Most people will have one defining feature in which they place their hopes and dreams in the future of title, something that when asked, they couldn’t do without it. For some, it is story or graphics and for others it would be gameplay or side quests. There is, of course, no right or wrong answer but when its comes to making a game there should be nothing preferable. Features like gameplay, graphics or story can be simple if it suits the titles key concepts, yet this catches out many companies, often really engaging with one element and in comparison other features suffer so it always makes me anxious when I know a title is extremely story driven and has a great atmosphere.

Lifeless Planet is a third person Indie Action/Adventure developed by Stage 2 Studios, who are a rather unique company. Instead of labeling themselves as standard game developers, they are instead known for Video Production and Interactive Design. Their portfolio includes several websites and videos targeted at the non-profit/ educational niche. There have also designed apps including some educational items like The Volcano Simulator but their list of games is minimal. In the past they have only developed one other title for financial education so it would be fair to say this is the companies first commercial game, which may be worrying to some people.

The game is extremely story focused, primarily due to the fact there isn’t much else in the world. A team of astronauts embark on a long one-way journey of discovery to a distant planet light years away. Upon landing something goes horribly wrong and your crew are missing. As you wonder around the desolate landscape, which was supposedly rich with life, you discover Russian towns and buildings and as the mystery grows so does your curiosity. You begin to learn this planet isn’t as lifeless as first thought. As the uncover further mysteries, you gradually begin to learn more regarding the personal story of your ever-inquisitive astronaut tackling personal issues that plague his hallucinations. As well as this, you discover further information regarding the Russians and their apparent disappearance from the face of the planet creating the beginnings of a great sci-fi mystery.

Lifeless Planet has very few game mechanics. Of course simple ones are walking and jumping that can be improved upon with the use of the jetpack. This can help navigate the environment and solve certain puzzles. Another would be the robotic arm you find later in the game that helps you reach certain controls that you usually wouldn’t be able to. This does, however make up the entirety of the game mechanics that may upset a considerable amount of people. Due to the nature of the game and its exploration the focus on the mechanics are minimal and whilst still important, the story is most important.

Platforming creates most of the challenge within this title, which is strange because of the lack of reference to it on the sale page on Steam. Whilst rewarding once you finally complete a long section with the use of your jet pack, it can be difficult to identify which rock can be used as a platform. This inconsistency can confuse players and even put them off the game. Once receiving the jetpack upgrade that allows you to boost further this problem appears to be inapplicable compared to the close quarter jumping. As well as this, you can very easily find yourself wedged between rocks and even break the game causing you to consistently refer back to the restart last checkpoint button. This has a habit of breaking immersion and wasting time.

There are some basic puzzles within the game but unfortunately the platforming easily makes the majority with long, drawn out segments that are sporadically scattered throughout the environment. Many of the other puzzles include either switching on the power or using dynamite to blow up obstacles, that can be tricky when first encountered but due to their multiple appearances throughout the game they, of course become predictable. One interesting idea was the use of the robotic arm in order to touch objects that you normally couldn’t Some puzzles include touching controls to high for you or place a rock into a furnace like device to initiate the power. This works well with the exception of a few minor bugs that create a jerky experience. It works a similar way to surgeon simulator but with more control and a lot easier.

The graphics were odd in a sense. Some parts looked great like the helmet visor reflection creating a unique view of the world with the famous orange twinge you see in all of the famous sci-fi films. Whilst that captured my imagination certain aspects were horrible like the fog filter, which kept appearing and disappearing during many points in the game making it unplayable at times due to the overwhelming filter flash it created. The game is predominately set in a desert so the landscape is similar. This benefits the game by using simple graphics to achieve the look of the world, although texture quality was poor and due to the nature of the game this become apparent in certain locations.

The sounds were very good. Silence mainly filled the game creating an eerie aesthetic as you traverse the world. Voice acting in many of the games audio logs were good and really gives the players the feeling of realism, however when uninterested by the logs it can be annoying when you cancel out of the screen and the voice acting continues, sometimes for the best part of several minutes. This spoils the silence the game offers and is rather annoying. Echo is used very well in the game creating the feeling of a vast and empty world.

Lifeless Planet is very well paced and extremely story driven but I fear this isn’t enough for this Indie title. Whilst traversing and progressing through the environment can be fun and rewarding, the way in which you do it is extremely linear and furthermore, boring. Jumping from rock to rock on an alien planet can only be fun for so long so rapid implementation of other game mechanics would have benefited the title a great deal. The robotic arm was a breath of fresh air, yet wasn’t enough to differentiate from the rest of the title. This is a great example of why games cannot be influenced on story elements alone and how important game mechanics can be to the success of the title. I fear the initial story will suck consumers into buying the game and will leave them disappointed by their purchase. Although this title didn’t live up to my expectations, I feel Stage 2 Studios have the talent to learn from this and benefit from the experience.