Version tested: PC
Lost Planet is a game designed for the Xbox 360. And in its PC incarnation, it's going to let you know this just about as often as possible. And by any means possible. This might be having a game mechanic entirely designed for a console, or it could be a screen-sized image of a 360 controller splashed intermittently throughout the game. Just don't you forget its origins, okay?
You will remember Kristan's review of the original version back in January, in which he was one of the few not to be all confused by the pretty graphics, and recognise quite how hollow the experience really was. So today we're here to find out how Capcom have managed to shed marks in the last six months.
Quick summary for people too lazy to read the previous review: You play Wayne... Yes, Wayne. That about sets the tone. I'm now fully looking forward to Half-Life 2: Episode Two revealing a new character called Sharon. (We would apologise to readers called Wayne or Sharon, but really, it's not us with whom you should be cross. It's your parents). He's part of a group of humans who decide, in that terribly human way, to colonise a very cold planet that is already somewhat populated. The locals, insectoid creatures called the Akrid, aren't best pleased at these presumptuous arrivals, and are so very rude as to physically object to the invasion. The bastards! Kill 'em all. And that you do, and almost nothing else.
The gimmick, because that's what it is, is that it's so damned cold on this planet that if you don't constantly infuse orangey gloop called T-ENG (thermal energy), you'll freeze your bits off. Everything you slaughter drops the stuff, as well as structures you demolish, cars you blow up (what exactly are cars doing there? This is never even halfway explained, and keeps me up at night), and so on. When you lose health, it's replenished by your T-ENG, and with so very much available throughout it's rarely anything you worry about. Which I suppose you were sort of supposed to. Oh, and the VS suits. They are giant mechs you can hop in and use to clomp about, killing far more effectively until they start fizz-popping from too much damage. They are the best bit.
It won't be any surprise for you hoary old cynics to learn that this is yet another arsed up console-to-PC conversion. In fact, were someone to do a half-decent job of such a thing, we'd probably set this website on fire to get your attention. But somehow it never stops being incredibly galling. And most offensive is the absolute assumption that you'll be playing using a 360 controller.
While you can set up mouse/keyboard controls in the options, and indeed interactive objects tell you which of those buttons to press (along with the 360 button, strangely), getting into a new VS brings up a splash screen telling you all its unique controls with a giant picture of a 360 controller, and no information at all for those USING A PC, YOU IDIOTS. Yes, it is perfectly possible to use a 360 controller with the game once you've got the appropriate dongle (though a wired one also works), but guess what folks - this is a PC game, on the PC, and not on the 360, so it bloody well shouldn't need a peripheral for an entirely separate machine.
Interestingly, the mouse/keyboard controls do something much more significant. They completely change the game. The original was all based on targeting specific regions of the Akrid's bodies (generally their poor vulnerable bottoms), and to an even greater degree with the humungous boss fights. With the peculiar Xbox moving target, and the imprecise nature of analogue controls, this offered a modicum of challenge. With the mouse, it's all gone. You point, you shoot, you win. And as such, the emptiness is more starkly revealed. One thing that remains the same, and is fantastically annoying, is the inability to raise the cursor high enough. Like dogs, Wayne can't look up. Which makes a bit of a farce of the grappling hook, needing you to edge ever backward until you can align with a platform above. Just raise your head higher, Wayne! Wayne!
Each of the eleven chapters tasks you only with running from one side to the other. There's nary an obstacle in the way, beyond the armies of hostile natives (which you're apparently justified in killing, because one of them killed your dad). And actually, this isn't too bad. You have guns the size of your entire body, mech suits that can glide, jump and stomp, the opportunity to hold a gatling gun in each metal arm and eviscerate beautiful beasts the size of a hill. And flipping heck, it looks incredible. So I've got this far and I've not mentioned DirectX 10. That's because I'm a gamer, not a technical writer, and bor-ing.
As it happens, the game looks pretty much the same in either DX9 or 10. And as such, it looks utterly astonishing. Frustratingly, even the most powerful of rigs are going to struggle running it at its max in DX10, which makes no sense at all since such a machine would dwarf a 360. My reasonable Core2Duo 2.4GHz, with 2GB of RAM and an 8800 GTS was collapsing under the weight of it, which doesn't seem fair. Turns out half the problems were thanks to a bug in the game with the 8800, requiring the use of the latest beta driver to fix, and then after that, with some settings moderated, it ran well enough for the majority of the time, until things got too frantic. Then the framerate completely goes to crap. Not too often, but annoying.
But here's the biggest problem with Lost Planet: it's so boring. The cut-scenes, while pretty enough, are hideously bad. Ghastly acting and lines like:
"I have business with Solotov."
"He must mean Yuri. His last name is Solotov."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because it's true."
do nothing for a story more boring than listening to Tom and me talking about Slitherlink for four hours. The levels, while occasionally spectacular, are extremely repetitive (never more so than when the game breaks its own respawning ethos of letting you destroy the spawn points, and just has beasts ceaselessly burst from the ground), and god forbid you should die and have to repeat a vast section. First time through - tolerable, occasionally fun. Second time - swearing, stamping of feet. It's not until mission 7 that it really starts to feel fun, and indeed slightly open, and that's far too late. (Even though the game can be charged through in less than five hours thanks to the mouse - or in my case, closer to seven).
A once-reasonable game for the 360 is now a distinctly mediocre game for the PC. Stick a 360 controller in, and you'll still not match the experience, as the cursor remains fixed in the centre of the screen, but it's closer. Run it on your high-end system and it will look utterly incredible, with smoke effects and exploding walls, beautiful massive creatures to carve with lasers, and sound like nothing else I've ever heard (best use of the 5.1 in my experience). But it's so hollow. So empty. There's no puzzle, no challenge, no mystery. You run, you gun, you win. The bosses get, madly, easier as you go along, to the point where I defeated one end-of-level mega-beast (more than halfway through the game) in less than a minute, and thought it was just a regular enemy.
A bit more effort having it recognise that you were playing on a PC, not only with regards to the bloody 360 controller bias, but more with raising the difficulty in relation to the accuracy of the mouse, and the vacant game would have scraped its 7 again. As it is, too much is too wrong to be worth such a recommendation.
5 / 10