Lost Planet 2 Preview
Released a couple months after the first Gears of War, and just a few weeks after the game-crammed 2006 holiday season, Capcom's Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was overlooked and underrated. Personally, I enjoyed it more than Epic's buzzed-about third-person cover shooter, but I was no doubt in the minority. Lost Planet's addictive mix of giant Akrid boss fights, pilotable mech-like VS suits, and an amazing snow-covered setting made it one of my favorite titles of 2007. Thankfully, its eventual special Colonies Edition release--which also landed on the PS3--got the attention of gamers who finally began appreciating this original sci-fi shooter. Now, nearly three and a half years later, we're getting a sequel that promises even bigger and better bug destruction.
Despite my fondness for the original, I was initially disappointed in what Capcom had planned for the follow-up. I absolutely loved the first game's arctic ambiance and its focused single-player campaign, but the sequel was going out of its way to change these things; the snow has melted and the new focus is on four-player co-op and competitive multi-player. Still, given my appreciation for its predecessor, I was willing to giveLost Planet 2 the benefit of the doubt. I had the opportunity to play its first three chapters--nearly half the game--and although I found myself missing the original's powdery white world and lone-hero narrative, I still had a hell of a good time blasting bugs to squishy, squirting bits.
The sequel, while clearly cashing in on the current co-op craze, still offers a solid campaign for solo snow pirates. You'll be joined by A.I. squad mates if you go it alone, but they in no way take away from the experience; in fact, they may just save your ass from time to time. And, even though the first game's gorgeous frozen wasteland is a distant memory, LP2 more than makes up for it with richly rendered and far more diverse areas to explore and kick arachnid ass in.
Battling through an early jungle setting hints at the title's upgraded visual makeover, as you tread a dense, lush, fauna-filled environment that's as beautiful as it is frightening. Of course, the "frightening" part comes from the Akrid that seem to be enjoying the new tropical climate. Apparently the heat has made them irritable...and bigger. Yes, believe it or not, the bug-like beasts are even larger than they were in the first game, and if you played the original, you know that's saying a lot. Scaly skin, whipping tails, toothy maws, and sharp claws dominate the screen, posing a seemingly impossible challenge. But LP2 also brings back the heavy artillery, so standard guns and grenades, mobile VS suits, and turrets you can lug around with two hands are available for all your extermination needs. You also needn't worry about the bitter cold sucking away your life bar this time out, as the somewhat frustrating mechanic of constantly having to refuel has been removed.
Fighting pests that make those Starship Trooper critters look like minor annoyances also brings the new ability to kill them from within their own bodies. Yup, some of these creepy crawlies are so big, you can actually get inside of them; if you thought they were grotesque on the outside, just wait till you're facing a fleshy tunnel of pulsating Akrid innards. Whether firing at them from afar or within their gastrointestinal tract, though, battling these bugs is even more fun than it was in the first game. The gun-play is more polished, the beasts more diverse, and the gameplay more balanced. You'll still get kicked to the ground by these screen-filling foes, but the frustration of not being able to recover before the next killing blow comes your way has been toned down considerably.
My only real complaint about these epic Akrid encounters is that there simply aren't enough of them, at least in the game's first half. LP2 seems to focus a bit more on pitting you against rival pirate factions than planet E.D.N. III's indigenous wildlife. There's a good deal of bug-brawling in the opening chapters, and it's all pretty amazing, but I also found myself exchanging fire with lots of other humans. These encounters are by no means bad, they just feel more like they were ripped from a standard shooter. This franchise is defined by its towering, multi-legged baddies, so you may feel a bit let down when you go from one of these level-rattling fights to a shootout against a bunch of dudes.
Still, this may only be representative of the title's first half, and Capcom could be saving the absolute best bug-filled encounters for the closing chapters. And, the portions that do highlight your fight against the relentless Akrid are among some of the coolest boss battles in recent memory. Late in my hands-on time with the game, I arrived in an arid desert wasteland, where a fight involving a large locomotive and an equally sized sand worm left me breathless and wanting more. It was easily the best battle in the section of the game I played, and one I hope only hints at what's to come in LP2's later levels. If that's the case, and they can sneak in a little snow by the end-game, this one could not only live up to its predecessor, but also prove to be one of the year's best third-person shooters. I'll be waiting for LP2--with a big can of RAID--when it arrives next month.