Release Date: February 26, 2008
Lost Planet is the second of two games that Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man, has put out in the last couple of years, the first being Dead Rising. Both games are interesting anomalies, of a sort, because they're the result of a Japanese creator working in two very American subgenres: the sandbox game (or, if not strictly speaking a sandbox game, at least an action-adventure game that gives the player a substantial amount of leeway with gameplay goals, which, as Inafune told me at E3 2006, is a very rare thing for a Japanese game to feature) and the third-person shooter.
As such, Lost Planet is odd because it doesn't play like you'd expect it to. After you play enough action games, you get a certain tendency to assume certain things about new titles in the genre simply because they're in that genre. Lost Planet looks like it ought to play like Gears of War, but it doesn't, and it takes a few frustrating levels to get that through your head.
It's also odd because Lost Planet's been ported twice now, first to the PC and now to the PS3, and it's changed remarkably little in each transition. Most games seem to get souped up with extra content when they get released for new platforms; Resident Evil 4, for example, got about four hours of bonus missions when it came out for the PS2.
Lost Planet, conversely, is virtually unchanged. Granted, the PS3 version is a slightly more attractive package than the 360 disc; for the same price, you get the extra multiplayer maps from Xbox Live and a few more multiplayer skins, including Mega Man and Dead Rising's protagonist, Frank West. In all other regards, though, including graphically, it's just about the same game.
You play the single-player mission as Wayne, an amnesiac who's found frozen inside his mech suit by an isolated group of colonists on the ice world E.D.N. III, which is infested with the Akrid, an insectile alien species that are so powerful and hostile that they've already driven humanity off the planet once before. On the other hand, if you crack an Akrid open with sufficiently powerful firearms, you get a rich candy center of valuable thermal energy, so just leaving them on their frozen rock doesn't seem to be an option.
(There's probably a decent metaphor in here somewhere, if you care to look.)
All Wayne can remember is how to pilot his Vital Suit mech, and that an alien monster called Green Eye killed his father. His desire for revenge against the Akrid leads him, and thus you, into 11 missions of alien-shooting rampage.
Lost Planet's central hook is that Wayne has an onboard supply of thermal energy, which is all that lets him survive in E.D.N. III's hostile climate. Thus, your thermal energy is rapidly dwindling with every second you remain in play, and you lose it even faster if you get injured.
You can get thermal energy by killing Akrid, of which there are many, and from blowing up parts of your environment. Thus, you need to either be shooting at something, blowing something up, or en route to a new location where you will shoot things and blow things up at all times, or you're going to slowly die from heat loss.
You can find a variety of vehicles, most of which are various Vital Suits, which makes a lot of the game's control quirks make more sense. Lost Planet is a mech game at heart, but it leaves you on foot most of the time. Wayne can weather an enormous amount of punishment as long as he's getting a constant drip-feed of thermal energy, and the mechs he drives are much the same way. Thus, you might want to play the game like any other shooter, where you circle-strafe and use mobility as your greatest weapon, but Lost Planet actually rewards you for bulldogging through encounters, blowing up everything you see and moving as fast as you can with no regard for your own safety. It's an interesting approach to gameplay, but it's utterly counterintuitive for anyone who's played a shooter before.
It also makes Lost Planet's multiplayer mode — an otherwise pretty standard-issue shooter, featuring objective-based and deathmatch gameplay modes — somewhat odd. It's not a twitchfest at all. Instead, it's won by tactics, more or less; it's easy to think that he who gets to the mech suits first is going to win, but there are several solid methods of dispatching a mech from a distance. You have to outthink people because sheer reflexes aren't enough to win.
Lost Planet is full of moments like that; it looks like one kind of game, but plays like another. It's not surprising to see that its 360 and PC incarnations got mixed reviews, but it's worth checking out to see if it's your kind of shooter. There's very little else like it, and if you approach it on its own terms, it offers a unique brand of shooter gameplay.
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