Back in 2012, a Dutch organisation ambitiously set out to make a rather ludicrous proposal that could finally see humans landing on Martian soil. The project, known as Mars One, would hand-select a small number of public volunteers to embark on a one-way journey to settle on the red planet. To nobody’s surprise, 2,700 hopefuls would curiously apply to become a candidate for this incredible suicide mission. A mission that, if successful, would be a massive turning point in scientific achievement.
In David Board’s 2014 sole-developed indie title Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition, a similar “one-way ticket” mission is already taking place. But rather than landing on our neighbouring planet, the crew of four instead travels lightyears to a world that’s reported to be brimming with life similar to our own. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite according to plan. The sole protagonist of the story, an unnamed U.S. male astronaut, wakes from a cryogenic slumber to find his ship has crash landed and the crew has gone missing. Furthermore, the world around him seems to be a barren wasteland and nothing close to what was originally pitched to him. However, what completely throws the astronaut off guard more than anything, is the abandoned Soviet Union research facilities that stand within a short walking distance from the shuttle’s crash site.
Mars One seeks to use investment, media and advertising to fund their project to lift it off the ground. David Board’s own successful campaign would see his game become one of the earliest titles to take advantage of the popular crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. What is impressive is the scope of the world that David has forged under a tight budget in order to entice the player into space-hopping across alien terrain. In knowing that one man has written, designed and developed this game is certainly quite the achievement within itself. Especially with how interestingly shaped some of the rocky landscapes can very mildly reflect areas from the later released, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Unfortunately, everything else surrounding the game’s ambitious scope is held together with a loose thread of cotton. Performance-wise the whole experience is plagued with muddy visuals, dreadful animations and riddled with more invisible walls than a mime artist in a rave club. There were several occasions where I had to reload the last checkpoint or even restart a whole chapter due to either getting hopelessly stuck between an invisible void and a rocky cavity or unintentionally breaking the game’s incredibly ropey puzzle mechanics. Even though Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition marginally runs smoother on the big screen, in handheld mode the frames of animation stutter so badly it looks like a 10-year-old’s claymation attempt filmed on a bootleg Chinese mobile app.
The game is primarily a puzzle-platforming adventure that uses its mysterious story as the hook to keep the player invested. Your only actions other than running around aimlessly looking for green footprints is the ability to double jump with the aid of your suit’s jet fuel. This little ability allows you to completely mistime the copious amounts of terrible platforming sections that the game has to offer. The only time the platforming becomes even close to being remotely fun is when you find canisters of jet fuel that allow for multiple boosts to gain extra distance. However, this simple little upgrade isn’t permanent, for it usually gets snatched away from you until a new area conveniently requires it.
The other perk that you get a little later in the game arrives in the form of a little robotic arm. This handy device is usually used to pick up energy rocks to power devices, and it can be used to hack into giant gateways to press forwards. While boulders and rocks are generally the answer to most problems, the game’s physics engine treats them like a pound shop fly-away football that just float all over the place. You may, of course, provide the reason that the planet’s lower sense of gravity could be the result of the mineral’s weightlessness. I, for one, stand unconvinced. Vigorous research and testing has proved that, in this world, C4 is needed when you want to move a simple pallet and an empty barrel from blocking a door. Further tests indicate that you only need to fall from the height of a table to pretty much die from the impact. I’m pretty sure Neil Degrasse Tyson would have a few things to say on the peculiarity of the planet’s gravitational pull. Just saying.
Despite having a constant sense of frustration riding over my skin when playing Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition, there were a few small qualities that I did happen to come across. The music really stands out in providing an atmosphere within the desolate world, and, while infrequent, does hit the mood nicely at the right moments. The story to accompany the dire gameplay is fairly decent too, told in fragments of information shared in transmissions and reports either left behind by the Russians or logged by the astronaut himself. There are a few questionable dialogue choices within some of the text, but, in the grand scheme of things, they stand at the lower end of the game’s overall problems.
Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition may very well gain a few new fans based solely on its narrative. Unfortunately, the tedious ordeal of having to traipse around the planet for half a dozen hours like a clumsy jelly baby just doesn’t make the plot strong enough to be worth the hassle. While it may not sound like it, I do appreciate the hard work and effort it takes to independently craft an environment of such scale. However, it really doesn’t excuse the fact that this is an incredibly poorly made game, regardless of how interesting its premise may be.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Serenity Forge