January is typically one of the harshest months to struggle through. The days are short and the cold weather makes you want to stay inside and fire up a new videogame…except that Januarys are usually devoid of quality game releases after the big holiday rush. This January is anything but typical. Even with the balmy weather, you may yet find a reason stay indoors with visions of snow covered landscapes dancing through your head thanks to Capcom's latest action game, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition.
The extreme conditions mentioned in the title are no joke. Lost Planet takes place on a planet that is so cold, freezing to death would happen quite rapidly if it weren't for a strange orange ooze that the local residents known as the Akrid produce and store. This thermal energy can be harvested and used to keep the main character from succumbing to the elements. Unfortunately, the Akrid are a collective of giant bug-like aliens who haven't bought into the human ideas of colonizing and terra forming the planet. Rather than looking for a more suitable planet to colonize, humanity took the next logical step; build giant mechs called vital suits and make bigger guns to fight back.
Lost Planet's campaign mode places you in the role of Wayne, a man whose last memory is of his father being killed by a large and dangerous Akrid named Green Eye before being knocked into a coma. This memory lays down the groundwork for his motivation to rid the planet of the nasty critters one hive at a time which is how you spend the early portions of the game. Other characters and human enemies are quickly introduced to round out the action and confuse the story, but it is the gameplay that makes this title fulfilling, so let's ignore the story issues for a while.
The action in Lost Planet takes place either on foot or from within one of the aforementioned vital suits. The gameplay gimmick that helps to keep Lost Planet fresh is the thermal energy bar. In this frozen planet, you're required to kill or be killed…or freeze to death. Each enemy you take down or piece of machinery you destroy leaves behind a small puddle of thermal energy that helps to restore your constantly draining supply. Rather than employing a standard life bar, Lost Planet opted to tie your life completely to the thermal energy. If you take a hit from an enemy, your thermal energy will drain into your life bar. The energy doesn't drain fast enough to ever become a serious issue in most stages, but it does provide a nice nudge to the player to keep them moving along towards the next big fight. In this way, the thermal energy mechanic is an excellent addition to an action game - if you don't keep moving and fighting and spend all of your time doing uneventful exploring, you'll find yourself in big trouble.
The weapons and vital suits also do a great job of keeping the action steady and rocking. The guns have a nice variety to them, but it's the grenades and vital suits that ensure that you have the firepower needed to take down anything and everything (which you can thanks to the largely destructible bits of cover). The vital suits range from simple walkers and transforming snowmobiles to chainsaw equipped death machines and spider-esque drilling mechs. And the guns these vital suits come with are no joke. You can equip up to two interchangeable weapons per machine, or you can rip them off and tote them around on foot. These huge guns do massive damage for very satisfactory results. It's a good thing too, because Lost Planet does a nice job of ramping up the intensity as the game progresses, from being faced with a few car sized bugs at the beginning stages to all out war.
One of the great parts about Lost Planet is the flexibility of the game. There is a noticeable amount of depth to the combat, allowing you to tackle the same situation in a variety of ways with new results each time. Much of this depth isn't readily apparent and it's only after you play through the game that you gain the skills and foresight to start exploring your options for how to progress through a level. Each of the different types of grenade and guns can be used in their own way with different results each time. For instance, one of the first enemies you encounter resembles a pillbug with a glowing tail. You can simply aim for the tail with your machine gun to target its weak point. Or you can wait for it to start rolling towards you and then toss a fragment grenade in its path to cause it to splay out on its back in a vulnerable position. Or you can hit them head-on with the anchor as they roll towards you to stop them in their tracks. Or you can anchor onto them while they are walking along and blast them with a few rounds at point blank range. You see where we're going here. Towards the end of the game, much of this flexibility is lost in the all out chaos that consumes you as you're attacked simultaneously by tens of powerful enemies, but that progression of difficulty just makes the game more enjoyable as you move through it.
The only downside to the openness of how you can attack each set of enemies is that you oftentimes don't have to fight them at all. If you want, you can just run past a great deal of the game. Thankfully, that isn't so with the great boss battles. These large scale battles make the game the success it is. They're difficult, but not overly frustrating, impressive looking, and a lot of fun to tackle. Wait for the inevitable showdown with Green Eyes and you'll see what we mean.
The visuals here are a real treat. The snow covered landscapes and dilapidated cities that dominate the first half of the game are quite exceptional and do a fantastic job to build on the sense of a soul wandering this wasteland planet in search of his identity. Later in the game, as the environments begin to become more diverse, the excellent lighting effects begin to strut their stuff and the backdrops do more than just add some much needed variety to the screen.
It isn't just the backdrops that are nice either. The enemy design, reminiscent of the Panzer Dragoon series, is excellent especially on the larger Akrid and mechanical beasts that offer up some spectacular fights. From the giant earth worm that looks like it was ripped straight from Frank Herbert's imagination to the giant flying moth that toes the line between beautiful and scary, the big bugs are a sight to behold. The smaller critters are nice too, particularly in their variety and fluid animations. The Akrid and vital suits have a good amount of variety that constantly expands and multiplies as the game progresses so that the final levels are filled with all manner of fantastic looking enemies swarming the screen in an effort to halt your progress.
While we're on the topic of eye candy, we'd be remiss if we didn't gush over the smoke and explosion effects, which are some of the best we've ever seen. Anybody who says that graphics don't add to the gameplay needs to have a rocket zip past their head in Lost Planet. The speed and intensity of it, followed by the awesome looking trail of smoke does wonders towards getting your adrenaline going, just as any action game should. When enough grenades, rockets, and missiles start detonating at once, the entire screen can become completely filled with smoke the beautiful smoke, causing even more chaos to ensue. The only drawback here is that when things get particularly insane, the screen has a tendency to tear causing unsightly lines to rip across the screen.
Lost Planet is a great game, but it isn't without its fair share of problems. The very premise of the game comes under fire (literally) as the game progresses from the outdoor levels into caves and other interior environments which are often full of flowing lava and burning objects. The same mechanic of losing thermal energy at a steady rate and being required to pick it up from fallen enemies remains, even as you stand next to flowing lava that should have a temperature of roughly a thousand degrees. So why exactly do we have to worry about freezing to death here? Reversing the problem and forcing you to stay cool might have worked better.
If that were the only thing that didn't make sense in Lost Planet, things would be relatively smooth sailing. The cutscenes that kick off each level make sense for the first portion of the game and then quickly take a nose dive into the realm of many Japanese games where you'll begin to question whether it is your fault or if the game really doesn't make a lick of sense. It's not you this time. The twisting plot won't win any awards here.
The handling in Lost Planet takes some getting used to and probably could have been mapped to the controller better. Those used to the twitch gaming that comes with first person shooters will find moving the target reticule about to be quite slow. To make up for this, the bumpers were made to quickly rotate your view by 90 degrees. Diving out of the way involves pressing in the thumbstick, sliding it over to your desired direction, and then hitting the jump button. Similar initial awkwardness can be found in the vital suit controls. Enough play time can make all of the motions second nature, but it certainly adds some unnecessary time to the learning curve.
Then there are the parts of the handling that no amount of practice can fix. For some reason, you can't point your gun straight up in the air. With plenty of enemies in the game requiring you to attack them as they fly or stand above you, this oversight requires you to constantly back pedal as you try to getThe multiplayer side to Lost Planet runs on the same engine as the campaign and the excellent visuals carry over even with 16 players playing online at once. The multiplayer game is a strictly online affair, so you won't be able to play a deathmatch against your friends huddled around a single screen and there isn't any sort of cooperative mode. The online modes include elimination, team elimination, post grab, and fugitive hunt and take place in some well designed levels that range from cozy to enormous. Elimination and team elimination are your standard deathmatch games, but are not without a nice Lost Planet twist. The thermal posts, which work as energy restore points in the solo campaign, provide both points and the use of radar in the online game. Controlling these adds a nice layer of strategy to a game that is mostly focused on pure, intense action. The post grab game is a take on the Battlefield formula where teams work to control all of the thermal posts while the fugitive hunt places one player against everyone else in a very intense variant of hide and seek. All of the multiplayer modes are a lot of fun with some large scale gunfights, made more so by the scoring system at the end of each game that allows for the persistent leveling of your online character. The multiplayer game doesn't quite live up to the fun that can be had in the campaign mode, but it is certainly a welcome addition and diversion.
Those who have downloaded the online demo know how action packed the 16 player online matches can get, but probably also noticed the poor online lobby system. Capcom has vowed to fix that with a series of fixes that will greatly improve the online experience, including the full suite of necessary features to allow a crowd of friends to play all day together without interruption. your barrel pointed at their weak point that sits above your head. This same limitation applies to your anchor, preventing you from grappling straight up. Another thing that will surely make your blood boil is the slow, drawn out animations for falling and standing up. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that it gives the enemies a nice chance to swarm and gang-stomp you to death while you watch your character get bounced around on the screen helpless.
The grapple has a few more frustrations in addition to its limited directional range. The first is that it is clearly not used as it is in another famous Capcom action game, Bionic Commando. Instead of swinging from it and using it like you're the next Batman, the grapple can only pull you in a single direction. That's more of a disappointment than an annoyance, but it combines with the initially awkward handling and slow running to give you the feeling that your player is the least agile person in the entire universe. The anchor is testy, too. Although your targeting reticule will turn green when you can anchor on to an object, it isn't always readily apparent and you'll often find yourself repeatedly firing in an attempt to get a lock onto something. Once you do, a single hit from any enemy or weapon will cause your anchor to break, making the cool little grappling hook useless as a means of escape.
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