Rapacious seduction is a trick Capcom has been honing for a long time now, constructing entire franchises around the painful allure of the apocalyptic boss encounter. But although the publisher seems to have been on a mission to outdo itself via Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Onimusha and Monster Hunter, it wasn't until Lost Planet came along in 2007 that it was brazen enough to build a game almost entirely around slaying nightmarish, colossal, screen-filling beasts.
If anything though, Capcom didn't go far enough in its singular pursuit of Western-style action purity, and punctuated the game's dazzling highlights with an often-tedious procession through respawning grunts. Even though Lost Planet went on to far exceed the publisher's own commercial expectations, the Japanese publisher knows better than anyone that there's plenty of room for improvement for the upcoming sequel.
"This is almost a totally different game," insists Lost Planet 2 producer Jun Takeuchi, speaking to Eurogamer this past week. "Everything has improved, in my opinion." It's not hard to agree. The changes and improvements are in evidence everywhere you look, whether cosmetic or gameplay related, as well as in terms of its campaign or multiplayer focus.
Certainly, the game's campaign mode has been overhauled comprehensively. While the data post activation elements and grapple hook navigation remain, much of the gameplay has evolved dramatically. The most obvious change is the game's bold co-op focus, with support for up to four players over split-screen, System Link or online. Designed very much like a typical multiplayer experience, everything from the front end to the game's kill-streak recognition gives it a feel that's wildly different from the typical story-driven videogame.
With flexibility built right into its heart, the game can be played with any combination of human and AI players, and you can even turn all your team-mates off and play the game on your own if you fancy the challenge. But with so many colossal adversaries to face, the chances are that you'll appreciate the spirit of co-operation in whatever form you can find it.
Realising that "four players playing together for a long time is not very practical," Takeuchi admits that designing smaller chapters was deliberate. With most of the game's early encounters clocking in at around the 10-minute mark, this unusually tight focus ensures a relentlessness that we haven't seen round these parts since the deranged cult classic Earth Defence Force.
Tighter design also means that the frequency of climactic action sequences and boss encounters has been notably cranked up. In the first few sections alone, you find yourself having to activate and subsequently protect five control points, and then tackle the kind of behemoths that most games would reserve for the climax.
Takeuchi-san reckons Lost Planet 2 boasts "the largest bosses to ever feature in any of Capcom's games" and to expect "approximately 40" across the length of the campaign - around double the number that featured in its predecessor. With the game clocking in at "about 10 hours", that works out at one boss encounter every 15 minutes, folks.
Although it has been discussed at length in our previous hands-on it bears repeating just how gargantuan these hideous creatures are. Evidently designed by people with a deep, underlying disrespect for the horrendous potential of oversized insects taking over the world, you'll battle every variation of every disgusting slithery construct imaginable.
One minute it's a mutated goat-faced crab bearing down upon your tiny band of soldiers, and the next you're valiantly facing off against a roaring stag beetle with a disturbing habit of flicking its prehensile tongue in your direction whenever you're down to the last sliver of health.
Of course, you're so pathetically ill-equipped to deal with these slithering, shrieking meanies by default that you may as well limply throw pebbles at them rather than fire your quite useless machinegun at their impenetrable hides - but this is where teamwork comes in. Rather than having to face all the enemy's attacks on your own, some members of the team can act as decoys while the others go off and dish out the pain.
The appearance of discarded gatling guns and rocket launchers offers a small amount of assistance, but the real saviours - as before - are the VS machines, the 'Vital Suit' mechs which afford you a much-needed degree of protection as you stomp around blasting orange weak spots with extreme prejudice.
Sometimes bosses' weaknesses are fairly obvious, but sometimes even exposing the orangey goodness requires a degree of hard work. Given how challenging the early bosses are, goodness only knows how fearsome they become as the game progresses.
According to Takeuchi, the one aspect of the game he's most proud of is the support system. "I think that this makes our four-player co-op a little bit different, because if you support your friends then you get points. We've got a support system where you can use support weapons like shields and healing items," he says. It's not an area we're able to test at this stage, but the implications of giving players an incentive to care for their team-mates ought to elevate it over many other co-op experiences where everyone's simply going for the glory.
As we touched on earlier, another element that has been radically overhauled is the game's aesthetic. It's set a decade after the events of the first instalment, and we return to E.D.N III to find that it's an altogether more hospitable place than when we left it. With terraforming efforts having been successful, some of the snow has melted away in various regions of the planet, revealing jungle, desert and even underwater regions, offering Capcom plenty of opportunity to show off the dazzling capabilities of its new MT-Framework 2.0 engine.
The astonishing detail level and deft array of beautiful effects leaves you in no doubt about the technical strides Capcom has made from the opening moments. This is the sort of game that will leave Digital Foundry lying awake at night (at least until the disc arrives in the lair - soon, pretties).
Wading through a lush jungle, the dense forest canopy creates a palpable sense of claustrophobic oppression in a way that simply hasn't come across in a videogame before. Close examination reveals an uncompromising, almost slavish attention to detail. Every branch and every leaf is superbly rendered, and each and every scene comes alive with stunning lighting and shader effects. Seeing this alongside a game like God of War III, it finally feels like the promise of this generation's technology is being realised.
Global warming hasn't exactly impressed the natives, mind you, and we're promised that the Akrid population will be even more testy than usual. On the flipside though, with no need to worry about the sub-zero temperatures ebbing away your ENG life force, one of the more frustrating elements of the original's health system has thankfully been stripped out. You still need to blast everything that moves, but you can store up the resultant orange gunk and use it to top your health off every time you need a boost. As an alternative to the usual medipak/recharging health systems routinely built into shooters, it's a neat substitute.
Capcom has also worked harder to weave narrative intrigue into the action this time around, with Takeuchi-san promising "an omnibus storyline with six episodes, each with different bosses and different [enemy] types, depending on the environments." Seen from the perspectives of individual factions, the plot will apparently evolve dynamically based on certain key decisions you make.
Player choices will also extend to weapon and character customisation, with the promise of "hundreds" of ways of tailoring the look of your character for off and online play. It will also be possible to tailor weapon style to suit your individual player. Takeuchi-san also believes "there are probably the most secrets hidden in this game in Capcom history!" As well as the confirmed guest appearance of Resident Evil's Albert Wesker and Gears of War's Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago, Takeuchi hints that more could feature, the big tease.
DLC is also part of the plan post-release, and PC fans can now officially rejoice that a version will eventually be heading their way too. Takeuchi confirms that plans are also afoot for a Lost Planet movie. "Hollywood is actually writing a script at the moment," he reveals. "They've got their own take on the Lost Planet universe, [but] we haven't got any say in that. I'm looking forward to seeing what they think of it."
As before, the game's competitive multiplayer focus is also promises to be a significant part of the package, and the game will ship with Team Elimination, Survival and Foxhunting modes. The latter, Takeuchi explains, involves "one or two guys having to survive the attacks of the other players." Other modes included in the expanded Lost Planet: Colonies should also make the cut.
During the game's recent press showing, we had an early opportunity to play numerous rounds of Team Elimination across a handful of maps. With support for eight players per side, we got a flavour for how some of the VS combat will play out, with all manner of heavily armed vehicles (including choppers and transporters) to buzz around in.
Even from what amounts to a quick glance, it's pretty clear that Takeuchi and company has come up with something very special. Whichever element of the game you sample, there's something to admire, and, more importantly, something to enjoy.
With a campaign mode that has the potential to become one of the most essential co-op games ever made, and hugely entertaining VS-based multiplayer insanity to indulge in, Lost Planet 2 is a sign of Capcom getting back to its best.
Lost Planet 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this May.