Have you ever wondered what would happen if you took the frantic pace of an old school shooter such as Contra, the massive bug creatures from Starship Troopers, a smidgen of Bionic Commando and slapped them with a fresh coat of next-generation paint? Well the result of this copulation would no doubt spawn Capcom’s latest Xbox 360 entry Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Capcom’s second original franchise for Microsoft’s console is definitely a nod to classic action shooters of the past with some new flavor that make it the first must-own title for the console of 2007.
Lost Planet takes place on a planet covered entirely by snow and ice that creates an environment too cold for human occupancy. Thankfully the giant bug-like creatures that inhabit this planet carry special orange ooze known as thermal energy that humans can harvest to keep themselves from freezing to death. Of course these creatures aren’t willing to give it up without a fight so of course human nature takes over and we simply create bigger guns and mechs called Vital Suits to rid the planet of these creatures.
Throughout the single-player trek you assume the role of Wayne, who amazingly has a spot of amnesia with his only memory consists of his father being murdered by one of the bug creatures, known as the Akrid, called Green Eye. This is reason enough for Wayne to join up with some new friends and slowly exterminate these creatures from their native home world.
Capcom has added a nice new twist to the action game formula with the aforementioned thermal energy. At the outset of each level you are given a specific amount of this energy which is tied to your lifebar. Each time you take a hit instead of losing life a portion of the T-Eng will drain into your life bar, think of it as a sort of countdown on your life. Lose enough and you perish; this keeps the pace of the game fast and keeps the player moving non-stop as even when you are sitting idle the energy bar still decreases incrementally.
The general action is pretty standard fare, but Capcom has done a nice job of creating a great selection of weapons plus the addition of vital suits and innovative grenades make the combat the real draw. Your standard arsenal contains all of the usual suspects from the traditional assault rifle to the extremely potent laser shot. There is never a shortage of ammo which combined with plenty of enemies creates a manic fast-paced action festival reminiscent of the shooters of the 16-bit era.
The real standout feature though is the selection of vital suits found in the game. These range from your traditional bi-pedal walkers complete with dual firing action to ones that can transform into vehicles to help you traverse the environment much faster. You can even switch weapons on each arm by finding them in the environment. You can also snatch up these weapons on foot, but they will slow you down and not allow you to switch to your secondary firearm when carrying one.
All of these options are one of Lost Planet’s strongest aspects. The game presents you several ways to tackle almost any situation thus making multiple play-throughs an enjoyable experience as opposed to a chore to earn achievements. Speaking of achievements the first thing you will notice about the open-endedness of the game is that for the most part you don’t have to engage every single enemy in the game. For instance the giant worm that you encounter in level three can simply be bypassed, but should you choose to fight him and manage to defeat him you will earn a hefty 50 achievement points as well as bragging rights to your friends.
The one disappointing aspect here though is that all the enemies graduated from the school of dumb AI with honors. Seriously when I can sit back and pick off guys with a sniper rifle and their buddy standing right next to them doesn’t even flinch we have issues. The Akrid don’t get a pass either; with giant orange targets scattered about their bodies it’s like having a giant bullseye painted on your chest. This does eliminate some of the trial and error associated with most games, but it also takes away some of the challenge of discovering a boss’ weak point.
The one area that Capcom did excel at though is level design. Even though the entire planet is covered with white powder the developers have crafted some of the best level schemes I have seen on the 360 so far. The architecture is gorgeous, seeing a building half-covered in snow and caves that make you want a shower after exiting them are just a couple of examples of just how much detail the developers have put into the design. Environments never feel repetitive, which is a feat unto itself considering the entire game takes place on the planet of Hoth from Star Wars.
Speaking of visuals Capcom really has to be having a good time with the Xbox 360 as some of the effects in this game are absolutely stunning. The most notable are the smoke effects from explosions and rockets. The lighting is also worth mentioning; the first time you come out of a shaded area and see the reflection of light off of the snow you will understand what I mean.
The environments are only half of the puzzle though. The enemy designs are also fantastic. From the simple grunt creatures to the giant bosses these are some of the best animated characters I have ever seen. Combine this with the intensity of having tons of these greatly animated creatures on screen at once and you will marvel at what Capcom has done with the hardware. While visuals will not make a game they can make a game better; anyone who disagrees need only witness the chaos when rockets are soaring past your head and explosions are going on all around you to fully appreciate the power of next-generation graphics.
Of course no game is perfect and Lost Planet is no exception. There are some small issues here that keep the game from being as great as it could have been. For starters the getting up animation when you are knocked down is entirely too long. More often than not bosses and standard enemies will get you into a bouncing animation that will frustrate you to no end as you have no way getting out of them.
The controls will also take some getting used to, especially for those of us weaned on the twitch gameplay found in most shooters. The targeting reticule is extremely slow for a shooter of this magnitude. To help with this Capcom has added the option to quick turn 90 degrees by simply pressing the bumper buttons, but it takes time getting used to. Dodging is also an issue as the game forces you to click in on the left stick and tilt it in the desired direction while pressing the jump button. All of these control issues will seem second nature by the end of the game, but it does add a bit of time to the learning curve.
When you grow tired of the single-player affair Capcom has also thrown in a nice multi-player mode to extend the life of the game. You can go online with up to 16 players for a host of different modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, and two exclusive modes called Fugitive Hunt and Post Grab. Fugitive Hunt pits one player against everyone else in a massive game of hide and seek while post grab is a spin-off of the game type made famous by titles like Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront where players work together to control different thermal posts scattered about the maps.
The maps range from nice and small, perfect for fast-action affairs, to gigantic affairs that require teamwork on both sides to emerge victorious. All of the online modes are extremely enjoyable and add a nice layer of depth to the overall game. Sadly there is neither a co-op mode nor a split-screen option so if you are sans Xbox Live the single-player game will be your only experience with this title.
Lost Planet is a great game that is being released at the perfect time. With the holiday rush over and a drought in the future this game has the opportunity to reach a massive amount of gamers looking for a great title to show off their shiny new consoles. With outstanding visuals, fast-paced action, and a really solid online component Lost Planet has the potential to become a great franchise. Now if only we could get Inafune to deliver a new Megaman title for Xbox Live Arcade I would truly be a happy gamer. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of old-school action shooters or anything that delivers gorgeous visuals and solid gunplay.