The first Lost Planet game felt very much like what a classic 2D side scrolling action game would feel like if somebody made it in 3D. The story was hokey, the action was pretty hectic at times, and you killed the bigger bugs by shooting at the glowing red spot which identified their weak point. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I tried the sequel but never got into it, but this one caught me at just the right moment. I was in the mood to go on a bug hunt. I can’t really say I was expecting to play through James Cameron’s Lost Planet though.
Alright so maybe that’s a bit harsh. I mean James Cameron made a pretty sweet bug hunt movie. It was called Titanic… errr… Aliens. Eventually, he made a mint on a little movie called Avatar. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Why is this pertinent? Well, let me describe the story in Lost Planet, and you tell me if it starts to sound familiar. Newcomer takes a job on a far away planet with a corporation that is there to mine a valuable resource. After a while, you meet the natives, and you discover that the natives have been wronged by the company. At some point, a nasty military type shows up, one who puts Earth’s interests ahead of the native population, and so on. Satisfied? I tried not to be too specific there, but I think you get the gist. Towards the end they do manage to change the script up a little bit, but for the most part you are playing James Cameron’s Lost Planet 3.
Even though it’s a very familiar plot outline, they do a really good job of selling it. Our hero is Jim Peyton, who has come to EDN III to work as a freelance contractor who will work odd jobs for anyone who will pay, and the people that will pay are the corporation NEVEC. Jim brings with him his personal construction mech, nicknamed Gertie. You are quickly introduced to why Jim is on EDN III via in mission video mails that his wife has sent him, and through much of the story you will continue to receive these messages. At one point you go offline for a few weeks, and when you return there is a frantic message waiting. Overall the characters are very believable, even if the plot is recycled.
The graphics are pretty good. The home base for NEVEC is a combination of salvaged parts of a starship that crashed and parts that have been carved out of the ice. For a mental image, just picture the Rebel base on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back and you will get a very good idea of what the place looks like. The resemblance in the corridors is uncanny.
The Akrid, which are the alien bugs that you spend most of your time fighting off in these games, seem to be less cartoon-like this time around. They still have the glowing red weak spots, true, but they just feel as though more effort was placed on making them seem a little more real. This has it’s downside however, as you will often find yourself battling no more than 3 or 4 of the Akrid at one time. Anymore than that and the screen will start to chug along, dropping frames.
Characters are modeled in a way that I’d describe as acceptable. This late in the generation I’d be sorely disappointed if the facial models were weak, and thankfully they aren’t. Some look better than others, though. Jim seems to look like Nic Cage, but just a bit. Maybe I’m just crazy, but that’s who I see when I’m looking at the dude. I look forward to the next generation, when hopefully developers have managed to make a realistic looking face that doesn’t look weird in motion.
The gameplay is split between time spent in your Mech and time spent on foot. As the game progresses, you will find yourself upgrading Gertie, getting things like a welding torch or a winch, things like that. What you won’t find yourself getting would be military grade weapons. This is explained away early in the game as a way to keep the operation under civilian control instead of the military. So you can run around with as much weaponry as you want on your person, but once it’s attached to a mech it’s military. This results in some unorthodox approaches to dealing with some of the bigger bugs. Sometimes you may find yourself attacking head on, grabbing an appendage and drilling into it until it snaps off. Other times you may find yourself firing your grappling hook at a scorpion tail to keep it from firing at you while your mech repairs itself. Other times you may find yourself bailing out of Gertie to attack with your own weapons after using the mech to stun the enemy. I have to say, I didn’t really enjoy the mech combat. We have been trained, as gamers, to think that once a quick time event has been completed successfully, the game will reward you with seeing the results of your “attack”. What the developers have done here is force you to complete a quick time event, then move the attack around until it finds the sweet spot. Fine, okay, except they don’t tell you to do it. Not a word. So I spent a good hour battling a big bug, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong while the frustration mounted. I was not amused when I discovered what I was supposed to do.
On foot, the reduction in the amount of enemies on screen at any one time has forced the developers to toughen up the Akrid. Some of them take 3 shotgun blasts before they go down, and still others will make you invest in explosives before they start to be tamed. When you get the chance, buy the grenade launcher. Trust me on that. Anyway, there are still spawn holes spitting bugs out, and taking them out quickly will make your work much easier. Occasionally you’ll find turrets you can repair, but they are strangely ineffective. You will have to rely on your own wits and weapons to finish the game. You can do side missions to unlock special ammunition types that can then be purchased, and you can switch between the ammunition types by holding down the square key. You can only carry two main weapons at a time, though you will always have your pistol, and it has unlimited ammo. Your main weapons don’t have an unlimited supply of ammo, but you are normally not very far from a fresh supply. Gertie even has a portable weapons locker in its foot that has a constant supply of standard ammunition.
The audio ranges from excellent to “What were they thinking?” in quality. To get the bad out of the way first, the music is poorly chosen. They’ve gone for the annoying flesh crawling “tone” constantly assaulting your ears instead of any kind of soundtrack. That’s not to say there is no music at all, as you can choose from a number of different tracks when stomping away in Gertie, but on foot, when they want to increase the tension, they whip out annoying stuff. I guess I should say that the music is poorly chosen if they want to please me, as it annoys me and thus makes me lower the volume. It’s not like it’s badly recorded. You, dear reader, may be totally into it, and that’s okay. I like my TV too much to listen to things like that for too long, and this game is far too long to sit and listen to that stuff all the time.
On the flip side, the voice acting is terrific. The cast is very diverse, and it’s all delivered in a professional way. The main character, Jim, has a bit of a southern drawl to him, helping to add to the feeling you get that his type of freelance contractor would fit right in today, driving trucks across Ice Roads. He delivers his lines with feeling, sometimes subtle, sometimes sarcastic, and sometimes with gravity, whichever the situation called for.
In the middle, there are the sound effects. Let’s just say there are times when I expected to hear things and was disappointed when they failed to materialize. On a planet of snow and ice I would expect to hear it crunching under my footsteps, and even worse, I would expect to hear my mech’s footsteps when splashing through a river. The main villain has a line late in the game describing how he heard my mech coming. That’s funny, because I didn’t hear myself. The sound effects from the guns and the Akrid are also alright. The guns don’t exactly pop out at you, but they do the job, and the Akrid just have a few different types of screams.
Before I leave the audio, I have to make one last comment about the voice acting. You walk past a number of people in the main base more than a few times while playing the game. Nothing strange there. Heck, in Mass Effect you could walk up and talk to them if you wanted. Well, someone decided that wasn’t enough, so they got some of the characters to record dialogue just for when you walk past them. At first it was kind of a shock, hearing a character say something to you so completely out of the blue. I wound up walking past that character as many times as I could when I was back at the base, just to see if anything new was going on. A character that has no other purpose than to build a sense of belief in you that this is a real place, with real people interacting with you over time. This is a superb tool for drawing you into the story and dispelling that sense of disbelief.
There is a multiplayer component to the game, but thankfully it’s nothing like Lost Planet 2. Instead there’s the basic Team Deathmatch and Akrid Survival, which is a sort of race between two teams to see who can eradicate the Akrid from their area of a map for two stages before moving into a king of the hill scenario in the final stage of the round. To me, the multiplayer was like the multi in Killzone or Uncharted. Nobody is going to stop playing Battlefield or Call of Duty to come play this, no matter how competently executed it is.
Lastly, I would like to say that I thought we were done with cut scenes that can’t be skipped by now. It’s 2013 for crying out loud. Why am I being forced to watch these cut scenes over and over? Is it punishment for not grasping the concept of how I was supposed to kill the giant bug of the hour right away? Okay, maybe I could accept being forced to watch the cut scene once, followed by being able to skip it later, but not being able to skip them at all? Poor form Capcom.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Well, it’s easily superior to Lost Planet 2. They made the right call focusing on single player. All they needed to do was tweak a few things, and this would have been an excellent game, instead of the sometimes frustratingly average one it is.