hoping for some form of excitement, only to be greeted with more underwhelming environments.
This, ultimately, is Lifeless Planet’s greatest failing. Players will spend hours moving through the game at a painfully slow rate, with very little reward for their efforts. And sadly, when players finally reach the pinnacle of the game’s story, they will likely be left unimpressed and disappointed with the outcome. For most players, they will feel as if they walked and wandered for nothing.
Speaking of wandering, at first glance, Lifeless Planet looks like an open-world adventure where players must discover their own way and unravel the mystery of the planet and its people. However, players quickly discover that the game is quite linear, with a single, simple path to follow. While this does help keep players on track as they venture through the world, it feels like a let-down to have a full, expansive planet and no opportunity to truly explore.
As players move along the designated path, they occasionally encounter puzzles to solve in order to continue their progress. However, these puzzles are overly simple and quick to complete. While this was likely intentional, the puzzles end up feeling more like cumbersome obstructions that serve only to annoy players, rather than challenging and intriguing obstacles. Granted, adding more difficult puzzles would have threatened the game’s attempt at simplicity, but they also would have given players a sense of accomplishment, instead of frustration.
This feeling of frustration is compounded when players discover how clumsy the game’s controls can be. From pushing rocks, to leaping across stones, to using the astronaut’s mechanical arm, it often feels like players are not quite able to complete the task without the controls botching their efforts.
The visuals in Lifeless Planet aren’t particularly great, though we’ll admit it would be hard to make an uninhabited, dying planet look very impressive. This simple design could have been a benefit for the game, had players not been required to spend so much time staring at the muted and boring landscape. Additionally, the game’s short viewing distance gives players very little to see at as they venture along through the game.
We’ll admit that the first half hour of the game is intriguing, interesting, and fun. It provided a few opportunities to think through simple puzzles, and a simple yet elegant narrative that easily grabs player attention. However, once players get a little farther into the game, they realize it lacks the depth needed to inspire continued play.
Lifeless Planet’s lack of action and combat works both for and against itself. On the plus side, no combat means players are free to journey through the game without threat of death from hidden monsters and trigger-happy enemies. Instead, players can focus on solving the mysteries strewn across the barren landscape. That’s not to say players don’t die. On the contrary, there are plenty of opportunities to fall off rocks, stumble over ledges, or misstep into deep gorges.
The negative result of no combat is that the game fails to maintain a player’s attention. If a game can’t hold onto player attention and incite them to come back for more, it’ll ultimately be knocked out by one of the many competing games available. Sadly, this is exactly the situation for Lifeless Planet; players jump in ready for an appealing story and unique gameplay, only to discover an hour in that the game wasn’t quite what they had hoped for. Then, when they return to their console after time away, they’ll likely opt for a different, more challenging and engaging game.
One area where Lifeless Planet excels is with the game’s soundtrack, which in many cases helped lift the game from its state of boring melancholy to something slightly more charming. The good mix of suspenseful music and creepy sound bites add to the planet’s barren and emotionless state, and give players a sense of foreboding as they progress through the game.
However, in the end, the decent soundtrack is unable to save Lifeless Planet from ultimately crumbling under the weight of its own lost potential. As much as we hate to say it based on our high hopes for the game, Lifeless Planet is a lifeless game that’s filled with too much walking and a storyline that falls flat and sputters to a disappointing end.
Lifeless Planet is set to release on May 13, 2015 for Xbox One, and is currently available on PC. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.