Lost Planet Review
Written : Saturday, September 22, 2007
By: Steve Klinger (GT: graf1k)
Back in the early days of the Xbox 360, Capcom Producer Keiji Inafune promised two exclusive games for the system. When Dead Rising, the first of the pair, hit retail, it was obvious from the beginning it was a hit. Now, five months after the release of Dead Rising, the now million-selling hit for the Xbox 360, Keiji Inafune releases Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, the second of his promised 360 exclusives. Does it live up to the hype? Will it have the same legs in retail that Dead Rising had? The answer is a resounding.....'sort of'.
We can't stop here. This is bat country!
Lost Planet is set on the planet E.D.N. III, a frozen and snowy tundra that makes Siberia look like a nice place to visit in comparison. You play as Wayne, an amnesiac soldier who is found by a rag-tag group of snow pirates lead by a man named Yuri, after a run in with a particularly nasty Akrid, known as 'Green Eye'. The Akrid are an insectoid race that inhabit the planet and contain a orange-y goo known as 'T-Eng', short for thermal energy, that is used to power 'VS' suits (or Vital Suits) and is key to survival on the frozen planet. When Wayne is found, he is frozen inside his VS suit and barely alive. Wayne, not remembering anything about his past other than his name, joins the snow pirates and agrees to help them salvage VS suit parts. Eventually Wayne and his new found friends cross paths with a shadowy organization called NEVEC. NEVEC is in the middle of enacting something they call the 'Frontier Project', a plan to terraform E.D.N. III into a planet hospitable to humans and when Wayne and his group cross them, things start to get complicated. Really complicated. So much so that I couldn't tell you what happens next plot-wise in Lost Planet as, soon after this, the plot becomes so convoluted and strange, it is barely understandable. While annoying at first, the cut-scenes begin to drag on so long and get even more nonsensical that you honestly won't care about the story after very long anyway. Just know that along the way you will battle some big and nasty looking bugs, a multitude of mech-like VS machines, and some of the dumbest human A.I. ever.
Once you get over the convoluted plot, it becomes easier to enjoy Lost Planet for the arcade-y shooter that it is; and a great one it is at that. At it's heart, Lost Planet is a real run-and-gun, blow shit up type of game. The entire game is focused entirely on combat, whether it's shoot-outs with other humans or going toe-to-toe with a bunch of robots in your VS suit or taking on the massive Akrid beasts. There isn't much thought or strategy needed, but the combat manages to be somewhat fun. You'll start with a basic arsenal of a machine gun, a shotgun, some grenades, and a cool little grappling hook but you'll soon be ripping rocket launchers bigger than you off machines and taking on enemies the size of skyscrapers. The grappling hook is actually quite the innovation and offers some surprising depth to combat. Using the grappling hook, you can hook onto, and reel yourself into striking distance of an enemy VS. Also, the various grenades throughout the game offer a wide variety of uses and really help keep combat fresh. Some favorites are the disc grenades that can be thrown incredibly long distances and stuck into enemies, almost like a remote mine on a boomerang. But the most fun is the decoy grenade. Try to remember one of those inflatable clown punching bags from your youth. Now imagine it moves and when it runs into an enemy, it explodes. If nothing else, it's good for a laugh, especially in multiplayer.
Lost Planet comes with the state of the art 8-bit mode...
The mechanics for combat are very well done for the most part. Aiming and turning have been simplified as both are controlled by the left stick. The reticule however, is not fixed to the middle of the screen like most third-person action games. By moving the left stick slightly you can aim within a field of about 1/6th of the screen. Moving the left stick any more will start to turn your character. For the most part this, along with controlling an independent camera with the right thumb stick, works well enough, although it does make turning rather slow. In an attempt to make up for it, the left and right bumpers on the top of the controller will turn Wayne instantly 45 degrees in either direction. Unfortunately though, it turns out to be pretty much useless in combat. Sticking with the arcade nature of the game, there is absolutely no accuracy penalty for firing while moving, which is good as you'll often be firing on the run, dodging tentacles and the various legs of some of the larger Akrid.
One of the big problems with combat, however, is how the game will repeatedly punish you for ever being hit by an enemy. The animation for your character to get up is so ridiculously long and slow, that once you get knocked down, you'll often be down for quite a while as you get repeatedly knocked down in the middle of getting up. This eventually starts to get rather frustrating when fighting some of the more advanced bosses, as they juggle you almost infinitely. To make matters worse, while this is happening, you have absolutely no recourse. There is no way to stun your opponent or role out of the way while getting up. You might as well just set the controller down and take a break until the game finally allows you to get up. Combat in the Vital Suits is pretty much what you'd expect, although some of the suits feel rather weak to use. A couple hits and they are toast. That said, the game does a decent job of mixing up combat and therefore things will stay pretty interesting. That is until you fight the humans.
Along with the bi-pedal robots and huge insects you'll be fighting in the snow, you'll also fight some regular old soldiers. Whether they are other snow pirates or NEVEC troops, there is one thing they all have in common. They are really, really stupid. The human A.I. in Lost Planet is some of the dumbest I have ever seen. You could snipe one of 3 or 4 soldiers in a group from medium ranger, and the others won't even flinch. It's not uncommon to walk up to within 10 feet of some of the human soldiers with them looking right at you and still not firing. Hell, you can even sneak up on troops in a big, lumbering VS with relative ease. It's a bit of mystery as to why this, as the enemy A.I. in general is at least competent.
Honey I shrunk the Space Marines!
The graphics of Lost Planet, on the other hand, are simply amazing. Using Capcom's proprietary next-gen engine that powers Dead Rising and Devil May Cry 4, known as MT Framework, Capcom has squeezed some truly stunning visuals out of it. First is the high dynamic range lighting, which is really on display during the outside daylight levels. Combined with the complex soft shadows cast by the world and characters, it's a real visual treat. The textures of the game are all crisp and detailed and make the world look fantastic. Characters are well animated and all look great too. The level of detail on not only Wayne, but enemies too is fantastic. The bumps and scales of the Akrid look appropriately putrid, as does the T-Eng that spills out of them as you hit their weak spots for massive damage. But the standout visual 'wow' effect of Lost Planet is easily the smoke and explosion effects, which are some of the best to date in video games. You'll find yourself going out of your way to blow up anything you can, just to watch the mushroom cloud created by the explosion. The trail of smoke left by rockets looks as real and downright cool as possible. These aren't just the type of graphics that look pretty, but really add to the immersion of the game.
Not to be outdone by the graphics, the audio of Lost Planet is top notch as well. You're speakers will rumble satisfyingly as the larger Akrid howl and cry out as you pummel them with round after round. The explosion sounds are fantastic as well, and rightly so. To have such beautiful visuals for the explosions and have a crappy sound effect would be downright criminal. The only part of the sound that suffers really is the dialogue, which sounds really cheesy. The voice actors for the most part do their best with sub-par material but some of the voices are just frigging annoying. I lost track of how many times I wanted to dance on Rick's dead body with a VS and grind his corpse into the snow to make a giant, bloody snow cone.
With a relatively short campaign (it can be completed easily in 10 hours), Lost Planet would have had a problem in the longevity department were it not for the multiplayer. First let it be said that anyone looking for a twitch-shooter online experience, keep looking. Lost Planet's online uses the same controls and mechanics for multiplayer as it does for single-player and as such, it has a very arcade feel. Between all the jumping and grappling going on, this is definitely an acquired taste for online play. Lost Planet sports 16 player online multiplayer including deathmatch, team deathmatch, a mode called post grab which is basically like a territory type mode, and fugitive, in which one player is the fugitive and any number of other players must hunt him down. While the modes themselves aren't very imaginative, the multiplayer is helped immensely by the inclusion of the Vital Suits from the single player game.
Although on a couple of the smaller maps the Vital Suits can be an overwhelming advantage, on the larger maps they are a necessity. All of the maps are based on locations from the single-player and some are so massive that it could take you the whole match to get from one end to the other on foot. It's simply astonishing how big some of the maps are. Unfortunately though, this may also explain some of the lag problems during online games. While not the worst I've seen, when you play a match with more than about 10 people with lots of VS suits, you are going to see some lag every now and then. That said, the smaller maps are virtually lag free no matter what. Capcom did a commendable job with their net code. One quick little nuisance about the multiplayer though is the inclusion of voice masks. For the most part they make the person using them completely incomprehensible, and more than a few of them will make you want to smack the person using them, as they are very high pitched.
Last but certainly not least are the achievements for Lost Planet. There is a good balance of online and offline achievements and the point values are in line with the achievement difficulty for the most part. The single-player achievements are pretty straight forward in that there is one for beating each of the 11 missions, and then another achievement for finding all the hidden markers in each mission. The markers are a bit of a pain for multiple reasons. For one, they can often be hard to see, with some of them being nearly impossible to see unless you are looking in the exact right spot (and even then they can be tough to notice at times). Secondly, becasue the game auto-saves at invisible check points, and all the markers have to be collected in the same play through (i.e. you can't collect the first 3 in one go and the last 3 the next time you play through), you'll often realized you missed one marker just before the last checkpoint and now you can no longer go back. This can make for a rather frustrating collection achievement as if you miss just one marker, you'll have to start the mission over again. Other than that, the achievements are relatively easy and should be obtainable with enough effort, save the 150 point achievement for beating the game on the hardest difficulty. That is just downright mean on Capcom's part as the game's difficulty ramps up so much, only the best of the best even need apply, and probably even they will get frustrated and give up.
Apart from some bad dialogue and a couple annoying voice actors, the sound is right on. The crunching, metallic sound of exploding Vital Suits is music to my ears.
Some of the best looking visuals on the Xbox 360 to date. The explosions in particular are impressive and the vastness of the maps in multiplayer is impressive given the level of detail.
Some problems with aiming due to aiming and turning being on the same stick can make for some head smacking moments. If the animations to get up were any longer, the game would be almost unplayably frustrating.
Beautiful cut scenes and great art direction almost make up for the cheesy and utterly convoluted plot. Almost...
Decent split between single-player and multiplayer achievements, but they lack imagination for the most part. A bit disappointing after the fantastic achievements of Dead Rising.
While downright beautiful the stale gameplay, mostly dumb AI and incomprehensible (and frankly boring) story make Lost Planet seem like a super model. Fun to look at, just don't expect any depth to it. If you are looking for a pure adrenaline action game, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a mech game masquerading as an action game, look no further.