"“Next-generation” has been the de facto gaming buzzword for some time. It’s just a generic promise of some nebulous step forward, but the escalating Sony-Microsoft arms race has made the term virtually prerequisite. If a new title isn’t promising hot, steamy next-generation action, if it isn’t bringing the next-generation revolution into your living room, then forget it, buster. "
“Next-generation” has been the de facto gaming buzzword for some time. It’s just a generic promise of some nebulous step forward, but the escalating Sony-Microsoft arms race has made the term virtually prerequisite. If a new title isn’t promising hot, steamy next-generation action, if it isn’t bringing the next-generation revolution into your living room, then forget it, buster.
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is a sci-fi third-person shooter that Capcom, its developer and publisher, really wants to be the first big game of 2007. There’s the trailer in movie theatres (grainy-voiced movie announcer guy informs patrons, “This winter: Blood. Runs. Cold.”), the giant billboard in midtown Manhattan, the steel-cased collector’s edition that comes with an action figure, and the n-g-word slathered on every keynote address, press release and corporate blog post that mentions the game. But, let’s be honest, Capcom: in many ways Lost Planet is defiantly last-generation. And it’s okay! I enjoyed playing it!
In a murky, loopy story of the sort familiar to anyone raised on Japanese action games, Wayne Holden is found encased in ice on an unpleasantly cold, human-colonized planet called E.D.N. III. The death of his father is his last memory, and his quest for revenge propels him across the freezing planet, where he faces down snow pirates, the nefarious NEVEC corporation, and Akrid, the mean bug aliens who killed his dad. Capcom has a tradition of games with conspiracy theory plots that don’t quite make sense (e.g., all the Resident Evils), and Lost Planet ably takes up the torch.
The action is better: straightforward, fierce, and immediate. Human enemies are dirt-dumb, and Akrid have big neon spots on their bodies indicating where to shoot, but there are lots of both wielding big, brutal instruments of death. The Akrid boss battles are the highlights. One, a half-spider, half-crab, succumbs to the “take out the legs and then whack away at his belly” approach, the way you fight any videogame spider or crab, but the difference is in the details. The screen-filling monstrosity moves with frenzy, his claws swipe and slash with megaton force, and when you blow off his legs, they grow back slowly, emerging from the stubs in slimy, filmy sacs…eww.
Even without the Akrid threat, E.D.N. III is so cold that humans would die almost instantly. They need special heating packs, fueled by a finite amount of thermal energy (T-ENG), to stay alive. And so, Wayne has a T-ENG meter that is constantly dropping. It’s not technically his health bar, but it may as well be--T-ENG automatically replenishes lost life, and when there’s none left, Wayne has about fifteen seconds to live. Getting more thermal energy, a bright orange ooze, is a matter of taking it, whether from the pack off a dead snow pirate’s back or the insides of the Akrid, who produce it naturally.
T-ENG also powers the Vital Suits, large, human-piloted, mechanized vehicles built to fight the Akrid. Wayne does fight plenty on foot, with a standard sci-fi arsenal of rifles and lasers, as well as a nifty grappling hook that adds much maneuverability to his lumbering self, but during larger action setpieces, and almost all the boss battles, he’ll find a VS (or two, or three) to man. One is humanoid with jets that can run circles around a battlefield; another resembles a crab and can transform into a brawny drilling tank.
When a battle gets moving at a nice clip--when the rockets are whizzing by with gorgeous smoke trails and tremendous fiery explosions, and dozens of Akrid beasts are climbing down the walls and lashing out with poisonous tails and acid mucus, and you’re freezing to death--Lost Planet earns its keep, and there’s no shortage of these battles. The harder difficulties ratchet up the enemy count and the precipitous fall of the T-ENG meter to unforgiving levels, and it’s a frantic, draining fight all the way through. Which is the way to play it: Lost Planet is boring without that manic desperation, especially as Wayne often leaves behind sprawling snowscapes for processions of hallways and square rooms.
There is no split-screen or cooperative play, but the online multiplayer is the Akridless extension of the single-player. Up to sixteen players fight for thermal energy and strategic “data posts” on large, mostly snowy maps, and the action quickly escalates as large VSs with missile launchers stalk smaller, more mobile VSs, and human warriors hide in caves with sniper rifles or bound over jagged landscapes with their grappling hooks. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s the sort of fun, run-rampant multiplayer of which the 360 is in short supply. The only similar experience is over-the-top WWII destructathon The Outfit. Lost Planet easily bests that game, but it lacks the staying power of a Gears of War or a Tom Clancy title, superior games both tactically and viscerally. Without the showy boss battles or the booming orchestral score, multiplayer is ultimately light on its feet. Capcom didn’t skimp on online features, but Lost Planet’s core lack of depth is nevertheless laid bare.
There are countless examples of an old product in a shiny new package, and I’m sure you’ve gathered that Lost Planet is one of them--it’s got high-end graphics, a vast sense of scale (sometimes), and robust online features, and no new ideas. But other than bogus press releases, there’s no pretense here of being “next-generation,” no half-baked attempts at squad tactics, RPG-style attribute leveling, branching pathways, “interactive story” elements, or any other gimmicky crap that designers and companies try to pass off as innovation.
Lost Planet comes from a long line of fun shooters, and it’s the newest and the shiniest, so give it a try soon.
Featured community review by jeeeehad (January 15, 2007)
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