Action game, or elaborately disguised infomercial on global warming?
No, seriously. Get to the end of the game and then tell me there isn't some conspiratorial parallel between current world energy policy and Capcom's latest IP, Lost Planet.
Yes, E.D.N III is cold, frigid
even. So guess what? Things are going to heat up (pardon the overused cliche) and so is the planet. We as gamers follow, or try to follow, Wayne, the hero with amnesia as he regains his memory and "fixes" things in the corrupt terraforming project that the evil
company NEVEC started. Only that's about as far as I got with regards to the story, and I've been through the game three freakin' times now. Not only is the story incomprehensible, but it's buried layer after layer under trite overdramatizations. If you, dear reader, believe that story is a testament to the entertainment possibilities in video games, then shy away--far, far away--from Lost Planet.
If, however, you get your jollies (as many of us do) in mindless action, you might want to rent Lost Planet for a few days and see how it feels. Otherwise, I suggest you head toward the more viscerally exciting and enjoyable Crackdown
; which shows us that games can be all about fun, and a little self-mocking as well.
The big payout in Lost Planet is actually about half-way through the story mode, when you fight off multitudes of Vital Suits (the game's version of "Mech") while trying to keep the heat on in your own. As far as action goes, Lost Planet dishes it out rather well, once you get to this half-way marker, that is, and the pace picks up. Before that, there's a lot of walking around, shooting Akrid (pronounced: A-krid
), and humdrum battles with snow pirates (their anger with me, for the life of me, I cannot pretend to understand). But mostly, until this important half-way point, the game feels, as Wayne himself must feel, rather cold.
The default controller layout is actually a nightmare. Instead of a fixed recticle, it wanders, slightly, and your mobility is dramatically reduced. So I opted, as many (all?) gamers have, to use the "Fixed 7" or "8" setting, which sets the game up to feel more like Epic's Gears of war, albeit slower. It's also more an over the head, not shoulder, view. And the R and L bumpers which allow you to make sharp 90 degree turns in the default layout, then seem a little surpufluous--something that I would accidentally hit in the thick of combat. To its credit, Lost Planet allows the player to reconfigure the controller in several settings. It's just annoying that the default setting is so "wrong" for a shooter.
Speaking of "wrong": Wayne, the character you'll be with throughout the idiotic story, is slower than molasses (you're no faster in multi either), allowing all those quick flying rockets to easily tag him and knock him down. Although it's not quite the "twitch" shooter I thought it was going to be, enough debris flies this way and that to make you wish there were a pair of skis laying around.
There is one saving grace to the arduous pace of Lost Planet, the "dive" maneuver, which is done by pressing in the left stick and the "A" button in tandem. This move, which is the most effective way of evading missiles, flying enemies, and falling rock is fairly difficult to perform in the heat of battle, when you would rather be aiming, firing, reloading (done with the right stick click) or switching weapons. In fact, if it weren't for this maneuver, the game would be impossible to beat on the "hard" and (when you beat hard) "Extreme" difficulties where the slightest stray rocket can mean a quick death.
Lost Planet, for all its sci-fi nonsense, does paint a pretty picture. The bleak future, even the lame characters, are all beautifully detailed. The mechs, too, look beaten up and fascinatingly low-tech. One look at the smoke effects and particles flying this way and that and you'll know this is a beautiful game. Too bad there are so many particle and smoke effects sometimes that you won't be able to tell what is going on.
The game under this pretty exterior, however, amounts to little more than "find the weak point, aim, and fire" on each enemy. Even Vital Suits have heat canisters on their exterior, vulnerable to the slightest scrape. In a place where heat is equivalent to life, where's the logic in that?
The problem with Lost Planet, I think, is that it's a shooter that thinks that it's an adventure game. Not to say that LP doesn't throw enemies at you, which it does, or that there's no action, which there is
, but that too much emphasis is placed dragging the player achingly
through the slow moments. When you get to the surprises--and the giant snow worms are testament to how cool Lost Planet can be--they seem to be undercut, in my opinion, by not being very vital to the progress of the game. I would have liked to see more enemies on screen--fewer snow pirates--more hellish battles, and less dilly-dallying, less platforming moments, which cause the action to slow to a pace I like to call dead tortoise
. Also, I want Wayne to move faster, like his life depends on it--because it does.
But then if we lose the slower portions, the game would be over too quick (which it arguably is already; no longer than 6 or 7 hours on normal) and gamers would cry foul for some more "substance." I for one, do not think that the story of LP and its slow portions constitute enough substance. Gears of War used downtime effectively through suspense, shock, and personality, and the story was used to propell the player into more hostile and foreign landscapes, none of this is present in Lost Planet. The further you get into the game, the more familiar the landscape seems to feel.
I wished for the secondary characters in the single player story, actually, quick and painful deaths. Especially Luka, a lippy but quirky gal, who needs to cover her exposed clevage or risk death by exposure...
Forget about the characters then, it's the action we're here for. And Lost Planet gives you hardcore, guns-blazing action, to a fault. In old-school shooters, platformers, and spiritual predecessors of Lost Planet, you generally have this "down time" after you get hit by, say, a rocket or enemy. This is called something like "momentary invulnerability"--or maybe that's what I just call it--which allows the controlled character a second or two to get back to his feet and in the fight. Lost Planet throws this tradition to the wind, opting, I suppose, for the frustration of being pummelled, stunned, and exploded time after time until your pithy heartbeat flatlines.
And enemies stun you a lot. Bosses, as is wont of old-school bosses, will try not just to rip the paleness from your fleshy wrap, but stun you ad infinitum
until you run out of thermal energy. Or a Vital suit will knock you down with a rocket, only to hit you again once you stand up.
Many game reviewers have Lost Planet all backwards
. They play through the game on Easy or Normal and forget to go through it on Hard which is, in this reviewer's opinion, how the game was meant to be played. Many of the reviews I've seen have ended up pidgeonholing Lost Planet's thermal energy system into that "neat but not terribly well utilized" category. When the effect that Capcom was going for was to make you feel stifled
at every move, your life was draining away, Gauntlet style. The thermal energy is effective in evoking a kind of emotional connection to the icy world--a dry yearning for safety--but not on any difficulty shy of "hard."
Of course, reviewers would have known that had they tried it all the way through on that difficulty--I dare you, IGN.
Most of the player's deaths on Hard won't even be to the bosses or the million Akrid, but to the loss of thermal energy. This, I think, is how Lost Planet was meant to be played, constantly under pressure to move
. I give Capcom props for this; now, if they can only give us "momentary invulnerability" and a better story.A Less Than Momentary Lapse of Logic
When you're piloting the Vital Suits, which are, arguably, the best parts of the game, you will be ejected if you lose all your thermal energy--the worst thing that can happen to you. The other option is to hope an enemy destroys your VS so you can pick up the large helping of Thermal Energy
that it drops. It only drops this energy when it gets destroyed, though, so if you run out of TE, and you get ejected, you're out of luck and out in the cold.
Some have argued that Lost Planet has depth due to the variety of ways you can kill things...To this I say, feh
. Sure, you can throw a grenade and knock the Akrid over on their backs, leaving them vulnerable for a few seconds, but to what, I argue, different end? Whether I shoot something with the shotgun or with the rocket launcher, what changes? Things die. Barrels explode. Enemies may do different animations. Is that the payoff for this variety?
And the grappling hook...talk about shooting yourself in the foot! So we have this great game mechanic where we can swing up to different heights and gain a vantage by which to take out enemies. Sounds good. Why can I only look up at an angle of about 60 degrees? Lost Planet seems happy enough giving you the ability, but not the physical means
by which to implement it. I hear Nintendo of yesteryear on their botched first-draft of Super Mario 2: "He has the ability to jump; so let's make random winds
push Mario hither and thither so as to undercut our own honest intentions!"
Normal shooting is the same; plenty of enemies will appear directly above you. I found it most frustrating, though, with the grappling hook. And maybe being able to grapple at all angles broke the game and it had to be cut back. But I would rather opt for a slightly broken game than an illogical one. As broken Gears of War is (as many bugs there are) it makes sense in its game rules.
And the game's lapse in logic never really ends. The vision in Lost Planet seems to be mixed up in some greater need to give us one more enemy to gun down. As you get to the finale--one I feel could have had some real impact on me if I had been invested emotionally in the characters and story--the game keeps intruducing new villains as if it didn't know or care who
you were fighting, but just that you were
fighting. The lack of emotion with your character and the complete disrespect for enemy intelligence is really the greatest faux pas Lost Planet commits. On the first encounter with one of the last bosses (in cutscene), the game pulls, and I kid you not, the old "I'm secretly in the form of a pre-recorded hollogram" move. And that's what it feels like: the game is constantly pulling punches or putting moves--cheap moves--on the player. That's a shame because nearly all the bosses are quite visually stunning.
Still, that logic pales
in comparison to the fact that you'll be in a active volcano
at or around this time and your Thermal Energy will still be ticking away. Hmmm.
Maybe in the sequel Capcom will learn this lesson. And I don't want to seem as though I hated Lost Planet, because I didn't. I don't. I saw such potential in the game when I played it at E3 '06, and then more potential, still, in the Xbox Live Marketplace Demo, which was amazing. I figured that some of these mental cockteases would be easily overlooked, but there are just so many.Multiplayer Saves!
If the odds weren't already stacked up against Lost Planet, one would think it dead on arrival, wouldn't one? Multiplayer fanatics have found (and I argue that this is a game for
multiplayer fanatics) that the online play may be more satisfying in game mechanic and execution, but shallower than a kiddie pool.
It succeeds on some higher level even Gears of War cannot touch with 16-player Post Grab and Fugitive Mode, both of which are very satisfying (Check out the full information on the multiplayer modes here
). These two multiplayer modes attain a kind of "lost and hunted" feel that Capcom cannot really figure out in the single-player mode. In multiplayer, you're up against everyone or a team and the goal is to work together to capture the "posts" or stay away from everyone as long as possible.
You'll have more time to work with the various weapons in the multiplayer mode. Some of them (the plasma based guns, for example) are far too overpowered. The plasma rifle even seeks players, making the skill of using it nil. And although I appreciate the addition, the sniper rifle is difficult to use in part due to the strange control configuration. It's manageable, but still awkward.
LP succeeds as a multiplayer game, even if the lobby system is a bit wonky--something I'm able to overlook. This is simply, as good as gameplay gets in Lost Planet, and it nearly makes up for the other two boring multiplayer modes.
Nearly. Regular elimination is a clusterf*** of bullets and spawn killing, and team elimination, while better than regular elimination, makes me succumb to my boredome rather quickly. For what it does, and for the various interesting and multi-tiered maps that Lost Planet offers in multiplayer, the Post Grab and the Fugitive Mode really shine.Not All Chilly in Here
So is Lost Planet worth buying?
fun if you can get through some frustrating design flaws and a terrible story, or if you just want it for the multiplayer. I couldn't take the single player, but I went through the story three times for the sake of honesty--that maybe I was just missing something from the story. No, the story really is inane. Most people will play the single player story once and then hop on Live and take on the world. There were times, I admit, when I actually enjoyed
the monotonous single player, mostly because of the enormous insect-beasts and some great boss battles. But the inconsistant action, late payoff moments, and irritating design decisions keep Lost Planet from becoming a great shooter. It is actually a decent game, even in the face of its hectic, but ultimately reductive, gameplay.