Preview: Lost Planet (XB360) Hands-On

It’s been a strong two years for Capcom; besides some very solid re-released compilations of the Street Fighter Alpha and Power Stone franchises, they’re released a slew of Triple A titles, including Okami, God Hand, Dead Rising, Phoenix Wright (with a second on the way), and, of course, Resident Evil 4. Add to this a bunch of very good expansions to fan favorite franchises (Mega Man Powered Up, Monster Hunter Freedom, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams), and you’ve got one of the best line-ups from any game company in some time. Well, Capcom doesn’t seem to be slowing down any; aside from the announced Resident Evil 5 and Devil May Cry 4, they have another seriously solid looking title on the way by the name of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Set to release this January for the Xbox 360, Lost Planet is a very cool (no pun intended) looking 3rd person action game that will feature both single and multiplayer online modes for you to get your shoot on. We took the time to check out the single and multiplayer gameplay modes, and we’re here to let you know what’s what.

For those not looking out for Lost Planet, the story goes like this: humanity has branched out into space to find planets to colonize, and they’ve found one… only it’s made of ice and populated with lots of hostile alien monsters. The monsters, known as the Akrid, are all about giving the gift of death to the various people trying to terraform the planet, which is about where you come in. You play as Wayne, an amnesiatic man who only remembers his father falling before a monstrous Akrid known as “Green Eye”. Wayne is found half dead by a band of Snow Pirates, led by a young woman named Luka, and shored up by her brother Rick and scientific expert Yuri. Wayne agrees to help them out, either out of gratitude or a desire to kill Green Eye, and the group sets out to wipe out all of the Akrid on the planet, because humanity is good at committing mass genocide and stealing the land of others. Ahem. Anyway, the story seems like a solid sci-fi build so far, but time will tell how it ultimately plays out.

When you first get into the game, you immediately are stuck with the presentation, as it’s strikingly solid. Visually, the game environments are very detailed, and mimic the “barren, destroyed wasteland” motif superbly. Despite the world being a destroyed, snow-covered wasteland, it’s actually quite beautiful in its own way, and a lot of attention has been paid to the game world, which shows well. The various characters and enemies all animate well also, and the Akrid look appropriately hideous and scary. The first time you see one of the larger Akrid, it’s quite a sight, and when you climb into your first mech (called “Vital Suits”, or VS for short) and see it lumber into action, it’s a powerful experience. Ditto the aural presentation; the music has a very dramatic flair to it, but feels suitable for whipping the crap out of enemies, and the sound effects and voice acting are all very well done so far.

The audio-visual stuff is only the tip of the, um, iceberg, though: where the game really comes together is in the gameplay, which so far feels rock solid. The standard “move and shoot” dynamic is in full effect here, and the controls feel very intuitive and are easy to pick up and work with. Wayne can carry two weapons, as well as grenades, at a time, which can be switched out on the fly for easy access. Reloading your weapons, in an odd touch, is mapped to the right stick (press down to reload), which actually feels quite natural and works well. Combat feels solid and appropriately tense when needed, which is good, and the controls don’t get in your way at all as you play. There are a couple of neat tricks to the game, so far, beyond the actual shooting action. Wayne has an energy bar which slowly depletes as time goes on, as the energy appears to be linked to keeping you from freezing to death. As you kill enemies, the bar refills, as you draw their energy from them and into yourself. If you take physical damage, your health bar will refill as the energy bar depletes faster, as your suit is apparently healing you, ALA Halo. You’re also provided a grappling hook, which isn’t implemented too much as of yet, but will most likely be used both in intense battles and for puzzle solving… we’ll see in the finished product. By far the most entertaining trick Lost Planet has to offer, however, is the VS combat. Your VS units vary in design, from smaller units that are essentially riding weapon platforms to larger, Gundam-esque mechs that are equipped with jump jets and such. The different VS units can be equipped with various large-scale weapons, which can be manually attached to them from the outside, and can even be equipped, two-handed, by Wayne if there’s no usable VS nearby. The weapons themselves range from your standard machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns and so forth to heavy rocket launchers, infinite shot energy weapons and chargeable homing lasers, so there’s an appropriate mix of futuristic and current weapon types, so far.

Online play is a hoot as well. The game itself plays identically to the single player game, only you’re fighting against other players. The versus maps, so far, seem well designed and will fit multiple play styles (campers, rejoice!), as well as inspire new ones. Players have already taken to the dodge and grappling hook, and I’ve seen more than a few players use the hook to elevate themselves above cover to get the drop on others. VS combat is also implemented; aside from the huge weapons being scattered around the battlefield, players can also hop into the giant monstrosities and wage war from there; this makes things a lot more interesting, not only for the player piloting the VS, but for the rest of the players who are about to become very dead. So far, the online also appears to run very stable and smooth, though time will tell how well as more players go online.

There are a few issues that could stand to be worked out, though. It can be a pain to get into a match online; when you search for matches, and select one that’s either full or deleted, instead of allowing you to choose another from the list, you’re kicked back and asked to search again. Also, similar to Dead Rising, the font on SDTV’s is pretty hard to see (though it still looks good on HDTV’s, as expected), though Capcom notes they are attempting to fix this. Issues aside, Lost Planet is shaping up to be a very strong title and could easily be one of the best games of 2007 at this rate. Be sure to watch out for it in January 2007, and watch out for the review here following shortly thereafter.