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.