The original Lost Planet introduced us to the ice-bound world of E.D.N. III, a harsh frontier where everything’s value is measured in Thermal Energy, or T-Eng. Overrun by hordes of gigantic, bug-like creatures known as Akrids, it was the player’s job to survive this harsh environment while trying to regain his memory and find out the truth about what was going on with the planet. From this basic premise we were able to enjoy one of the better third-person shooters to appear on next-gen consoles. On a side note, why do the majority of protagonists in video games have some form of amnesia? Is it a requirement to have a soft skull to be a video game hero?
Well, it has been three years since the release of Lost Planet and now we have the opportunity to return to E.D.N. III and see how things have changed. Its been 50 years since the events of the first game and E.D.N. III has changed dramatically. Just as Al Gore predicted, global warming is rampant on the planet, creating jungles, oceans, and even deserts in addition to the frozen tundra.
You have to give Capcom credit, the environment and level design in Lost Planet 2 is amazing. Jungles are lush and always in motion, polar landscapes are bleak and unforgiving, and the levels that take place on a storm-tossed coast are a sight to behold. The attention to graphical detail doesn’t end with the levels either. Character and monster models are amazingly detailed and fluid in their movement. The Akrids themselves are worth particular mention, as they often tower over your player and come in so many varieties that it seems like you’re always seeing some new variation on these creatures.
The only problem I have with the graphics is the way that Capcom has implemented the third-person shooter aspect of the game. The developer has done an excellent job of populating the world with all sorts of debris and ground clutter that helps the game look fantastic. The problem is especially obvious whenever you’re fighting the gigantic “Category G” Akrids. Moving your aim so high up to target the weak areas on these huge monsters has the effect of drawing the camera in under your feet, obscuring almost completely whatever you happen to be aiming at. This is frustrating to say the least.
It’s impressive that the voice acting in the game is as good as it is, because the writing is just atrocious. When your most memorable line is “I’m so going to shoot the shit out of you”, well Houston, we have a problem. There is some great news though – if you’ve ever thought to yourself “hey, I wonder what it would be like if the sand people in the original Star Wars were a Mexican biker gang”, then Lost Planet 2 endeavors to answer that question for you. There is actually a set of missions in the single player campaign where you play a desert biker/nomad that is out to capture a giant vehicle that has wandered through your territory. This would work great if the entire game was going for a more humorous angle, but the tone of the rest of the single player experience is more serious, and this set of missions is just a jarring misstep. Without exception environmental sounds are handled excellently, with the sound of the various weapons, creatures, and ‘mechs all being distinctive and having the right “feel” to them.
The controls are another area that is somewhat uneven. While the camera movement and character controls are good for the most part, many players will have a huge amount of frustration with the way weapon reloading is handled. Not only do all the weapons have loooooong reload times, but when you go to switch weapons your character will stop moving, holster the old weapon, ready the new one, and THEN continue to move. This serves to break up the flow of play quite a bit and is another point of aggravation.
One of the unique facets of this game is the use of a large variety of Vital Suits, or VS. Vital suits come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from hover-scooters, to small, lightly armed and armored walkers to flying ships that can rain down some serious firepower. For every VS you climb into, the game informs you that you have unlocked another VS manual with a list of controls for that particular Vital Suit. This may sound intimidating at first, but for the most part the controls are common from VS to VS, so it’s not like you have to figure out everything from scratch for each Vital Suit you run into.
This is where Lost Planet 2’s unevenness strikes again – some of the suits require activation after you climb into them, and some don’t. So in some cases you can climb into a suit and be off causing mayhem right away while in others you have to climb in, activate the suit, and then be on your way. This applies for getting out of the suit too, as you have to deactivate your VS before you can climb down out of it. Obviously this is a minor issue, but it can add to your frustration at times.
As I said before, Thermal Energy is everything when it comes to the world of Lost Planet 2. T-Eng is what keeps you alive, it runs the ‘mechs, repairs your vehicles, it is even used to open the “treasure chests” that are scattered around the world. Best of all, this makes sense in the overall game world, which makes it all the more surprising that there are so many gaps in logic and storytelling elsewhere in the campaign. For example, if you live in the area that is a sun-scorched desert, does it make much sense that Thermal Energy is so critical to survival?
In the previous title we followed the exploits of Wayne as he explored the game world. This time around we don’t have a single protagonist to follow, instead we are tasked with trying to follow a story that never really seems to make much sense. There are a lot of threads in the storyline that sound great on their own; you’re fighting an evil corporation (aren’t they always evil?), the indigenous life is getting smarter and more dangerous (don’t they always?) and you’re an outsider in the military where you are persecuted and given all the suicide missions (just another day at the office). If you’re not concerned with the story arc, then this works out just fine and you can enjoy the various set pieces.
The implementation of “data posts” in each level is another example of what Lost Planet 2 does so very right. Scattered about each level are data posts that need to be activated by the player. Each of these posts acts as a ground-based radar that illuminates your mini-map with the location of the next objective, the locations of nearby enemies, and any other nearby data posts. This adds an excellent dynamic as the capture and activation of data posts has a huge impact on gameplay.
Clearly the developer’s primary focus for Lost Planet 2 is multiple players. Most titles follow the formula of having a single player campaign and an almost completely unrelated multiplayer offering that possesses only a passing familiarity with the gameplay from the solo campaign. This has worked well for everything from the Call of Duty series to Gears of War and is pretty much expected whenever you purchase any kind of shooter.
In Lost Planet 2 though, even the “single player” campaign is obviously aimed at co-op play. You can tackle any of the missions in the campaign solo, or round out your party with up to three friends or AI partners. Being able to mix in other players or AI partners works very well, and the AI is solid and helpful. Online co-op is excellent and has virtually no lag. The only weak spot in the co-op campaign is when trying to use split-screen play – instead of dividing the screen vertically or horizontally Lost Planet 2 uses an extremely small window in opposite corners of the screen for each player. This leaves a ton of black, unused space on the screen and renders the game almost unplayable as each player’s “window” is so small.
Online multiplayer is surprisingly good. While Lost Planet 2 doesn’t offer a ton of new and creative multiplayer modes to try, the implementation of all the standard game modes is excellent. All the usual suspects are here, from Deathmatch, to team Deathmatch to Capture. They may have slightly different names (Elimination instead of Deathmatch and Data Post Battle instead of Capture) but the result is a tightly controlled online experience that is a blast to play. Add in the large variety of Vital Suits, the ability to heal teammates with Thermal Energy, and the gorgeous environments and you have all the pieces for an excellent multiplayer experience.