Lost Planet 2
6th May 2010 | 10:28
If you read Xbox World 360 magazine this month, then you'll encounter a fascinating sit-down with Capcom's Jun Takeuchi - high profile producer of such AAA titles as Resi 5 and this: Lost Planet 2. Helming the former has made Takeuchi-san a controversial figure with gamers, to say the least, but the guy clearly has vision... and whopping iron balls.
Unfortunately, the latter proves that either he lacks the production resources or - perhaps more crucially - the ability to actually execute these grand designs. Welcome to the development paradigm that encapsulates our return to the lost planet known as EDN III.
Cast your mind back to the arctic original and you'll probably recall fond memories of a hit-and-miss campaign that nevertheless packed in a hefty array of mechs, incredi-guns, Godzilla-sized boss scraps and blazing set pieces - ably bolstered all the while by a surprisingly sprightly multiplayer component. So what does Takeuchi do? He takes this million-selling blueprint, dumps the (admittedly duff) protagonists*, removes almost all of the ice from the equation, rejigs the way T-ENG is used and switches focus to concentrate almost exclusively upon multiplayer. Like we said, balls of iron.
We might as well come out with it straight away; bereft of fellow human players, and forced to rely on your daftly-named AI 'squad mates' like Master Frog and xgdst59, Lost Planet 2 is an unqualified stinker. Capcom suggested they knew less about artificial intelligence than a refurbished Breville sandwich maker with Resident Evil 5, and this simply proves it. Bots contribute precisely nada in the way of objective fulfillment - preferring to stand around and pull off silly Emotes while you're getting on with the business of murder and activating gazillions of data posts.
This in itself is criminal, but when you're occasionally required to defend two separate co-ordinates a good minute's run away it becomes hair-tearingly frustrating watching them muck about. We don't like to throw the term 'broken' about, but at times Lost Planet 2's AI comes mighty close. There's just no connection to these bozos; indeed they're so bereft of personality we even yearned for the return of Yuri and his pirate pals Luka and Rick. And that's no mean feat.
Thankfully, enlist some human comrades and the entire experience perks up hugely. It's still hamstrung by the same litany of rubbish mechanics as the original - a puny grappling hook that's beyond useless, sluggish knock-down animations and the sense you're controlling a clapped-out dump truck rather than a sprightly warrior - but conversely it's still boasting the same great hooks.
The Vital Suits are back, bigger and better than ever (keep an eye out for the catchily-named GAN-37: Type 1 and GAB-25M Type: 2), your arsenal has been significantly bolstered and the new Category G Akrids make the beasties you butchered in the original look like puny, deformed midgets. Shame the actual Akrid count is miniscule now - the majority of the foes you'll face are dull humanoid types and far too many missions feature mindlessly repetitive industrial complexes.
Also, the 'plot' makes The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus look positively simplistic. The prelude, a nostalgic trek through an infinitely dull icefield, sets the tone for what's to follow perfectly; that is, an uneven mess. As an experiment to create a gripping campaign mode which perfectly integrates co-op multiplayer, it fails on almost every level. Bleurgh.
The original LP was wonderfully, commendably old school in its approach to the shooter genre, all globule pickups, power ups and epic boss showdowns. Disappointingly, this almost feels like a regression. Bereft of its iconically chilly setting, random trudgings through jungle, desert, underwater and urban locales only contribute to a disconnected, disjointed feel - especially when they vary wildly in quality.
The pick-up-and-play feel of the campaign meanwhile, obviously designed for short, sharp multiplayer sessions, hardly helps. You're guaranteed at least one epic Akrid showdown per chapter, but they're often an arduous slog to reach and - with exceptions of demo star Gordiant and the humongous Red Eye - a letdown. The controls continue to frustrate too; the various button layouts feel convoluted and alien in our Western hands, and we're still shaking our heads (and clutching our addled thumbs) at the amount of bloody b-pounding. Even the front end is fiddly, and don't get us started on the checkpointing system from hell.
Yet run your eyes over these screenshots and you could come to think that Lost Planet 2 has something to offer, hidden away among the dross. Co-op'd up with colleagues, we took down sandworms the size of small towns, bragged as we stumbled upon our latest epic Vital Suit and competed to see who could bag the most treasure boxes and 'S' ranks.
Blowing stuff up is often insanely fun, chiefly thanks to some suitably epic weapon design, and though environments aren't nearly as explosive as they should be, the sheer amount of mayhem going on simultaneously gives Lost Planet 2 a suitably frenetic, kinetic feel. You won't play a shooter this year packing anything like as much simultaneous mayhem, with players screaming down their headsets, blasting, dying, and killing all around you.
There are also at least five standout set pieces in the game which will take your breath away; it's just such a shame that these monster adrenaline highs are so few and far between - certainly less so that you'd conceive a shooter with giant guns, mega mechs and oversized beasties might contain.
Visually, the game marries imaginative character, mech and enemy designs with an engine that only drops frames under the most extreme of duress, and though it can look ropey in the texture department on occasion there's enough sheer imagination here to forgive one or two slips - especially during an epic train chase under the scorching desert sun.
We're also staggered at the sheer amount of goodies packed into the proceedings; grabbing the various treasure boxes that crop up after kills allows access to credits and unlockables. These range from new Emotes (funky poses) to nicknames, costume unlocks and weapon upgrades.
Assuming you're into this kind of thing, expect to sink hundreds of hours into pimping your Fight Junkies, NEVEC Black Ops, Femme Fatales and co. Indeed, there's a level of Japanese obsession with knick-knackery we've rarely encountered outside of the most hardcore of tactical JRPGs - we just wish there'd been more time sunk into level design or sorting that wonky team-mate AI out, personally.
In the final analysis, Lost Planet 2 is a real curio and almost a great shooter, but a litany of frankly bizarre design decisions have made the whole disappointingly less than the sum of its potentially brilliant parts. Fans of the original's single-player campaign will be befuddled, but online-inclined gamers will lap up the multiplayer banquet being served up.
It's a really hard one to mark, because essentially because the core direction of the game has shifted seismically. We simply can't stress this enough; if you're planning to play this game on your lonesome, STAY AWAY; if you're all about the human co-op and the multiplayer modes go ahead and jump right in. This is undoubtedly some gamers' idea of blasting heaven; it just isn't quite ours.