Release Date: February 26, 2008
Before we begin, consider the following definition:
may•hem (n): A state of violent disorder or riotous confusion; havoc.
This is Lost Planet in a nutshell. It's noisy and chaotic, and as disorientation and confusion envelop the player, you'll start to lose interest in how random and unpolished it all feels.
Right before playing this, I came off a pretty good week by finishing the last savory moments of Assassin's Creed and taking a big, satisfying bite out of Crysis. Gaming was good, and I was looking forward to Capcom's sci-fi action-fest, especially considering all the hype it got when it first came out for the Xbox 360 over a year ago. I'd thought about grabbing it for the PC several times, imagining epic battles not unlike those in Tribes of yore. Alas, the PS3 version has landed before me to plead its case, and all is not well.
The story revolves around a handful of characters stranded on a planet that was being colonized until a bunch of nasty bugs, both big and small, started ripping up the joint, determined to keep their frozen husk of a world for themselves. The folks you see and hear through the story, well, you can try to like them (and boy, do you have to work at it) or just ignore and skip ahead to the actual missions. There are snow pirates and other miscreants out to do you in alongside the bugs, though no one is really allied with anyone else here. The game plays out in third-person view, similar to some of Capcom's better franchises, Devil May Cry and Chaos Legion, with the gunplay akin to Dead to Rights or Max Payne, only without any real feeling of control or power over what's going on and what happens to you.
Lost Planet incorporates a grappling hook that doesn't even work as well as Tenchu's and serves mainly to get you to places you can't quite jump to on your own. This makes for some occasionally aggravating platforming sections where you have to find the right place to zap with the grapple, and then hope the ledge isn't so narrow that you zip up and shoot right past it, plummeting to your doom. There are usually several other factors beyond your control, making these segments harder than they need to be, such as a big flying Akrid (an alien bug) swooping in from overhead, its slipstream knocking you to the ground, or another giant critter underground having a seizure and making the terra firma shake till you lose your footing, at which point you also lose control of the camera for some inexplicable reason. The grapple is supposedly useful for snagging onto enemy bugs and mechs, zipping in, doing some "special move" damage, and then jumping clear. The problem is, the grapple has about a 10-foot range, so you have to get really close to these things to use it, and odds are that you'll get massacred before it ever happens. There's also little to no interplay between the opposing races. You can't manage to turn bugs against snow pirates or get them caught in a crossfire; it's everybody versus you.
When you grow tired of traversing the game on foot, hop in one of a few different designs of mechs. The differences are both cosmetic and functional. One can transform into a hover bike that you basically use to careen into things with. I tried using its "boost jump" feature to clear a gap in a wrecked bridge and merely ended up at the bottom of said chasm. Other mechs have double jump or hovering capabilities, or can boost laterally faster than others, but at no point do they zip around with the same speed or satisfaction as the mechs in something like Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. Mounting up, while providing you with some more cover and firepower, generally slows you down and makes movement and control even more clunky, thus opening you up to taking more fire from enemies. It also exacerbates the aiming problems, as your body often blocks your view of what you're trying to target. On foot, you can get around this by jumping into first-person view mode. In the mech, you just have to deal with it as-is.
The boss battles are certainly big and climactic, but they also get repetitive quickly, as every one of them revolves around finding the yellowish weak spots on the enemy, then filling them with as much ordnance as possible. Bosses don't wait till the end of a level to show up, either. One is at your heels within the first couple of minutes of a level, and after wasting about 15 minutes trying to take him down, one of my comrades back at the homestead radios in that I don't stand a chance and should just make tracks. Thanks for the late update! I had the giant worm almost dead anyway, so I finished it off and thought I could relax then … when he simply respawned. That's just cheap and aggravating. Without much more to the big fights, they all sort of run together. Many of the boss fights are ridiculously not in your favor, and you'll have to retry them over and over just to get the hang of how not to get massacred, but at least the game lets you restart right at that battle — most of the time.
Rockets go boom and shatter platforms around you, blasting smoke and debris into the sky. I suppose the chaos of battle is nice and all, but when it feels like you have a peashooter versus an entire army with giant bugs, lasers, mechs and missiles all trying to squash you at the same time, it becomes impossible to tell where to shoot, and death isn't far behind. The personal energy level always ticking down pushes you forward to constantly refill it, lest you die from exposure. The enemies look pretty similar and in many stages blend in completely with the background. At that point, you just have to wait to get shot at and see from which direction the shot came. In your favor is the fact that just about all of the enemies are well overdue for a visit to LensCrafters, as they rely more on huge volleys of fire rather than precision shooting to get the job done. However, the abundance of rocketmen will make sure they never completely lose the advantage.
The in-game options allow you to turn on an aiming assist, try different aiming methods, review the map (only if you have a nearby, activated comm post, that is), and fiddle with other settings. Auto-aim targets the wrong thing as often as it targets the correct one, but the biggest screw-up here is that accessing these options doesn't pause the game. While you're tweaking your controls and settings, you're still getting blasted in the face with 50-megaton bazookas and kamikazed by overgrown mosquitoes. What's more, changing weapons forces you to stop moving, and believe me, this isn't a game where stopping for any reason is a wise move.
Once the smoke clears and the dust settles, Lost Planet isn't really that good-looking. It looked more like a high-res PS2 game than something that shows off the technical muscle of Sony's latest high-priced gizmo. Having seen Assassin's Creed and Uncharted on the same system, it's clear that no extra effort went into making this title shine. What's worse, the frame rate bogged down to a crawl several times, especially during boss fights. The multiplayer maps look a bit better and offer some much-needed variety to the bland snowy aesthetic predominant in the single-player portion of the game. Stomping through the jungle in a 30-foot mech was refreshing after all that drab wintry scenery.
Speaking of multiplayer, remember that allusion to Tribes earlier? Yeah, Lost Planet has almost nothing in common with it, certainly not in the depth of customization or scope of the maps. It does have vehicles in the form of mechs you can hop into, but without sustainable energy levels, they eventually shut down and drop you back on foot. There's a fair amount of maps, unlockable characters and outfits as you progress up the rankings, which is apparently the only place to play. The game doesn't feature LAN support, has no bots, and the unranked area has zero servers running in it. The ranked players are hardcore leveling up the charts and don't screw around, so n00bs should beware. It does have voice chat, though, so you can taunt or be taunted to go along with the virtual teabagging.
The four multiplayer modes include Elimination and Team Elimination (Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, essentially), Fugitive (everybody hunts one player), and Post Grab, which plays out like Capture and Hold in similar games. There's no Capture the Flag or attack/defend, so some more variety and depth would have been nice. There's no way to get your feet wet without just getting owned, unfortunately. You can't practice a map, nor can you start a game you create until someone else joins.
There are a few technical aspects of Lost Planet that deserve mentioning. The first time you boot up the game, it wants to grab the 1.12 patch. Then it requires an install to the PS3 hard disk, which takes about 11 minutes and eats up about 5GB of your drive. Required installs seem to be Capcom's thing lately, and I can't say I'm crazy about it. Being down to about 15GB free on my own PS3, each of these installs gets me closer and closer to not having any room for saves, other game installs, or demos. Beyond that, your save file for Lost Planet is copy-protected, so you can't even move it off to an SD card as a backup. It's a bothersome trend, but I hear it's related to the online components and not letting people copy them for cheating purposes. What about taking them to someone else's house? Guess Capcom doesn't approve of you having friends in real life.
This story, theme and gameplay of Lost Planet basically boil down to "Starship Troopers" + Armored Core – Fun = Lost Planet. I had high hopes for it, looked forward to it, and ended up disappointed by it. With the year between the original release and now, the devs could have cleaned up some of the missteps or beefed up the visuals. What we got instead is a game that requires a patch installation before you can proceed, and comes with a reduced MSRP of $40 to compensate for its later debut on the Sony console. If you're in the market for a so-so shooter with some crazy (if frustrating) big boss battles and generic weapons, and you, haven't tried this anywhere else by now, give it a rent. You may dig it. I, on the other hand, will be reclaiming my hard drive space ASAP.
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