When Capcom started making games for this generation of consoles, it didn't immediately go for franchise sequels like Devil May Cry 4 or Resident Evil 5, nor did they go for franchise reboots like Bionic Commando or re-releases of their arcade classics. Instead, Capcom decided to start off this generation of gaming on the Xbox 360 with two brand-new IPs: Dead Rising and Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Both were well liked by the gaming community and sold very well, with the latter title even getting ports to the PC and PlayStation 3. After Capcom focused on its other big franchises, it has decided to return to the two that got them started on the modern consoles. The sequels for both games will be multiplatform releases, and Lost Planet 2 will have the honor of coming out first. Unlike most video game sequels, however, this one is different enough from the original that fans of the prior game might not necessarily be fans of this iteration.
Over 10 years have passed since the events of the first game, and the planet of E.D.N. III has certainly seen its fair share of changes. The planet that was once covered in snow and ice has thawed, revealing environments and vegetation that make the planet more Earth-like. The thawed environments, while making things more hospitable, has also made way for Category-G Akrid, monsters that are the largest the planet has ever seen, but they also hold more thermal energy due to their size. With thermal energy still a valuable resource, one military organization has taken it upon itself to capture as many of these Akrid as possible, whatever the cost.
Unlike the first game, there isn't one central hero. Instead, the game sticks to a group mechanic and while there is a squad of soldiers that the story revolves around, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are the protagonists or that you get to play as them all of the time. For the six major chapters, you'll change perspectives often as you use groups from all five factions to get through the story. Despite being different factions, each one plays out the same, so there's no worry about getting used to one style of play only to relearn another style once a chapter is done. All in all, the six major chapters, each with subchapters that, in turn, have their own subchapters, come together for a campaign mode that takes around 14 hours to complete.
Despite the relative change in scenery, the basic gameplay remains the same. Your soldier can still only carry two gun types and one type of explosive ordnance at a time, and while every weapon only has a limited amount of ammunition, you will still be able to find plenty of weaponry on the battlefield. You still have your grapple device in case you need to get to higher ground or pull your human enemies closer to you. The VS mechs are still at your disposal in a few situations, and you can strip them of their weaponry when they break down. Data posts also litter the land and help map out your surroundings. Finally, the presence of the Akrid gives you the chance of obtaining thermal energy, which is a valuable resource because it's the only way you can gain energy in battle.
The number of similarities in the gameplay is matched only by the number of changes. As expected, there are more weapons at your disposal this time around as well as new VS types to play with. Interaction with the VS mechs has changed, too, as you can now hop on an occupied VS and hang on the side while it moves. A good number of the environments no longer have you in extreme subzero temperatures, so while your thermal energy won't be constantly depleting, it can still be used as an active health pack, slowly refilling your health to full capacity or quickly giving you health with a button command.
Random item boxes now appear alongside thermal energy when an enemy or Akrid is killed, and those boxes can give you new weaponry, new customization pieces, or more credits that can then be spent on a slot machine to win items that weren’t in the random box drops. The Akrid battles have also undergone some changes due to their increased size, as some fights will force you go inside the Akrid in order to kill them. Most of the fights take quite a while and feel quite epic.
One of the major things players will notice is that the campaign mode, usually a single-player experience, doesn't play much like a single-player mode. In what is seen as the biggest change to the game, the entire campaign can be played with up to four people online or up to two offline, and [layers are no longer limited to one life per level. Every situation requires the presence of four players, so AI bots will fill in the remaining spots. With the battle point system, players earn points for completing missions and activating data posts, while deaths and suicides take away those points until the player has none left. Players can also give each other thermal energy packets in case they run low, and at the end of each mission, they are given a letter grade on their performance which, in turn, leads to their faction character leveling up and earning titles.
For a single-player experience, the game is deeply flawed. With the exception of the training level, there are no short levels in Lost Planet 2. The average subchapter can range between 30 minute and an hour, and while this is a very welcome feature since many modern games feel short, none of the levels contain any checkpoints. Even on the easiest difficulty, the game can be tough, so it's frustrating to go through a subchapter, lose all of your battle points before the end, and have to start over from the very beginning. Adding to that frustration is the inclusion of load screens that appear at curious times. For example, you can finish a subsection of a subchapter and get a loading screen before you get the results screen. This will then be followed by a mandatory 10-second wait, another load screen, and then a new level. The load screens vary in length, so they aren't obscenely long, but they do get annoying, especially since it seems that some could have been omitted altogether.
With the odds against you in the campaign, it is always nice to have AI partners that know what they're doing and can help out. Sadly, this is not the case in Lost Planet 2. They can activate a few posts on their own and kill off the human enemies and the smaller Akrid well enough, but beyond that, they are abysmal. They are kind in giving you thermal energy, but they often do so without you needing it. If they see you activating a post, they will stand by to cover you, but they don't shoot when you're being attacked. The same goes for any objective that requires you to put up some defense for a period of time. If you decide to backtrack to grab an item or go for a secondary objective, they'll simply soldier on to the end, leaving you all alone to handle things. In a way, they may as well not be there at all. There isn't a pause feature, either, so even though you are playing alone, you can't stop the action unless you bring up your PDA. Finally, the game has some real inconsistencies with certain terrain, particularly water. Some pools of water will let you stroll on the bottom while others instantly kill you.
For the campaign mode, multiplayer proves to be a better way to experience the game. Human fighters certainly do a better job than the AI ones, so you can be assured that your teammates won't simply be standing around while you handle all of the fighting or are getting assaulted when completing objectives. The experience is lag-free, and the dropped random item boxes become more interesting since players are now likely to compete over who gets them first. Even offline split-screen multiplayer makes the campaign mode enjoyable, despite having some AI bots present and dealing with a split-screen setup like Resident Evil 5.
The multiplayer experience resembles Monster Hunter, except without melee weapons and the focus placed squarely on fighting instead of activities like cooking. Despite the improvements made by the virtue of human participants being present, the campaign mode still suffers from the unforgiving checkpoint system of the single-player mode, making campaign subchapter completion brutal unless you have a good and experienced team. The mode also doesn't give players the ability to jump in and out of games in progress. Instead, it makes players wait in a lobby and watch statistics go by until a subchapter has ended, which would have been fine had those subchapters been short. Since they last upwards of an hour, the chances of a player successfully entering a game are slim unless the player happens to join just as a subchapter ends or right before it begins. The other curiosity is that players may only play levels that they've already completed. This obviously makes sense if that player is the game's host, but it also means that you can't join any games played in levels you've never seen before, making the mode feel restrictive despite giving you the illusion of freedom.
The rest of the multiplayer modes offer a bit of the material from the first game along with some stuff borrowed from other games. There are plenty of game-specific multiplayer modes. As expected, you have your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch options, with deaths and battle point numbers determining who wins the bout, though team deathmatch also has the option to include hunting down a leader in a VS mech. Fugitive has one person running around as a marked man while everyone else hunts down him or her. The winner is the one who can reach the assigned limit as the fugitive. Data Post matches involve either capturing more data posts than the other team or holding one for a longer time period. Finally, Akrid Egg Battle is much like capture the flag, where you have to capture as many eggs as possible and take them to your base before time expires. The modes are all fun, and getting into a game is fairly easy since lots of people are playing at this time. Like the campaign mode, every match that I played during the review period was lag-free.
While all of the modes can be played separately, Capcom decided to also include a Faction mode. Like Chromehounds, the game takes on a pseudo-MMO vibe by allowing certain match types per week for general control of the planet. You join a faction for the week and are locked into that faction whenever you play certain match types, and the winning faction gains bonuses. It becomes a great and addictive way to ensure that people participate in multiplayer.
Graphically, Lost Planet 2 impresses … to a point. The story line gives the game the freedom to move away from underground areas and snowy landscapes, and while those environments are still here, the variety gives the game more eye candy. Large explosions still look great with some additional motion blur, and the various particle effects also hold their own. The human characters look fine, with costumes varying wildly between sleek military uniforms to tattered rags with leather and metal; the characters animate well in all situations.
The small- to medium-sized Akrid also look and animate well, but the larger Category-G Akrid impress the most. Their animations look just as good as the smaller Akrid, but their sheer size makes them impressive. The fact that there are more of them in the game, each one more impressive than the last, really drives home just how much care the developers put into making creatures that can still wow even the most jaded gamer.
Unfortunately, the flaws in the PS3 port of the original game don't seem to have been addressed. In particular, the frame rate still isn't very smooth. Executing successive fast turns or encountering large groups of Akrid tends to make the game drop frames or pause to let everything catch up, and this effect is heightened when explosions and lots of gunfire come into play. This gives the performance edge to the Xbox 360 version, which does not exhibit any of these graphical performance issues. This is made more perplexing by the fact that this same engine was used on Resident Evil 5, which ran smoothly on the PS3 under similar situations. The flaws don't occur on a constant basis, but they appear with enough frequency to be noticeable.
The controls end up being complicated but manageable after you learn the ropes. With all of the buttons and triggers assigned to some weapon or function, the controls seem complicated on paper, but you'll get used to the basics quickly enough if you've played the first title. The confusion comes in with other functions that require interesting button combinations. If you want to send thermal energy to another player or drop your weapon, but you hit the incorrect button combination or do so with the wrong timing, you could blow up yourself and the person you're helping out. The same button for melee also controls sprinting, so you can hit air instead of running away from the enemy. With all of the button combinations, you'd think that it would have been better if some functions were assigning to other buttons instead of having two buttons do the same thing. Normally, this could be rectified by letting the player customize every aspect of the controls, but there are only presets available, so anyone who's looking to simplify the controls is out of luck.
The sound proves to be one of Lost Planet 2's stronger points. The music doesn't play too often during battles, but when it does, the score provides a sense of how epic the battles can become. With less music playing, the sound effects have to impress, and that certainly is the case here. The explosions and gunfire are loud and really kick into high gear if you have a good Dolby Digital system. The Akrid screams also act the same way, with ear-piercing shrills replacing the heavy bass of everything around you. The voices are nothing spectacular, but they are good and none of them are difficult to understand in the heat of battle. The voices from other people's headsets seem to have an echo, but when they're played through your sound system instead of a headset, they aren't overpowered by the gunfire. All in all, this is a game for which you want to turn up your volume.
Your enjoyment of Lost Planet 2 will depend on what you expect from the game. If you are looking for a solid single-player experience like the first game, then this isn't the title for you. The numerous load screens, below-average teammate AI, lack of coherent story, and lack of checkpoints in a title where chapters can take an hour to complete make this a solo experience that only fans of extreme difficulty levels would enjoy. For players who are coming into the game solely for the multiplayer experience, Lost Planet 2 is much better but still flawed. The plethora of online modes and options are only hindered by the inability to join games in progress and, for the PS3 specifically, an inconsistent frame rate. If you know that you'll mostly be playing multiplayer matches, then you should rent or buy the title; the experience isn't something that is easily replicated by other PS3 multiplayer games on the market. If multiplayer isn't a priority for you, rent the game and see if you can tough it out. There is so much potential in Lost Planet 2, but it's hidden under a blanket of flaws.
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