Lost Planet: Extreme Conditions was one of the earlier games for the Xbox 360, and it really stood out for its unique gameplay and interesting premise. It had monster insects, a thermal meter, space pirates, a grappling hook and even giant robots, so it seems like it had enough features to be schizophrenic, but it all held together very well. It should come as no surprise that Lost Planet 2 is focusing on improving the formula set forth by the first game. Even those who left Lost Planet feeling a little lukewarm toward it might want to give the sequel a chance, as it is shaping up to hold onto what worked in Lost Planet while fixing or improving what didn't.
Unlike the first game, Lost Planet 2 doesn't follow the story of any single character. Instead, we join a band of soldiers who are struggling with the changing universe 20 years after the events of the first title. The game fully supports co-op gameplay, with four characters working together to plow their way through enemy lines. In the demo, this was represented by an interesting "team health" system. Each character has his own health, but then the team as a whole has points. When a player captures a checkpoint or does certain things correctly, he'll gain points, and when he doesn't, he loses points. As long as there are points left, a player can respawn at any checkpoint in the area. If you run out of points, your team is in a bad situation and can't respawn. It's a good way to encourage players to be cautious without the all-or-nothing risk of Capcom's other big co-op experiment, Resident Evil 5. There were quite a few checkpoints scattered around the demo area, and collecting them not only helped our team pointwise, but it also gave us extra respawn areas, which were essential for flanking our foe.
The biggest difference in Lost Planet 2 is that you're no longer trapped in a hellish ice wasteland. During our demo, we seemed to be playing on a rather nice little tropical world, filled with lush greenery and sparkling water. As a result, T-Energy isn't quite the "in-demand" thing it used to be, but that doesn't mean that it has gone out of style. Indeed, knock-off Harmonizers have trickled out among the fringe elements of the universe, and they in turn have taken to collecting T-Energy for their own usage. T-Energy is used manually in Lost Planet 2. You press the Start button to activate your Harmonizer, which pumps T-Energy into your health bar and refills it. If you have enough T-Energy, you can refill your entire bar as many times as you like, although you can even share it with other players, allowing them to refill their own health if they've been less cautious or lucky than you are. It's a lot more crude than even the basic Harmonizer that you had in Lost Planet 1, but it does the job.
Weapons haven't changed overly much. You can still use two weapons and switch between them at will, although the weapon variety seems nice and large. In the demo, we got to see a machine gun, rocket launcher and shotgun, but vital to the game are the new "support" weapons. One thing that is often overlooked in shooters is the ability to help out your teammates in some way besides killing someone or helping them back to their feet. Lost Planet 2 will add a welcome bit of variety to the genre with these support weapons. While they take up a weapon slot, you can use them to increase your allies' abilities. For example, the weapon in the demo functioned a bit like a sniper rifle so you could zoom in and out and target any ally. Once you "shoot" them, the ally gains a glowing red aura and does a heck of a lot more damage with any attack. You could even fire it at your own feet for a self-buff and then switch back to your other weapon to dish out some seriously hurting. The built-in grappling hook has also returned, and while it isn't too different from the last game, there has been one rather big change. Players can now stick to walls for as long as they'd like by holding the grapple button, which allows you a bit more control over when you move. You can't fire while doing this, but it makes it much easier to use in combat and allows you to prepare traps or to use the environment as cover from enemy attacks.
Vital Suits, or "VS," also continue to play a big part in the game. It's been 20 years since Lost Planet, and while there don't appear to be any suits on par with the Zone of the Enders style L-P-9999 that you used at the end of the first game, they've certainly improved a bit. For one, all Vital Suits now have built-in weapons. These weapons vary from suit to suit, and can have mini Vulcan cannons mounted on the chest, or the ability to punch enemies with the suit's powerful robotic arms. The end result is the same: dead enemies. These built-in weapons are important because they offer you a way to attack even if you've run out of ammo. However, you can still alter the weapons of any suits that you find, and the ammo-based weapons do seem to be more useful in most situations. The Vital Suits also seem substantially more agile now; both of the suits that we saw seemed a little faster and a lot more capable of moving upward. One had a very lengthy "boost" ability that let the pilot hover and fire, or fly over enemies and blow them to shreds. You can even repair a damaged Vital Suit, which is a great way to keep a particularly good suit in business longer.
Our demo featured only one enemy, but it was a real doozy of a foe. One of the Akrid, the same bug-like enemies that you fought in Lost Planet, didn't seem particularly bothered by the change in climate. It's big enough to dwarf all but the most substantial foes in the first game. As a tremendous creature that walks around on six legs and uses a powerful tentacled mouth to strike at anything that moves, it really wasn't something we could fight on our own.
Like the last game, this foe has a number of glowing weak points to strike at, with the weak points glowing brighter the more vulnerable they are. However, it wasn't as easy as shooting the glowy, as we learned quickly. I grabbed a VS and used its improved jets to jump up onto the creature's back, where its weakest point was located. After unloading an amount of ammo into it, the created retracted the weak point and unleashed a burst of electricity that almost sent me to my doom.
Afterward, the folks playing had to work together to target its legs, and at least three legs had to be taken out before it would open its "mouth" and expose the weak point within. However, this particular enemy was aquatic and would dive under water at every chance, and if we didn't work together, it would simply escape our firepower before we could do lasting damage. It felt a bit like a multiplayer Shadow of the Colossus, with players in VS and with grappling hooks trying to scale the beast to hit its weak points without being crushed under its bulk. One could even go inside the mother's mother and try to take it out from the inside, although this was dangerous. It was a bit tough, since everyone at the demo booth had a hard time talking over the E3 din, but it was still satisfying when two people ended up working together successfully.
Lost Planet 2's logo almost appears to read Lost Planet Squared, and that really is the best way to describe the game. There's nothing tremendously unfamiliar about it, and other than the lack of the omnipresent snow from the first game, it's similar on the surface. However, everything about the title feels improved or polished from its predecessor. The controls are slightly more fluid and easy to use, the weapons more interesting and varied, the Vital Suits more versatile, and the enemies more intimidating. The co-op experience seems like a solid idea, and even if the game is nothing but a series of four players working together against increasingly ridiculous giant insects, it seems like it would still be a blast.
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