We are seeing games change. They way we get them, the way we hear about them, talk about them, and the way we play them. Lost Planet is one of the figure heads leading this charge of modernisation, albeit in a subtle way. Playable code was available, publicly, a whole eight months before the finished game itself, with multiplayer maps out three months before the final release. These demos attracted a groundswell of positive word of mouth for the game, the likes of which marketing people can only dream of in their very stickiest dreams.
And now, we have the finished game. But is it like getting to spend longer with a good friend, or just an unwelcome house guest you can’t wait to kick out?
Lots of people are using ‘old school’ as a phrase to describe Lost Planet, and they are all wrong. Just because the core game manages to successfully rekindle the feeling of fun many gamers may have forgotten, it doesn’t mean that it apes games of yesteryear. What it does do, and does very well, is to combine elements from other genres, and bring them together neatly. Take, for example, the feel of the game. It’s an action based shooter, obviously influenced by movies. But on some levels, it feels almost like an RPG – even better, it feels almost exactly like starting the RPG half way through – you know, right at the point where the game is getting good, and has just started giving up the best equipment for you to play with...
The weapon set is, on one level, quite basic – Machine gun, Shotgun, Sniper, a couple of futuristic guns, and a selection of grenades - such as plasma to stun, or Disc for precision throwing and large blast radius. The grapple line offers some variation from the norm, but isn’t really utilised that fully, and its use is, for the main part, left to player discretion.
But then you get to the mechs (VR suits), and everything moves up a notch. The VR suits are an open, blank slate of flexible, combat weaponry, not least because they feature customisable weapons - you can lug around different VR weapons, and quite literally bolt on or take off whichever you fancy. You can even fire these giant weapons on foot, which sacrifices a lot of mobility, but the freedom of choice and the chance of a last minute, desperate boss victory far out weight the fact you’ll have to stop to shoot. The VR themselves come in various flavours, from the basic, to those capable of massive jumps, and others that transform from walkers into burrowing tanks. You never get attached to any one particular VR, though, as they are liberally scattered throughout the levels and encourage you to be as promiscuous with their weapons and types as possible.
There’s plenty to overcome with your new toys: The naturally occurring insect-like Akrid monsters, which neatly fit into the implied ecosystem, ranging from minor threats to screen filling bosses, with some that you’ll swear are screen filling bosses, when they are, in reality, only passing cameos. Each and everyone of their varieties wears glowing weak spots, target markers that give you tantalising obvious finishing methods, yet somehow never quite manage to become routine kills.
While the Akrid are by far the best enemies in the game, the other, human opponents - the mercenary styled Snow Pirates, and the military like Nevec forces are obviously designed with care. But unfortunately, their AI script greatly threatens to destroy your sense of immersion, by having them act even dumber than the giant bugs. There are flashes of brilliance from them, particularly on the unlockable ‘Extreme’ difficulty, but more often than not, they simply charge at you so you can shoot them, or stand still while you slaughter them from afar, and are quite the bitter disappointment.
But while the Akrid are the best enemies in the game, they are not the best opponent – that honour goes to the environment itself, the titular Lost Planet. So much more than just a setting, its vicious and hostile nature, whether out on the frozen snowbound surface, or deep below in red hot volcanic caves, sees your surroundings constantly demanding attention and careful management of available heat energy (gained from defeating enemies or stashes throughout the levels) to ensure success. This energy management system, T-Eng, is perfunctory on first play through, largely offering a safety cushion as it replenishes any health lost in combat. But on the higher difficulties, it becomes a much stricter mistress, forcing you into a very tightly timed resource management mindset, where risk and reward are everything, and winning the day by the skin of your teeth has never felt better.
Lost Planet also offers online multiplayer, for lobbies of up to sixteen people, and a smattering of game types, from command post capture to straight out deathmatchs. The eight playable levels offer quite a variation, with some new features – such as underwater sections – and all feature the VR suits on them for player carnage. It’s engaging and fun, with the addition of having to choose an online avatar, and a rudimentary levelling up system bolstering out the mainly stable and lag free games.
Games like Lost Planet always come across as slightly insecure. By being so heavily influenced by Hollywood action movies, they never seem quite comfortable in their own skin, content to stand or fall based on the experience of game play alone. And like people everywhere, they find safety in numbers, always managing to bring along a friend. Now the law of averages says this friend will be annoying.
The friend in this case is the cut-scenes. And oh, yes, my, how they’re annoying.
Lost Planet suffers some truly dire and nonsensical cut-scenes. While hopes were initially high, with Korean actor Lee Byung-Hun being incorporated as your digital avatar Wayne, and Inafune’s obvious love for action and horror movies showing through successfully in his other titles (such as Dead Rising), it was only right to expect a little more. Unfortunately, it’s business as usual.
Lost Planet doesn’t push into new territory with its story scenes, with terrible, shallow characters, who never really have clear motives or reasons, and change sides at the drop of a hat. Plot twists happen quite randomly, seemingly for the sake of it, and all of this is wrapped up in a large bumper hamper of cheap and over the top melodrama.
Lost Planet, judged on its story scenes alone, would cause a lover of American daytime soaps to turn off in embarrassment. Luckily, though, there’s a cracking game lurking in-between these thankfully skip-able nuances. And the scenes themselves aren’t at all necessary for progression; that’s handled by a page of text briefing that clearly outlines what you are about to be doing, and precedes every level.
Lost Planet is a welcome house guest. Challenging without being frustrating, empowering without being patronising, with small, wonderful discoveries, and giant, heart-stopping battles, it creates an amazingly consistent and sturdy game world that feels weighty and real. Lost Planet hasn’t outstayed its welcome, but at the same time, you won’t be asking it to move in.