Lost Planet Review
Destroying tons of aliens has always been a staple in gaming and movies. One needs to look no further than the classic movie series, Alien, to see just how fun alien-killing can be. Of course, this was far from the only movie series to put humans against aliens as a major movie plot device. One that was either loved or hated (personally, I enjoyed it) was Starship Troopers. Borrowing the name and overall idea from a popular sci-fi novel (but not most of the story), Starship Troopers dealt with killing very bug-like aliens. Some of them were small and swarm like while others were gigantic.
It should have been a given that most any game dealing with alien blasting would be a success. However, at times, these types of first-person shooters and strategy games have been hit or miss. The Starship Troopers strategy game and first person shooter (using the same exact name, mind you) were very forgettable games. However, featuring bug-like aliens as one of three races worked out exceptionally well for Blizzard’s strategy game, Starcraft.
And now, a new entry into the alien-blasting genre has been released. Lost Planet, Capcom’s newest title, sends you into a frozen world filled with all sorts of aliens to blast and snow pirates to take out. See, humans decided to try to colonize this frozen wasteland of a planet but, after trying a bit too hard to expand, ran into some nasty aliens known as the Akrid. Just when the human race was about to abandon all hope for this planet, they discovered some new technology – vital suits. You see, vital suites are mechs that stand two or three times taller than a human and are outfitted with a couple of weapons. Some can jump real high, others can hover and one can even turn into a hoverbike of sorts on the fly. However you look at it, though, these vital suits gave humans a chance to fight back against the growing problem of the Akrid.
Lost Planet, as mentioned, takes place on a frozen wasteland of a planet. Yes, it’s cold there – very cold. It is nowhere near fit for humans to live on, but that doesn’t stop you from trying to drive the Akrid out. So, how’s a guy to survive in this sub-zero wasteland? Enter the concept of Thermal Energy, or T-ENG for short. Under your health meter, you have a number for T-ENG. As time goes on, this number ticks down, representing the usage of this energy to keep yourself from dying. If you get hit and lose health, your T-ENG will be used to stabilize your health, causing the number to drop significantly faster. To restore this energy, you can shoot up most anything in the environment – I found it odd that I could blast a frozen car and sometimes get T-ENG out of it, but hey. All of the enemies, ranging from Snow Pirates (who also need the stuff to survive) to the Akrid you’ll encounter drop T-ENG when you kill them, with the bigger bugs and enemy vital suites dropping the most. You can even get a boost from the data posts you’ll want to activate throughout missions (they’ll also provide you with more information about the surrounding area).
The whole concept of thermal energy is one that actually works well for Lost Planet. While it may sound intimidating at first and may seem limiting, there really is an abundance of thermal energy available. The only time I ever ran out while playing was during some of the boss fights when I was obviously getting my butt kicked and when I got swarmed and the suit was using a lot of my energy just to keep me healed up. Otherwise, I had no problem finding T-ENG in abundance throughout the levels. When you consider that most anything in the environment is destructible and you can get T-ENG from most of it, you’ll be more than fine. However, I would have liked the ability to conserve energy by only activating my regeneration powers until I needed them – with an arm doohickey that is this technologically advanced, I should be able to activate it on my own (or set it to automatic if I feel like it). It isn’t a major issue, though.
The weapons you’ll pick up along the way are pretty cool, too. Sure, you have the staple of a machine gun and grenades. Along the way, you’ll find rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers and, what seems to be a staple for any alien-shooting game, an energy gun. Each of the weapons behaves differently and all have their uses. The rocket launcher, for example, is a great giant Akrid killers while the machine gun is excellent at cutting through masses of the smaller Akrid The energy gun is one of the most interesting from this weapon set – it is a bit weaker than the other guns but also homes in on enemies. You’ll often find this gun when dealing with tons of flying Akrid and, well, it is a damned nice weapon to have at these points.
Of course, the biggest and baddest weapons will be equipped on the vital suits. Most of them are just variations of your normal on-foot weapons – the gatling gun is a big version of the machine gun, for example. However, these weapons aren’t limited to being used on the vital suits. If you find one while roaming around, you can pick it up off the ground. After that, you can either take it and attach it to a vital suit or fire it yourself. Firing it while not attached to a vital suit isn’t going to be easy, though – the weapon will either have a massive kickback or hold you in place while you shoot. Also, you can’t carry more than one of these at a time since they take two hands to carry and can’t really be held on your back due to a massive size. This, to me, added a lot to the game. I wasn’t out of it in a boss fight if all the nearby vital suits were destroyed since I could just rip one of the weapons off of the side and take it to the boss myself.
And man, are you going to need all the firepower you can bring to bear in these boss battles. Many of the bosses you’ll face are absolutely massive aliens that will absolutely destroy you if you aren’t careful while running around on foot. Thankfully, each boss lair is littered with weapons and vital suits – you’re going to need every bit of strength you can get your hands on in these fights. Take the very first boss you’ll face, for example. He’s a giant version of the rolling bugs you’ve encountered at a few points and is much, much meaner. Instead of just trying to roll into you, he’s going to roll all around his cave, dislodging rocks as he goes. The times he does just try to roll into you, you’ll have to use the vital suit’s abilities to get out of the way then blast him in the thermal energy on his tail. He, like every other Akrid, has a weak spot denoted by the glowing thermal energy. While you can hurt him by firing head on, it’s going to do damn near nothing to him. That right there is the key to each of the boss battles – finding the weak point and then finding a way to actually fire on it. While it might seem easy at first, it really starts to get difficult fast (just wait until you see how fast some of the later bosses move, like the flying moth-thing on the fourth level). It never gets to the point of controller-busting difficulty though, and that’s a good thing. Instead, the game encourages you to rethink tactics and weapon loadout since some fire much faster while others are more powerful (I won’t spoil it here, but I ended up changing weapons during the 4th boss fight so I had something faster after the first half of the fight).
That isn’t to say the fights with the smaller Akrid, human enemies and non-boss vital suits aren’t also a blast. One of my personal favorite enemies is the rolling Akrid. While it might seem at first that they’re damned near impossible to kill, you’ll eventually spot the thermal energy on their tail. Getting to it isn’t easy because these beasties are agile. However, you have quite a few ways to do so. One of them is pretty simple – just get out of the way when one rolls at you and let him hit a wall. However, the way I found the most fun was to toss a hand grenade at them when they were rolling at me. When it blows up, the guys will come skidding to a halt on their sides and flail around for a bit. While I got about the same amount of time to shoot at the tail, the attention to detail here with them skidding to a halt on their sides was a neverending source of enjoyment for me.
The quality of animation and attention to detail didn’t stop with those enemies, either. All of the Akrid animate smoothly and about as believably as you’d expect an alien to animate. However, something that excited me even more was that each weapon has a different and appropriate reload animation. Nothing annoys me more than when I see a guy in a shooter reload his rocket launcher like a friggin machine gun or shotgun. Not in Lost Planet – you’ll actually sit there and load shells into your shotgun, load a single rocket into the launcher or, for the bigger guns, watch them reload themselves after you activate the reload. Reloading the guns takes a varying amount of time, too – the rocket launcher is slow to reload while the machine gun is nice and speedy.
The best part of using the big weapons isn’t necessarily the massive damage they cause, either – Lost Planet has the absolute best explosion effects that I’ve seen in a game. That small machine gun you use isn’t going to put out much smoke at all but man, toss a frag grenade or shoot off a rocket and watch the explosion then smoke. It looks realistic, it keeps you from seeing what is right in front of you and is just very chaotic…and fun. I’ve shot barrels in rooms with no enemies in them just to watch the explosions – though watching them send the enemies flying was also pretty damn fun. The sound effects when blowing up these barrels or shooting off the explosions is another major plus – you get a sort-of fwoosh sound followed by the boom and then a ton of smoke. As the smoke clears, you’ll still see some aliens moving through the smoke. I really don’t think I can say enough about this effect to express just how incredibly awesome it is. You have to experience it for yourself.
The graphical excellence doesn’t stop at the smoke and explosions, either. Each of the Akrid, from the small to absolutely large, are very well detailed. The different human-type enemies you’ll fight are a bit weak in the graphical variety area but their vital suits are still really cool looking. Also, the bigger non-Akrid bosses look really neat – they have a vital suit that you won’t be able to pilot. The non-vital suit machine bosses manage are also really big and well designed. The best part about all of this is that the game runs at a very smooth framerate – I didn’t see any hitches or lagging at all when firing off massive weapons or when there were tons of Akrid on the screen.
However, Lost Planet has a few major issues that keep this from being the second killer app for the 360 in two months. First of all, and the most irritating by far, is the animation loop you’ll often run into when knocked down. See, if you’re hit by much more than machine gun fire, you’ll fall down. While this actually makes sense, what isn’t fun is that you take forever and a day to get up. And, right when you get up from this, the enemy will often knock you down again. And again. And yet again. This is what did me in on the boss fights that I had trouble with – not the fact that I couldn’t get away from the enemy’s attacks but that one single one would knock me down and pretty much do me in if it knocked me down in the wrong place.
Also, your character isn’t very mobile. While I can, to a degree, understand mechs being less mobile than someone on foot, the case seems to be reversed here. You aren’t very fast while on foot, don’t have any sort of dash ability and only have a grappling hook to aid your mobility – and you can’t fire that while jumping and can’t swing from it if you shoot it at an overhang. However, the vital suits are more mobile – some double jump, some move slow but are very well armored and others change into speedy hovercycles. Yet I can’t even shoot my grappling hook while jumping – what’s going on here? Dodging on foot is a pain in the butt, too, requiring more button presses than are required to dash in a vital suit. There is no reason that I should be far more mobile in a vital suit than on foot.
These issues don’t seem to get in the way as much in multiplayer, mainly because you are playing against others that all control the same. And, to be honest, I like the lack of speedy movement in a shooter’s multiplayer – partially because I’m horrible at aiming guns in shooters but that’s another story altogether. There are various modes to play, all familiar to shooter veterans but with a Lost Planet twist tossed in. The first type you’ll be familiar with is Elimination – this is essentially a deathmatch with the goal being to deplete your opponent’s battle power gauge. Killing people and capturing data posts will increase this gauge while dying will decreate it. Post Grab is a capture-the-flag style team game. Capturing Data Posts will do two major things in this mode – increase your battle power gauge and give you information about the enemy’s position. At the end of the match, the team with more posts wins. Finally, there is the Fugitive mode. In this one, one person is the fugitive and all the other players are trying to hunt them down. The killer then becomes the fugitive. I’ve seen this type of multiplayer mode before in other games and really enjoyed it. However, my final major issue with the game comes into play here – there is NO same-console multiplayer whatsoever. No co-op, no competitive multiplayer, nothing. The only way to play multiplayer is via Xbox Live. Why, Capcom, Why? I can understand the lack of co-op to a degree, but I still wouldn’t have minded seeing it in even as a sort of tacked-on mode that made no sense storywise. Please, if you make a second Lost Planet game, add in some coop missions at the very least. I’m begging you.
Overall, I really enjoyed Lost Planet. At first, I was wowed by the incredible explosions and graphics. As time went on, I was impressed by the massive boss battles and the more subtle things like attention to detail in animations. While the game is far from perfect because of issues with movement, issues with the grappling hook and cheesy looping of knockdown animations, Lost Planet is still very fun to play through. I never truly found myself frustrated but instead tried to plan out different tactics to take down enemies. The difficulty ramps up well as you go through the missions, the enemies are well designed and the game is just a blast in general. If you’re not normally a fan of the genre, you may still want to check this one out – there are two demos on XBOX Live right now that will give you a basic taste of the game. However, one of the issues I mentioned, the lack of any sort of same-console multiplayer and the lack of any coop, can be a deal-breaker for some people. This, and the other issues I mentioned, keep Lost Planet from being an early contender for 2007 Game of the Year. As it stands, I still highly recommend it if these problems are not a deal-breaker for you.