ReviewI don't usually do reviews of Xbox 360 games, but when the good folks at M80 and Capcom offered to wing a copy of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition my way in exchange for a review on my site, how could I refuse?
For those who don't know, Lost Planet is a third-person shooter from Capcom, recently released for the Xbox 360, which is based on a frozen world known as "E.D.N. III", infested by a race of insect-like aliens which contain the only known source of a previously unheard-of power source, thermal energy -- which we can only assume is different from just lighting a few logs on fire, though given that it's an icy hellhole of a planet, I guess they need all the heat they can get.
While primarily taking place on foot, there are a number of mech-like machines known as Vital Suits with varying abilities, as well as fixed gun emplacements and other things to bolster your firepower. You play the part of Wayne, a former pilot of a VS, now suffering from amnesia and working with a group of snow pirates in his quest for revenge against Green-Eye, a particularly large and nasty alien that killed his father. Being a fairly versatile sort of guy, Wayne can hop into just about any working VS or other piece of hardware that he finds, and even while on foot, he is equipped with a grappling hook that allows access to otherwise unreachable areas.
The game is fairly straightforward in this regard -- get from point A to point B while killing as many things as you can along the way, and trying not to die yourself. While certain situations (especially boss battles) are near-impossible without a VS, many of the game's areas can be completed just as easily on foot, which adds variety and an extra edge of challenge to the game. While vehicles have a fixed health meter and can be destroyed, Wayne's health bar is constantly topping itself up, at the expense of the thermal energy he carries -- something that must be topped up constantly along the way, as it keeps you alive as well as powering certain machines. Luckily, just about every enemy drops globs of thermal energy, so it's not hard to keep the number at a healthy level.
There are a number of weapons scattered around each level, and along with many shooters these days, Wayne can carry two regular weapons (ranging from the humble assault rifle to the devastating rocket launcher), as well as lugging around a larger weapon designed for a VS, though the weight of these tends to make combat clumsy, and the main reason to pick one up is to attach it to one of the two weapon nodes on a VS, allowing even your heavily-armoured combat to be fairly customizable. Neither weapons nor Vital Suits are brought through to the next mission, however, which encourages using the more powerful weapons instead of hoarding them for a rainy day.
I think the first thing that must be mentioned in the game's favour is the graphics. While not quite at the level of the venerable Gears of War, Lost Planet manages to possibly be the second most pretty game I've ever played, with impressively large explosions, beautiful landscapes, and intricately-detailed monstrosities to fight. It's hard not to feel cold as you make your way through the frozen tundra and abandoned cities, and only the most stubborn of gamers would not be impressed by the visuals on offer.
The controls are mostly superb, with only a few minor issues (see below), with movement and combat feeling very fluid and natural, though the assisted aiming tends to compensate a little too much at times. One of the features I especially appreciated was the automatic use of the grappling hook when falling off a ledge or into a hole. Instead of simply plummeting to your doom (or worse, the game not even allowing you to step over the edge), Wayne quickly shoots out the grappling hook and secures a hold on the edge, allowing you to climb back up or descend slowly and safely at your own pace. This feature has saved my life more times than once, and it's a welcome addition to the gameplay.
The selection of weapons is varied and well-balanced, with no one weapon being distinctly better than any of the others, with the possible exception of the large laser cannon for the Vital Suits -- while they're hard to find and the game almost never offers more than one, a dual-laser configuration can make short work of bosses and other tough situations. There are a number of different grenade types available, too, further allowing the player to customize the game to suit their playing style, rather than vice-versa.
And finally, the level design is mostly solid, usually keeping good pace and only leaving a few "where do I go now?" areas, the bane of gamers everywhere. Things seem varied enough to keep the gameplay interesting, without areas seeming too similar or boring.
While the movement system mentioned above is mostly fluid and natural, it has a few quirks. It's impossible to aim too high or too low, and often this restriction seems frustrating when trying to aim at a specific area, or grapple up to a high ledge. The left and right bumpers are used to make a quick 90-degree turn, but this system doesn't seem to work terribly well either, usually overshooting the desired direction and taking longer overall than turning with the analog stick. There is also no introduction or tutorial whatsoever for the basic controls -- something that won't bother experienced gamers, but may be difficult for the less skilled.
Switching view is similarly hampered. There are three viewpoints available -- the typical third-person view, a zoomed-in view for better aiming (also used with the sniper rifle), and a first-person view. Unfortunately, switching between them requires the use of the D-pad, and feels clunky and inconvenient, something I'd rather have seen improved and mapped to the bumpers. It's almost never necessary to change the view except when using the sniper rifle (which isn't available in many parts of the game), but this still seems like poor design.
Some of the boss battles are just outright frustrating, bringing back memories from days of yore when a boss fight involved dying several times until the exact technique is mastered. While not quite that bad in Lost Planet, some of the attacks are literally impossible to dodge without taking some damage, and often it can be quite hit-and-miss depending on what pattern of attacks are used.
Falling over is fun, isn't it? No, not really, though you'd better get used to it once you finish the first few missions. It seems like just about every enemy, attack, or random event in Lost Planet causes Wayne to stumble, fall, or be stunned in some way -- often even when he's inside a VS. This may not sound like a huge problem, but some of the later bosses have the habit of stunning several times in a row, a series of explosions that prevent any kind of movement followed by another just a fraction of a second after control has been regained.
I'm sorry to say it, but this is Lost Planet's biggest flaw: Being rendered unable to move by just about everything, even explosions that land nearby but not close enough to cause damage, simply isn't fun. This is worse in the cases of the bosses that make you stunned or trip, then immediately follow up with a heavy-damage attack, leaving you unable to do anything but watch in despair.
And finally, the explosions. Yes, they're pretty. Yes, they're probably the nicest explosions I've seen on a game so far, but could we please tone them down a little? Many firefights simply consist of a series of explosions all over the screen, as an abnormal amount of soldiers are equipped with rocket launchers, and it's hard to even see what's going on through the solid wall of smoke, continual balls of flame, and inevitable stumbling or falling from the blasts. The assisted aiming helps greatly while firing blindly into the smoke, but this doesn't change the fact that the game sometimes feels like an action movie gone horribly wrong, with the pyrotechnics crew having a field day.
Overall, Lost Planet is a great game with some annoying, but not massive flaws. Despite the snippets of storyline between the often-unrelated missions, the game lacks depth and mostly feels like an all-out action-fest where the focus is more on destruction and mayhem than actually accomplishing anything. However, for those of us who enjoy a little mindless violence from time to time and just want something entertaining and straightforward to pass the time, you wouldn't go far wrong with this one.
It's not perfect by a long shot, but Gravecat would recommend Lost Planet to anyone who enjoys arcade-ish shooters, big guns, mechs, and giant aliens trying to put a damper on your day.
Written by Wolfcat.org
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