Release Date: January 12, 2007
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition has benefited greatly from the Xbox Live Marketplace, perhaps more than any title before it. During Microsoft’s “Bringing it Home” promotion last May (which coincided with E3), Capcom released a single-player demo of the game for download – a full eight months prior to the retail release. Though a little rough around the edges, the visuals were often breathtaking, and the gameplay had potential. Ultimately, that’s what you need to see from a game that’s still several months away: potential. If you can get a good sense of what could be – eight months in advance – then you might consider picking it up later on.
Of course, that was only the first part of the equation. Over Thanksgiving weekend, at a point when people were either knee-deep in Gears of War or a delicious turkey, Capcom quietly issued a multiplayer demo to the Marketplace. And despite the Dead Rising-like issues with hard-to-read text on standard televisions, it was by all accounts a hit. Lost Planet is a brilliant example of how to use complimentary digital distribution to sell a product, even eight months prior to release. Over one million Lost Planet demos were downloaded, and sure enough, over one million copies of the game were sold on the first day in North America and Europe.
After two promising demos, did those million-plus gamers come home with a disappointment? Not by my estimation. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition had the potential to bomb, considering its ambitious blending of genres. It is one part Gears of War and one part MechAssault, but with a pinch of Tomb Raider mixed in for good measure. It sounds like a potential recipe for disaster – or incredible awesomeness. Limited use of the grappling hook allows it to fall just short of the second option, but it still makes for a very good shooter.
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition takes place on the planet E.D.N. III, a snowy wasteland upon which mankind has chosen to colonize. Discovery of the hostile Akrid forces caused them to reconsider, but only until they found out about the powerful thermal energy held within the Akrid bodies. Like a modern-day human stumbling upon oil, it gave them a reason to stay and fight. To combat the Akrid, the humans developed a series of Vital Suits – mechanized armor suits that can be outfitted with a number of large weapons.
As Wayne, an amnesic with strange bionic arms, your initial goal is to take down Green Eye, the monstrous Akrid that apparently killed your father. However, as you dig a bit deeper into the storyline, you discover other reasons to fight, and ultimately enter into a much larger struggle by games end. As a science fiction game, Lost Planet would have greatly benefited from a deep, expansive narrative – something with more emotion, and perhaps stronger social/political references or ties to our present society (like the current “Battlestar Galactica” series).
Instead, the story in Lost Planet feels more like a placeholder; just a means to get you from one mission to the next. Additionally, the characters and their various relationships never feel fully developed, which makes you a bit of an outsider. I never felt emotionally invested in either the characters or the events in the narrative. I do like the concept, though, and it feels like it could have been made into something truly inspiring; or at the very least, thrilling.
Without a great storyline to keep things moving along, Lost Planet relies largely on its varied gameplay to present a compelling experience. During all but one of the 11 missions, you will spend time on both foot and in Vital Suits, with each providing a very distinct style of play. While on foot, Wayne can wield two firearms and one type of grenades. Half a dozen firearms are available, including the standard machine gun, a rocket launcher, and the incredible plasma rifle. Additionally, Wayne can grab one of the weapons made for the Vital Suits (such as a Gatling gun or grenade launcher), but he must usually stand still to use any of these.
The grappling hook grants Wayne the ability to scale some buildings and mountains, but the use of it is extremely limited. Not only does the hook have a limited range, but you cannot use it while in the air. Thus, you will never be able to pull a jump-and-hook move like Lara Croft, which is just heartbreaking. Really, more games should make use of a grappling hook – but only if you are allowed some flexibility with it. Wayne can only toss the thing so far, and most of the opportunities to use it are extremely obvious. It ends up being a much greater tool in multiplayer than it is during the single-player missions.
Wayne wields a life meter, but Lost Planet has a unique way of looking at health management. Along with your life meter is a T-Eng (thermal energy) counter; so long as you have T-Eng handy, your life meter will regenerate after you take a hit. However, if you should run out of T-Eng, your life meter will slowly drain, and any serious hit will knock you out for good. Thankfully, T-Eng is extremely plentiful, and can be obtained from fallen enemies, conspicuously placed thermal energy tanks, and easily activated Data Posts. If you do find yourself running out of T-Eng, either be more aggressive or be more thorough when seeking out T-Eng sources.
If Wayne does not start a level in a Vital Suit, he will likely find several of them on his way to the goal. Vital Suits are strewn all about this arctic apocalypse, and suiting up is as simple as pressing B in front of one. Unlike Wayne himself, the Vital Suits do not repair themselves after taking damage, yet they continue to eat up your T-Eng. Thankfully, like the T-Eng itself, finding additional Vital Suits is usually as easy as walking around a bit. Each VS type has its own special feature, be it a long jump or the ability to transform into a snowtorcycle. Get it? Snow plus motorcycle… ah, forget it.
Whether on foot or in a VS, the real draw of the game has to be the immense boss fights. Each mission has one, and while some are against humans in other Vital Suits, most are against massive, gigantic Akrid beasts. In fact, one boss was too large – it forced the camera behind my VS, making it hard to see where to aim. But other than that, the fights are pretty exciting, not to mention infuriating. Each fight requires a unique strategy, and it can be tough to figure out at times. One of the later bosses requires you to shoot down its tentacles, then get out of your VS and chase the damaged tentacle underground. From there, you can attack the underbelly of the beast, thus triggering the second part of the battle. Whatever the setting, you can expect an intense conclusion to each mission.
This comes as a relief, because the rest of the game can be a bit sluggish. I mean that quite literally – Wayne and most of the Vital Suits move very slowly. Wayne appears to be running, but he could have fooled me. Yet this is not the only way in which Lost Planet comes up a bit short when considering the fluidity of the experience. Taking a big hit will knock you down for a couple seconds, and the bosses will show no honor – they will attack relentlessly, sometimes pinning you to the ground with constant fire. It takes several seconds to get into a Vital Suit, which can be particularly damaging when playing online – especially when someone removes your weapons while you wait, essentially rendering the VS useless.
Though the gameplay can drag a bit, at least you will have some amazing sights to keep your eyes busy. It may not reach a Gears-like level of ultra-detail, but Lost Planet is surely among the best-looking games currently on the market. Everything looks fantastic, starting with Wayne himself. The way he twists his body while aiming (instead of just turning) is entirely convincing, and the Akrid are beautifully rendered to look freaky and frightening, as expected. The level designs are often fantastic, with lightly destructible environments and chunks of snow that come up behind you with every step forward. It looks to be the same engine that powered Dead Rising, but they’ve pushed it much harder than that game ever did. Even the frame rate is steady, though I did occasionally encounter some slowdown during online play.
I also encountered some lag during my Xbox Live excursions, but that’s the worst that I can say about the experience. Lost Planet may not provide the most robust online experience, but it succeeds by providing one of the more unique online experiences on the market. What makes the online play so great, other than the ability to play both on foot or in a Vital Suit, is that the online game isn’t dumbed down to pure deathmatch or capture the flag gametypes. You will still need to maintain your T-Eng level, and as mentioned previously, you will find much more use for the grappling hook when taking on a host of real-life players. Also, you will earn points and advance in level, which unlocks additional playable characters and costumes.
Elimination and Team Elimination are the most deathmatch-like gametypes, but winning is not just about kills. It is about accruing points, which can be earned by killing others, taking out foes in Vital Suits, and activating Data Posts. On the flipside, you will lose points for dying, and the match ends if one person loses all of his/her points before time runs out. The Fugitive gametype pits one gamer against up to fifteen others, and your goal (if you are the fugitive) is to evade the others and earn points either through kills or by moving around. Otherwise, your goal is to find the fugitive and deplete his/her Battle Gauge before time expires.
Post Grab steals the show, pitting two teams against each other in a race to activate a handful of data posts located all around the level. Reclaiming a post from the other team takes a solid twenty seconds of button tapping, which leaves you helpless to attack. The tension is incredible, and Post Grab is truly unlike anything else I’ve played on a console. Thankfully, the immediate success of the game means that the servers are always filled with gamers from across the globe, and I never had any trouble finding a full (or nearly full) match in any of the gametypes. It may not be quite the melee depicted in the television commercials (in which dozens of humans and Vital Suits throw down in the snow), but 16 seems like an appropriate number for online play, considering the Vital Suits.
At less than ten hours in length, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition feels a bit brief, but the frenetic action makes up for the vapid storyline and slightly sluggish feel. And though the online play may not be as robust as in other shooters, it provides an experience unrivaled by any current game on the market. I don’t suspect that Lost Planet will still be on our minds at the end of the year, but it certainly serves as one of the key releases in an otherwise slow winter.
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