Sebi woke me yesterday with these words: You HAVE to play this game, Lifeless Planet.
So I did.
It’s probably the best game I ever played.
It’s not really a game, or rather it is so much more than a game, it is everything I want from a game. It is a story, a very well orchestrated SciFi story that is highly thought provoking and challenging, and every detail is so carefully designed that you are completely immersed in it
Today I was an astronaut. I was not a happy astronaut like I dreamed I was after I read Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I wasn’t even a resourceful, driven astronaut like the one in The Martian by Andy Weir. Instead, I was a sad astronaut, haunted by the near loss of my wife, stranded on a planet that promised life, but was lifeless instead. A planet full of mysteries. A planet that might have needed my help… but then again, I might have needed its help instead, and my imagination might have created the story I lived through.
Game Review (With Spoilers)
Lifeless Planed is a puzzle jump and run. It is not a classical puzzle, and it is not a challenging jump and run. It is rather scarce in gameplay, and it has absolutely no HUD, no inventory, no bars to show life or energy or anything. It does not have a map. The only thing it does have is a journal in the form of a PDA.
The scarcity of gamey elements provides a lot of value to the experience and does an amazing job at putting you in the role of an astronaut stranded on a lifeless, dangerous planet full of mysteries. The controls are a bit clumsy, too, but that is another element that builds up this idea of clumsiness one probably has plenty of in a bulky astronaut suit.
Your original and main job is to survive, but you are entrenched in a weird, spooky story that you unveil as you travel through harsh and diverse landscapes. On occasion, the game makes it clear that you hallucinate, and it blurs the line between real and imagination as you follow a strange creature who you can’t quite figure out until the end of the game.
The lack of HUD aids is compensated greatly by amazing level design. All 20 levels of the game are masterpieces of beautiful simplicity, containing all you could possibly need to be guided throughout the experience. From hues of green you can vaguely spot to guide your way, to forgotten blueprints and puzzle like environments, to certain textures you can step on and others to avoid, you carry on, sometimes sure of your steps and sometimes lost, confused and tired, unsure of even what to hope.
There are few things you can do as an astronaut: move things around, and make use of a robotic arm to reach high places. On occasion you find jet packs that allow you to overcome the planet’s harsh, majestic environment. Moving objects around and the use of robotic arm are the only two elements that required timid UI.
Great art is combined with amazing music, sound effects and voice acting. If the simple beauty of the game levels could have been done by almost anyone with an eye for consisted aesthetics (anyone who is a genius level designer), what you hear is the work of skilled professionals, for sure. From the heavy breaths you hear when you are close to deplete your oxygen, to slight strange sounds that scare you to the bone, and dramatic music to highlight key moments of your adventure, all collected in a soundtrack I bought the second I finished the game.
Lifeless Planet can be finished in a few hours. I lingered and stopped often to admire it, yet I still finished across one day, where I had to haggle my time with the necessities of the real world. I loved the adventure and will always want more of it, but the game felt right to finish when it did, like a good movie where the quality of the storytelling prevails over unnecessary Hollywood puff. Many people suggested a sequel, but I hope there wouldn’t be one, to let me keep my questionable interpretation and to ponder the line between objectiveness and illusion. In school, when I studied literature, the fantastic genre was defined, among others, by an elusive, interpretable ending, and Lifeless Planet did that very well. My interpretation of this story may differ greatly from yours, and I think this only stands to show the beautiful masterpiece Lifeless Planet is.
Lifeless Planet does not offer you lots of reasons to replay it. In fact, the only reason you would play it again is alike the one when you decide to re-read a good book. You know the story well, so you most certainly will not be surprised for the twists of events, but you read it again to remember, and to get one more taste of the masterful work of an artist. When it comes to books, I stalk the authors I love, and look forward for their next creations. That is what I expect of games, as well… And Dave Board together with his team at Stage 2 Studios is definitely a game author to follow.