Spark Unlimited‘s take on the Lost Planet franchise, while still clocking in as the third entry series, is doing a ton of things different from the games that preceded it. Beyond being a prequel, that tells the story of a small mining outfit on the once-again ice covered E.D.N III, Lost Planet 3 explores some new facets of gameplay and storytelling that fans of the series might not have been expecting, but are nonetheless pretty compelling.

Much of the core concepts that made up the first Lost Planet, not it’s more tropical and co-op focused sequel, are still there in some fashion for Lost Planet 3, but there’s something about it all that feels fresh and exciting. The mech sections are focused not on all-out gunplay, but on tactics and exploration, and the on-foot sequences are much more akin to something out of Dead Space, going for the muted moments of suspense permeated by scenes of serious action.

In the demo that was on display for Comic-Con, Capcom was showing off a section from early in the game, when protagonist Jim gets sent out on a routine expedition only to be caught in a rather vicious snowstorm. Luckily Jim has his handy mech along for the ride to fight off the handful of Akrid that might try to bother him.

Of course, things go awry and Jim must fight off Akrid both from the safety of his mech, and on the snow-covered landscape. Outside the mech, it’s a fairly straightforward repetition of dodging and then shooting the Akrid’s weak point(s), but in the mech is where the Lost Planet 3 really sets itself apart.

Rather than give the player a wide variety of mechs, with a wide variety of weapon types, to choose from, these mechs are meant mostly for construction and excavation, not all-out combat. They are, however, equipped with a handy claw on the left hand and a drill on the right, and it’s up to Jim to combine those two advantageous tools to keep himself safe. Mostly that meant picking up an Akrid with the claw and then drilling into its body, a mechanic that, while repetitive, is pretty satisfying.

Lost Planet 3 Comic Con Preview - On Foot Gameplay

After clearing out the brief Akrid annoyance, the player then comes upon a boss fight with a giant crab-like creature: big, lumbering, and classic Capcom. Unfortunately, this boss fight comes after Jim has evacuated his mech, and is left with only a few weapons and his wits. The degree of difficulty in dealing with the boss was a little less than would have been featured in the first game, but it was still a challenge if also a bit rote. Essentially, the player was supposed to dodge the crab’s advances, and then, while its claw was stuck in the ground, shoot first ice off its back before revealing a glowing weak point. From there, it’s lather, rinse, and repeat until victory. Nothing too mind blowing, but enough to prove Spark Unlimited isn’t trying to completely take Lost Planet fans out of their element.

From there the game departs quite heavily from its pre-established formula and dips briefly into the survival horror genre as Jim explores an abandoned base that was hidden behind an ice wall. What exactly Jim discovers is unclear, but his tooling around with the base’s power is assumed to be the catalyst for the remainder of Lost Planet 3‘s plot. As the player makes their way through the base several smaller Akrid will try their hand at killing you, but their main purpose is really just jump scares. Once again, this felt like the “point of no return” for the story, but how exactly wasn’t explained.

For one final piece of excitement, that same crab boss fight is replayed, but this time with Jim behind the controls of his mech. Rather than a few minutes, dispatching the crab takes seconds, but is extremely satisfying. Using the mech’s drill and claw, the player first rips off both of the boss’ arms, and before drilling through its entire torso. Needless to say, this was some mech vs. monster action worthy of any Hollywood movie.

As is the case with these types of first-taste demos, the sequence ended with a cut scene/cliffhanger where Jim finds himself in a pretty precarious situation. What will happen next? Play the full game to find out.

Lost Planet 3 Preview - Mech Gameplay

Despite almost invalidating the direction of its predecessor, most likely the byproduct of bringing on a new developer, Lost Planet 3 still provides that varied combat fans will instantly recognize, but also features a few new flourishes here and there. The mixture of mech and on-foot combat still feels as diverse and engaging as in the earlier games, but the implementation of that combat and exploration has been greatly fine-tuned. Little touches like choosing to give the player a mech without guns feels like sacrilege, but seeing the types of gameplay opportunities it presents throws all of those apprehensions out the window. And there was even a few hints dropped that suggest eventually the mechs will become weaponized, a plus for anyone disappointed by that news.

Across the board, from the visuals to the brief story beats, Lost Planet 3 was a delight to play, if only for half an hour. It’s a world I’m dying to return to, and features a combat so satisfying that it shouldn’t be missed.

How do you feel about the new direction Capcom is taking the series in with Lost Planet 3? What elements from the previous games do you hope still make it into this prequel?

Lost Planet 3 is targeting a 2013 release on PS3, PC, and Xbox 360.

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