Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Genre: Third person shooter
Release Date: 01/12/07
Capcom has been on a roll as of late, both on the 360 and in general. After the critical and financial success that was Resident Evil 4, they turned out a bang-up effort last year with some amazing games, including Dead Rising, Okami, and God Hand, it’s hardly surprising to see them start off 2007 with a bang. And that’s exactly what they’re doing, between the release of a new Phoenix Wright title for the Nintendo DS and the subject of today’s review, Lost Planet. Hey, I’m not complaining.
You might recall a preview I wrote up on the title back in December, where I essentially gushed all over the game. First impressions are indeed important, and from what the title was shaping up to be, all signs pointed to Lost Planet being a serious contender for some sort of awards in 2007. But now that we have the finished product, does it live up to the first impression, or is it a letdown? Let’s take a look.
The story of Lost Planet is certainly interesting, I’ll give it that much. In the distant future, humanity has left the planet Earth in search of new locations to pillage-er, colonize, which has brought them to EDN III. An ice-covered planet that would be perfectly suited to colonization once the pesky ice is removed, EDN III seems to be a perfect planet to colonize, except for one small problem: the Akrid. Vicious, primitive insectoid monstrosities one and all, the Akrid whip the crap out of the humans who have begun to investigate the planet, but not before humans discover that the Akrid house powerful energy in their frames that keeps them alive in the frigid wasteland. As humanity is nothing if not stubborn, they opt to convert and invent technologies to use this new energy, dubbed “thermal energy”Â, so that they may wage war against the Akrid and take the planet (and the energy) for themselves.
You take on the role of Wayne Holden, a member of a group of Space Pirates seeking to wipe out Akrid hives for the purpose of trying to make the planet more hospitable. Your group encounters a monstrous Akrid named “Green Eye”Â, and in the process of the battle, Wayne’s father Gale is killed, and Wayne blacks out, only to awaken some time later in the care of another group of pirates. The pirates (all three of them) are also seeking to wipe out the Akrid, as well as terraform the planet, and Wayne opts to join them, so that he may wipe out Green Eye. Of course, things are never as they seem…
The story of LP is generally okay, if nothing terribly special. In a sense, it’s inversely comparable to the story of another 360 title, Gears of War. Gears told very little of the story of the war that was taking place, and instead chose to weave a tightly knit story of the squad you played as. LP, on the other hand, tells the whole overarching story, war and all, from start to finish, but the narrative is much more loose and harder to follow. As science fiction stories go, it’s okay, but a lot of the later narrative points don’t make a lot of sense, and a lot of the ideas (for example, the rival Snow Pirate factions) are never developed in any satisfying fashion. The ending is also EXTREMELY unsatisfying; the obvious romantic interest the game develops between Wayne and Luka (leader of the band of pirates that Wayne is saved by in the beginning of the game) never really develops into anything, and the whole sequence of events feels forcibly overdramatic for no reason. Hey, sometimes the simplest route to the end really is the best, y’know?
Oh, and Wayne is entirely too trusting of, well, everyone, considering A.) he suffers from amnesia, and B.) he gets betrayed so many damn times in the story. Just saying.
In short, LP features a well thought out story idea, but not a well thought out story. Notable plot inconsistencies, odd character behavior, and an unsatisfying ending combine to make what could have been a good story only okay at best. On the upside, it’s not like you need to care about the story to enjoy the game… but on the downside, that’s not really a compliment.
Story Rating: 5/10
Lost Planet probably would have been amongst the best looking games on the 360 last year, but as it stands now it’s really only “great”Â. That’s not meant to be a slag against it, mind you; it still looks quite nice, it’s just not in the top tier of titles on the system. The character models are all very well animated and look very good in action, and the various Akrid beasts are all appropriately hideous in their insectoid glory. The environments are also very well designed and look very good, and sport a large amount of detail. The light and explosion effects are also strikingly good and look quite realistic, especially in hi-def. And as promised, Capcom did fix the text sizing for SDTV users, so there isn’t a blurry text problem like there was in Dead Rising.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that there are plenty of visually shocking moments where you face down some several story tall monstrosity of some sort or another. The giant Snow Worm in the third stage, for instance, is definitely worthy of shock and awe, and I do wish there were more moments like that (though there are more of these moments here than in Gears) in LP.
There are a couple minor problems that keep this from being a truly stunning visual work, though. First and foremost, in several cases, when you approach cliffs or overhangs, you’ll see shadows cast of yourself and enemies, but not of the thing you’re standing on, making the shadows appear to be standing on nothing. Also, while the snowy levels look very good, the snow itself doesn’t react realistically when you walk across it, though admittedly, this is a minor concern. Clipping is also present, though this too is rare. Overall, LP looks very good, but it isn’t the best looking title on the 360, sadly.
Graphics Rating: 8/10
The in-game music is absolutely outstanding, which is hardly a surprise, but still. The score consists of the expected orchestral tracks that are meant to invoke dramatic emotions and whatnot, and they work quite well here. The music is also ambient, and will fade in and out as needed, which keeps it more interesting than were it playing at all times. You can, of course, jam with custom tunes, but the score in LP is strong enough that you shouldn’t really want to, and it honestly makes me glad I chose to acquire the Limited Edition of the game (free soundtrack in box, yay Capcom).
The voice acting is also very good, which is still kind of surprising, since… well, you know, “The Master of Unlocking”Â. Right. Anyway, the various voice actors are all very strong in their performances, Wayne and Luka especially so, and none of the actors come off as fake or annoying. The sound effects are also very good, especially the explosions and gunfire, which sound very powerful and contribute well to the experience. LP is easily one of the best sounding games to come out for the 360, bar none.
Sound Rating: 10/10
Third person shooter action combined with third person mech combat equals the core gameplay in Lost Planet. The controls are simply enough to adjust to in minutes, movement and aiming are mapped to the sticks appropriately, weapons are mapped to the triggers, and for the most part, the VS mechs control identically to Wayne (though each has some mild variations, which the game helpfully explains the first time you pilot each type of VS). Those who have played similar titles will be right at home in minutes, though there are some mild control oddities one might find confusing at first.
First off, aside from your jump and action commands, you have a grappling hook mapped to the face buttons. This can be used to scale various surfaces, which can be used to gain a tactical advantage in battle and is often used to navigate the large environments. The crosshair will then green when you highlight something Wayne can hook onto; if it’s a wall, Wayne will grapple onto it, then jump upwards, and if it’s a ceiling or something similar, Wayne will hang from it, which allows you to rain down fire from above or scout the surroundings. If you walk off of a cliff, Wayne will also deploy the grapple to lower himself down to safety, which is good in case you fall by accident or something similar. It’s a neat little dynamic, overall, that adds a bit more to the game than one might think.
The various VS’ also have all sorts of unique battle arrangements, as noted, and each has its own unique uses. Some can dash and hover, one can double-jump and deploy smoke screens, and one can even turn from a spider-mech into a drill tank. A lot of effort was put into making the different mechs unique, and it shows well. The weapon payloads are customizable on most VS’, however, so you’re given the freedom to equip them as you see fit, dependant upon your present needs.
There is a large variety of weaponry in the game as well, which is good to see. The standard projectile weapons range from your standard machine guns, shotguns, and rocket launchers to various energy weapons, and each has its own positives and negatives. Ditto the VS weaponry, which can also be used in standard combat if you’re sans giant mechanized death tank. You’ll find all sorts of little toys to play with as you see fit, and as you progress further and find more and more crazy weapons, you’ll find yourself flush with all sorts of destructive goodies that you can mix and match as you see fit, though you can only carry two weapons at any time in VS or normal combat. Ammo tends to be plentiful, though, so this isn’t a huge deal.
There’s also the matter of the energy meter to contend with. As you play, the meter slowly depletes, with the explanation being that it keeps Wayne from freezing to death. As you wax humans and Akrid, blow up stuff, etc, said energy will puddle up on the ground, and when you run it over, it adds itself to the stockpile. As Wayne takes damage, his body will attempt to regenerate, at the cost of additional thermal energy as you regenerate, which is understandable in the sense that we’ve seen this so many times by now that it’s somewhat clichÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©, if still welcome.
Online play is also quite enjoyable, by and large, due in part to the fact that Capcom seems to have patched it on launch. Complaints I noted in the demo seem to have been eliminated (notably that of being kicked back to the title upon selecting a full matchup), and online performance is stable and solid overall. The maps are generally well-designed for multiplay, and your standard online game types are in full effect here (Elimination, Team Elimination, King of the Hill). There is also a fairly interesting game mode, “Fugitive”Â, which is something you might have seen before, though not often: one person is “it”Â, and the rest hunt them down and try to kill them. Overall, online play is solid, if not terribly special, and is user-friendly enough to remain an enjoyable amusement, even if it’s not the best on the market.
But LP isn’t without its gameplay problems. The gameplay rarely changes much throughout the experience (with the exception of the last stage), and the game doesn’t do anything to toss in added depth; there are no minigames or real puzzles to solve, just hordes of foes to slaughter. This is still fun, but a little shallow. The grappling hook doesn’t come into play as often as one might like, either, and mostly when it does, it’s only for scaling upwards to objectives. Many scalable environmental objects aren’t, so buildings that look scalable can’t actually be scaled, which also limits the effectiveness of the grapple. For some strange reason, reloading weapons is mapped to the right analog stick button, which puts the zoom option on the D-Pad, which is unwieldy to say the least (though you can change the control scheme if you so desire, this is the default). The camera can also be odd to work with at times, though the bumpers can instantly swing your perspective 90 degrees left or right, to help you reposition quicker.
The largest problem with the gameplay in LP, though, is that as the game progresses, it becomes less about the small-scale combat and more about VS battles. If you’re a fan of mech combat games, as I am, this isn’t a huge deal, but if you are not a fan, you’re going to get frustrated with the change in direction. Most of the boss battles require that you be in a VS, or you’re going to get obliterated instantly, which isn’t terribly fun and makes the game feel more limited than it really is.
All told, LP plays well by and large, and generally feels very natural if you’ve played any games of similar design in the past year or so. It’s pretty solid control-wise and generally fun to play throughout, with lots of heavy-duty combat throughout the game. Some of the controls feel a bit odd, and there’s not much variety to the experience, but if you can get into the combat and enjoy what the game is trying to do, it’s a fun and intense experience from start to finish, with virtually no downtime to be seen.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10
Lost Planet features a solid amount of Achievements to earn, and the core game is entertaining enough that you might come back to it just to shoot the crap out of some bug-things. Online is solid and enjoyable, as expected, and while it’s not on the level of something like Chromehounds or Gears, it’s still fun and enjoyable enough to bring you back. Capcom also seems to be all for creating downloadable content, much like with Dead Rising, which is definitely a motivator to come back. Unless you’re a fan of old-school third-person shooting action, though, you probably won’t get so much from the experience that you’ll be coming back for more in lieu of playing something else. There really aren’t any unlockable extras beyond a fourth level of difficulty and additional multiplayer character textures, which is both surprising and not cool. The game itself is fun enough to go back to a few times, but there’s nothing really super-special to bring you back in addition to the core game, though the core game itself is enjoyable enough that this may well not matter too much.
Replayability Rating: 7/10
There are four different difficulty levels to choose from (three immediately available, and one unlockable one), and the difficulty ramps up sufficiently from one to the next. The enemy AI doesn’t change much between difficulty levels, though, so if you’re reasonably skilled, you will only have to worry about the volume of enemy forces, which is where the challenge largely comes from. The bosses also have reasonably easy to understand patterns, though they hit sufficiently hard enough that a wrong move will equal your expedient demise. There’s plenty of challenge to go around, but that’s mostly due to enemy volume and damage output and less to do with any sort of intelligent enemy behavior. Challenge is still challenge, make no mistake, but this is less a thinking person’s shooter and more a run and gun shootfest, and the balancing of the title reflects this. Online, balance issues are more or less negligible, as skill determines performance, and it’s reasonably easy to find players of your skill level. All told, LP is fairly well balanced, but in an old-school fashion, so players looking for smarter enemies instead of MORE enemies will be disappointed. For those looking for an old-fashioned challenge, though, LP will most likely be right up your alley.
Balance Rating: 6/10
Lost Planet, while an entertaining piece of software, isn’t terribly new and different, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. The grappling hook and its various uses are certainly neat and add a lot to the game, and the mech combat feels different enough to stand on its own, but at its core, LP is a shooter, and doesn’t stray too far from that. It’s presented in an interesting fashion and does a few things all its own, but LP is by no means a unique or different experience. It just happens to do what it does quite well.
Originality Rating: 5/10
The first few missions, where run-and-gun combat is mixed up reasonably well with VS combat, are quite addictive, and after you encounter the Snow Worm in all of its hideous glory, you’ll be aching for more experiences like that. As the game progresses, however, VS combat becomes more of the focus of the game, to the point where being outside of one for long periods of time could very well mean death. If you’re not as much of a fan of the VS battles as the standard action, this could well be a turn-off. It also bears noting that while the game does throw a few impressive bosses at you, and the entire last stage is completely unique to itself, most of the rest of the experience can be derived from the first few hours, with little additional motivation popping up through the rest of the title. Online play is also pretty interesting, but it’s not as powerful as it could’ve been, and falls before other, superior XBL titles. You will most likely want to complete the game, and play the online a few times, but the experience isn’t so powerful as to keep you thinking about it when you’re not playing it, which is surprising, frankly. It’s enjoyable and definitely has its moments, but you won’t be jonesing for a second go right away, if at all.
Addictiveness Rating: 6/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Lost Planet, despite its old-school conventions and somewhat odd pacing, has a lot to offer a fan of the third person shooter or sci-fi genre. The visual presentation is stylish, the gameplay is strong, and the experience is fun, even if its not wholly original. The experience is ultimately one of broad appeal simply because it’s a fun, entertaining piece of software that, even if it’s not the best Capcom can do, ends up being quite pleasing on the whole. It’s not on the level of Gears or Dead Rising, but it’s still a worthwhile piece of software.
Appeal Rating: 7/10
Lost Planet is a solid tribute to old-school action shooting designs, for better or worse. It’s very conventional in a lot of respects, and may well alienate those who were looking for something innovative and unique. Lost Planet is not that game. What it is, in simple terms, is the third-person shooter archetype in all of its glory and shame. There is some variety here and there, but not so much as to mask what the game is, and you will either love the game for not straying far from convention and offering you mass carnage in a familiar design… or you will hate it for being conventional and trite.
Me? I love it. It’s simple, easy to play and experience, long enough to offer enjoyment but short enough that you don’t get sick of it, and offers some online play to bring you back if you’re up for that sort of thing. It most likely won’t be your online addiction like Gears or Rainbow Six or whatever, and it most likely won’t bring you back for more and more like Dead Rising or Oblivion, but it’s a solid, entertaining journey through a strong piece of work from beginning to end. Sometimes, that’s all you really ever need.
Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10
Overall Score: 6.8/10
Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD).
Short Attention Span Summary
Lost Planet ends up being video game fast food: tasty, enjoyable, and ultimately satisfying, without imparting any sort of new or different taste sensations. If you’re looking for the next revolution in gaming, you need not look for it here. Lost Planet is all about scratching the shooter itch, and in this regard, it succeeds in spades. The pacing, somewhat mediocre story, and lack of originality may put off some, but if you’re looking for an enjoyable shooter that simply asks you to obliterate everything you see, you likely won’t find much better than this.