If there's one word that best describes Lifeless Planet, it's "scale". Not since the original Unreal (and possibly Trespasser) has a game done that much to make you feel small and insignificant. It's this quality that makes Lifeless Planet a compelling experience in spite of its numerous flaws.
Taking place in the near future, you and a small team of astronauts have been sent to a distant world that should be teeming with life, only to crash land on barren and lifeless one - hence the title. The mystery quickly builds as you come across the remains of an abandoned Soviet-era research base. You soon discover you are not alone, as a haunting presence seems to be watching you. The story is presented via a series of observations made by the main character, as well as translated logs left over by the Soviet researchers.
Gameplay consists of light puzzle solving, platforming, and exploration. Your primary forms of interaction are running, jumping, and pushing objects. You'll also come across a jetpack and robotic arm attachment for your suit, the latter allowing you to manipulate far away objects. As a result, most puzzles consist of navigating tricky terrain, pushing objects into advantageous positions, or using the robotic arm to interact with things out of reach.
The basic gameplay works, which is good, because most of the game is spent hiking across massive landscapes. Progression is surprisingly linear and driven by set pieces. There are often gigantic structures in the distance, begging to be explored. Most games would leave these as tantalizing background details, but Lifeless Planet has you walk up within inches of them. It's not unusual for the monolith you saw on the horizon to be bigger than you thought it was when you finally reach it.
Lifeless Planet's biggest flaw is that it never manages to live up to its basic premise. The tension and mystery it sets up is quickly alleviated a few minutes later with an odd and out of place voice over explaining everything you've just witnessed. This is a continuiting problem as nothing is left to the player's imagination. Any and all mysteries are handwaved sloppily with verbose logs or blunt statements made by the main character, killing any sense of atmosphere. Much of the backstory doesn't even make sense, only raising further questions about your mission and the world you're on.
Much like the plot, any sense of awe you have trekking across the game is quickly replaced by boredom and frustration. The first half is heavily frontloaded with interesting places to explore, only to be replaced by vacant landscapes and recycled props further in. Lifeless Planet tries its best to remain interesting in the second half with things such as hot springs, which introduce new platforming challenges, but it just can't manage to be as compelling as it was at the beginning. The game is also poorly optimized, often chugging at the worst times, turning most set pieces into a slideshow.
There is satisfaction to be found in Lifeless Planet. The game is filled with breathtaking moments, and the basic platforming is just good enough to keep things interesting, but at $20, it's hard to recommend for anyone that isn't a diehard fan of exploration games.