Version tested: Xbox 360
When we shoot things in videogames, we almost expect the downed foe to leave something shiny behind for us to pick up. It's practically a gaming law, with some of them designed to take advantage of our curious obsessive-compulsive desire to hoard thousands of pointless artefacts like the thieving digital magpies that we are. How many times have we gone back to games we've already finished, just to make sure we've hoovered up every last orb/crystal/coin/whatever? It's the first sign of madness, I tells ya.
Lost Planet, mind you, goes about it another way. It basically reverse engineers the whole premise of Dead-Things-Must-Spew-Shiny-Stuff to the point where Capcom has conjured an entire storyline to justify said spewage. Anyway, it made me smile, so I'm going to share it with you. Basically, in The Future, a bunch of pesky humans decide to colonise a hostile frozen planet (called E.D.N. III) inhabited by giant insect-like creatures called the Akrid. Cunningly, the Akrid house precious thermal energy (T-ENG) within their bodies, and the humans soon realise that they can utilise this energy resource to help them survive the sub-zero temperatures. Simple plan? Shoot Akrid, harvest the thermal orange ooze, stay alive.
Dressed in the rather handy Vital Suit, the game's protagonist (the chiselled Wayne) can brave the icy wasteland by going on an Akrid killing spree, knowing full well that every giant bug he kills tops up his T-ENG. Handy. But he's got a reason for that, too. Apparently an Akrid named 'Green Eye' (can't imagine why...) killed his father, so now he's seeking good old-fashioned retribution. So, with the slaughter and the orange ooze fully justified, what of the game?
Wayne VS the world
Unusually for Capcom, Lost Planet strips away many of the layers that characterise the games it is renowned for; layers which would have arguably made this game a more unique and interesting prospect. So, what we're served up with is an often spectacular looking third-person shooter with a smidgen of generally-exciting-but-not-especially-taxing survival-combat built-in, and an increasing focus on VS mech combat, but more of that later.
Built around a linear level-by-level structure, you're never in any doubt what to do in Lost Planet, given that there's one main goal of each of the 11 levels: destroy everything you see. For the bulk of each level, you'll focus firmly on a series of close encounters with the Akrid threat - potentially an endless series of encounters until you locate and eliminate the nests that they pour out of. Along the way you'll also encounter larger, well armoured Akrid which often bowl towards you, knock you off your feet and do their best to sap your energy any way they can, and at the climax of every level is an even bigger foe to finish off.
But unlike so many challenging Capcom games down the years, Lost Planet always seems to offer you, the player, the edge in combat. The general 'grunts', be they of Akrid or of human origin, don't offer up a huge amount of resistance. With fairly forgiving (and often plain dumb) AI routines, plenty of ammo, stacks of health and powerful weaponry at your disposal, you continually carve a swathe through dozens of foes that offer up little resistance (particularly the humans), mindfully collecting all the orange ooze they leave behind and remembering to pick up the discarded weapons and ammo as you go. And even when faced with the mini bosses and typically spectacular screen-filling end-of-level bosses, their weak spots are generally so obvious that once you've worked out their predictable attack patterns the fight is over pretty quickly. A few well-aimed clips, a few wisely saved rockets and their health bar plummets. Sooner than you imagine, the fight is over and it's on to the next series of encounters.
Amidst all the on-foot combat you'll also come across discarded VSs, allowing you to crush bigger Akrid with ease with your dual mounted weaponry (which you can swap as you come across other weapons left lying around), as well as fight it out toe-to-toe with other mechs prowling the icy landscapes and abandoned structures. Better still, being strapped inside a mech gives you an extra layer of protection from the splash damage of the explosive rockets and so on being aimed at your HEAD, meaning your ever-depleting T-ENG stands a chance of lasting a little longer than usual. That said, your shield energy is pretty flimsy, so you'll constantly be doing a dance of death, ejecting from stricken craft and legging it to the nearest abandoned VS - or simply legging it.
In doing exactly that (legging it, that is), you begin to expose some of the limitations to the level design within Lost Planet, because the game regularly lets you get away with lazily running through entire sections of the game without even bothering to take down your enemies. In fact, in one memorable level featuring a giant worm (ripped straight from Dune, evidently), you're positively encouraged to run the gauntlet or else you'll get battered to death repeatedly, forced to start right from the beginning. In isolation that's fair enough, but it's also apparent that other levels let you get away with doing the same thing - and doing so can often prove the best tactic, or else you might end up needlessly facing the same respawning gits over and over, running down both your T-ENG and your best weapons. You can condone respawning enemies when it's up to you to destroy the generator, but not when it's just because The Designers Felt Like It. That's just annoying, especially when you realise that, after all the unnecessary battling, you can just give them the slip and let them get on with their respawning existence to infinity.
Some of this sneaky cheating might have been neatly avoided to a large degree if the game forced you to activate all the Data Post beacons that you come across on your travels. But the reality is that these sub-tasks are entirely optional, and only really worth bothering with if you feel you need an energy top-up. Soon enough, with nothing even approaching a puzzle to solve (even the old key collecting, button pushing, security deactivating tasks are absent) you realise that your sole purpose in each level is reaching the boss, so you'll do your best to get there as quick as you can. Admittedly there are some (as in a handful) well-hidden coins you can track down and shoot if you want to gain some extra achievement points, but the motivation to do so just wasn't there.
He's behind you
The story, too, is a bit of a let-down. Before you know it, people supposedly on your side are betraying you and the plot starts shooting off in a different direction to the point where you start to care less and less why you're facing off against so and so. Normally Capcom stories are reliably unhinged, and filled with pantomime villains, but Lost Planet's just feels a bit like it has been held back by the gameplay as much as anything. Giving the player little more to do than 'shoot stuff' level after linear level makes any attempt at creating a narrative feel rather tacked-on. One thing you can't question, though, are the production values invested in the cut-scenes; as ever Capcom is up there with the best.
Another questionable element about Lost Planet is the lack of any discernible Capcom-style experience system. Although it's fair to note that most shooters don't generally rely on an XP system to lend it a sense of progression, Lost Planet would have arguably benefited from one. On reflection, as a character, Wayne is no more capable in the final level than he is right at the beginning, and as such the combat doesn't feel especially evolved at the climax either - apart from the greater emphasis on mech combat. Sure, you might get access to rocket launchers and the ultra powerful Gatling Guns more often, there might be more mechs left lying around, and your enemies might be better equipped, but there's little sense that the game is any more challenging near the end than it is at the start. Quite often, in fact, you'll still manage well enough with the default machine gun, occasionally resorting to long-range tactics with other weapons.
There are also a few control grumbles that could have easily been ironed out by, oh, I dunno, adopting the industry standard. Instead, Capcom has gone for some oddball system where the targeting reticule sort of slides slowly left or right (rather than, say, stay fixed in the centre of the screen where it ought to be) and you have to assess your targeting based on where it is. Hitting the right or left bumpers flicks you ninety degrees in that direction, but it neither feels natural nor particularly useful - therefore remaining an unused feature. Admittedly you do get used to the 'feel' of the controls quickly, but, still, there was no need to mess with the standard system of third person control and targeting whatsoever. To add to the quirks, you can only shoot above yourself to a limited degree, making it not only needlessly tricky to get a bead on the things above you without backing away, it also makes using the game's grappling hook a bit of a pain in the arse as you desperately try to force the cursor up a few degrees to enable you to get the right angle.
Lost and found
In no way is the game a let down in the visuals department, mind you. With Capcom let loose on the 360's innards, it blends organic and mechanical with equal aplomb, delivering consistently beautiful and memorable scenes that arguably do more to drag you through the game than anything else. Whether you're trudging around a frosted up abandoned base or clearing rocky interiors of frantic flying Trilids (think Pitch Black), you'll get a real kick out of the amount of artistry that has gone into making the game. The fact that the Limited Edition version of the game comes with a bonus art book that goes into detail about some of the most memorable Akrids and Vital Suits (i.e. Mechs) in the game is no surprise, and welcome, too.
But as with so many Capcom games over the past decade, the boss monsters are incredible to behold - and perhaps even more so if you've got the kind of high definition display that can really do the sense of scale and detail justice. Ripped straight out of the graphic novels of your worst nightmares, some of these creations are beyond epic, forcing you to retreat to even see their bodies on screen at once. Likewise, the effects and incredible animation lavished on them makes it one of the most appealing looking next generation games to date. In particular, the smoke effects can often have a wonderfully disorientating effect, leaving you fumbling in the dark for a few seconds while it slowly drifts away and allows you to resume the battle.
Meanwhile, many Capcom fans and shooter fans alike will be holding out hope for what the game can offer in terms of its online multiplayer. Well, the first thing to note is that it's online multiplayer only, and competitive only - so no split screen, no system link and no co-op, which in itself is a bit of an oversight. In terms of what you get, there are four modes (Team Elimination, Elimination, Post Grab and Fugitive), with support for up to 16 players.
Kill all hippies
As you might expect, both variations on Elimination are standard deathmatch-based games, where everyone dashes for the most powerful VS or weapon and does what everyone does in games involving shooting one another. Fortunately, Lost Planet does, at least, offer something a little out of the ordinary by placing Data Posts around the maps to enable you to skulk off and recharge your Battle Gauge as well as use them as radar points, giving matches a degree of much-needed strategy.
Post Grab, meanwhile, is a team domination variant, based on activating all the Data Posts on the map, while Fugitive is based on the host being the one on the run, while everyone else hunts them down. The idea being that the fugitive has to build up his Battle Gauge to its maximum via either evading everyone else or killing the hunters - with the hunters tasked with running down the fugitive's Battle Gauge to nothing.
The maps are well judged in terms of varying their size and style, and there's a persistent online ranking system for your character, helping Lost Planet's multiplayer to feel a solid and enjoyable addition to the Live scene - but isn't quite as fleshed out or doing anything especially different to unseat Gears of War, GRAW or Halo 2 in the Xbox Live stakes. Bear in mind, though, that the game has already been patched prior to its PAL launch, so many of the issues you may have heard about (such as being kicked back to the main menu when entering full matches, or being unable to do simple rematches, increasing the text size on standard TVs, and so on) have already been addressed.
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition feels like it had the potential to be a pared-down shooter classic, but never quite manages to make the core combat exciting, varied or challenging enough to elevate it to the lofty realms that early showings suggested it would reach. Nevertheless, with a glorious setting, some memorable boss encounters and some staggering visuals to enjoy, Lost Planet has enough going for it to recommend checking out for those of you needing a lift in the dismal January wasteland.
7 / 10