Like a lot of Capcom's output at the moment, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was Western in principle but Japanese in execution, so it's no surprise when producer Jun Takeuchi - taking over from R&D boss Keiji Inafune, who's up to his jugular in the blood and guts of Dead Rising 2 - announces that the sequel owes a lot to "Call of Duty". Us either. Apparently it's quite big on the internet.
After putting a lot of support into Lost Planet's own online community - with a leaderboard-tracking community website, numerous content updates and a redux version of the game called Lost Planet: Colonies - it's safe to say that Takeuchi and his colleagues share Activision's intent in that area too. There's four-player campaign co-op this time, more customisation options than Starbucks, and a dedicated "My Page" channel in-game to track levelling, DLC releases and boards. Although there's little exact word on multiplayer modes, Takeuchi says to expect Fox Hunt to return, along with others from Colonies.
Perhaps the most jarring thing about the game though is Takeuchi's revelation that there is no new Wayne. You are the main character, and it's here - rather than in the online options - that the Call of Duty comparison is drawn. Although Capcom hopes to preserve the atmosphere and drama (and hopefully the indulgent cut-scenes) familiar to fans of the company's output, Lost Planet 2 employs a split narrative that shimmies between contrasting scenarios.
This means that you will experience the ongoing war on the surface of EDN III from several perspectives (including a new branch of NEVEC), before it's all brought together in the final chapter. The war that rages over a globally-warmed planet now devoid of the snow that characterised the original is for control of Thermal Energy (T-Eng) resources, comparable to our own fascination with oil, and the game will take in numerous environments, including the lush jungle we've already seen, and others we haven't.
That jungle is the focus of the first gameplay demo - a four-player incursion manned by Capcom staffers in the same room playing on networked laptops, which begins with a speedboat ride into mangroves before evolving across the carpets of reactive vegetation, under and around the boughs of giant trees and into clearings. Capcom's boasts of improved visuals ring true as flames light up the dense foliage and new insectoid Akrid enemies swarm into battle. The first game to use version 2.0 of Capcom's much-complimented multiformat MT Framework engine, Lost Planet 2 is rife with new shaders and effects, most of which your dimwitted correspondent doesn't understand. But it looks fabulous.
The second demo takes in a gigantic boss battle in a valley strewn with the wreckage of past conflicts. First the third-person player-controlled troops take over a datapost - they replenish T-Eng but also act as save checkpoints - before a monstrous, hulking sloth-like boss slithers onto land and starts stomping around on six legs, lashing at the tiny humans with a froggy prehensile tongue. Its face and back are covered in horns and spikes, and again it calls to mind Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers.
And as with the beasties in the Dutchman's divisive satire, this baddie's suitably epic health-bar can be whittled down in a number of ways. You can directly engage its glowing weak points at the joints, and hop into one of the returning Vital Suits (mechs) to try and dismember it using the more excessive firepower therein. Or you can use a hill to jump on top of it and fire at a huge weak spot on its back. The one Takeuchi grins at the most though is an incursion through its mouth into its guts, where the player splashes around ankle-high rivers of bile smashing up the intestines, rather like that bit in Gears of War 2.
With the co-op angle, Takeuchi says that certain hits in here will enlarge weak spots on the exterior for team-mates to attack. The co-op extends to Vital Suits, too, with several that we're not shown apparently pilotable in groups, although when quizzed later Capcom is quick to point out that the game can be played solo, with the AI filling in for the other players.
When you do play together, however, you should have little difficulty picking one another part thanks to some of the most extensive, and correspondingly outrageous, customisation I can remember seeing - another Japanese favourite of course. On the body, you can pick from dozens of model and colour variations for head, body, back and legs, opting for billowing trenchcoats, ornamental tripod backpacks, zebra-print tunics, slightly fascist army uniforms and camo. You can switch to a female model too, and opt for a similar array of clothing and accessories, including the predictably requisite bikini (with, sigh, jiggling you-know-whats) and other impractical alternatives. This, we believe, is also popular in Japan.
Clothing won't affect your character's in-game performance, but customisable weapon loadouts will. You can fill slots with various options - machineguns, gunswords and hand cannons among them - and there are more grenade options, including some support models for team-play. Takeuchi also mentions several upgrade slots, although he may have been referring to the weapon designations. Either way, he says there will be unlockables throughout the game, and the team will go to work on more for premium downloadable content once the game ships. Fans of rubbing it in will also delight in customisable gestures, including some impressively risqué hip-thrusting and suggestive dances. "Some of these may affect the game's rating."
Takeuchi says the team is keen for feedback, and even tells one interviewer that he will report back on his preference for customising interchangeable loadout presets in other multiplayer games. Several steps have already been taken in response to the first game, he says - the hand cannon was your idea, as was a new dash move, and a range of new melee attacks.
With that in mind, you won't have to wait long to see and even play Lost Planet 2 for yourself. The original threw up a surprise playable demo on Xbox Live at the E3 preceding its release, much earlier than most publishers typically go for, and Takeuchi says that the same may happen for E3 2009 at the start of June - he doesn't say for which formats - where the game will certainly be playable for the press. It's not too surprising, however, because of the console-facing games on display at Captivate 09, Lost Planet 2 looks the most developed, and no less ambitious than Dead Rising 2, Dark Void and its other friends. Quite the contrary.
Lost Planet 2 is due out for Xbox 360 next year.