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Lost Planet (XBOX 360)

March 7, 2007 By D. Riley

Lost Planet is probably the reason why more than a few people picked up their Xbox 360. Long ago, before I knew what Gears of War was, Lost Planet spoke to me of a winter wonder world where you could jump into a robot suit and kill ugly bug monsters. If a game lets you do that, there usually isn't much more you can ask of it.

But I've been bitten before, dear reader, and now I'm twice shy, as the saying goes. A game called Dino Crisis 3 sauntered onto the original Xbox some many years ago, a game that included (and I am not hyperbolizing here): Invisible Zombie Mutant Dinosaur Ninjas who Shoot Lasers and still the game wasn't worth a single red cent. Also, as if to add insult to injury, you had a jet pack.

So I think I was justified in feeling timd, even more so when I played the lackluster demo of Lost Planet on Microsoft's own Xbox Live, a system of trial delivery for upcoming hit games that has cost them more purchases from me than it's actually sold. I probably should've listened to my gut for this game too.

Lost Planet delivers exactly what it tells you it delivers: there are bugs, you kill them. Oftentimes you kill these bugs while wandering around in a robot suit. On a fundamental level it still seems like we have a pretty decent game, right? You'd be wrong in that assumption, old friend. What Lost Planet gains in the fundamentals it totally sacrifices in the details. At times it seems like there are all of three types of evil monsters populating this planet, most so generic that they could've been ripped from a Sci-Fi Pictures Original. There's a roly-poly bug like a Stegosaurus, there's a bug on three legs that opens its mouth like a flower in bloom, and the flying bug that looks more like a single celled organism than a deviant monster intent on devouring you. There are more, to be sure, but these three are your main progress inhibitors. In the first level these all present a pretty intimidating sight, but on the fifth they're a little less monstrous, and on the tenth you'll probably be more inclined to walk right by them than bother to waste the ammo.

Lost Planet 1
Thankfully, in the frozen future, banging cleavage is still possible.

The game tries to prevent you from doing this with its T-Eng system, a form of secondary life bar based on heat energy that's constantly draining, refilled by scavenging orange pools of the stuff from dead enemies and exploded canisters, but the fact of the matter is there's pretty much always more than enough T-Eng to go around. In fact, unless you're brave (or stupid) enough to play on the game's hardest difficulty, you'll probably spend most of the game maxed out at 9999 T-Eng and just plain forget the gauge is there. T-Eng is mostly a mild inconvenience, and sometimes downright silly: like how your supply of the stuff will still drain just as fast in the bitter artic wasteland as it will when you're standing inside a volcano, practically dipping your toes in a stream of lava. The game's story suggests that Wayne, the main character, relies on a special device fed by Thermal Energy to stay alive where everyone else just needs it to say warm and toasty, but doesn't really expound on this any further.

This should be no shock, as Lost Planet has one of the worst stories in recent memory. It's utterly convoluted, yet explains nothing, and the player will often be left wondering if entire scenes weren't left out. In one instance, late in the game, a captured enemy turns into a friend between two cutscenes with no explanation of his defection. This self-same new ally later tells the main character they'll have to travel through bug infested tunnels to reach their destination, yet magically appears AHEAD of the main character. Was there -another- secret tunnel, one free of giant scorpion bugs that nobody bothered to tell me about?

Also irritating is that the story just doesn't jibe until the very end of the game. The main character, Wayne, is an amnesiac with all the usual tropes that come with an annoying, overused plot device like that. The characters are all obsessed with stopping this so-called evil organization (NEVEC) from terraforming the frozen planet into something more hospitable, yet no real reason is given except for the main character's long deceased father telling them that NEVEC is a bunch of really nasty gits. In what is very close to the last cutscene we're informed what NEVEC's wrongdoing is (and don't worry, it's as clich├ęd and utterly senseless as you'd expect), and why THEIR terraforming of the planet is actually different than the goal of the resistance force of good guys, who ultimately want to do the same thing. Story in action games like this is expected to be pretty trashy, but Lost Planet seems to be actively attempting to write the worst plot in recorded history.

Lost Planet 2
This lava is so... cold.

The gameplay is similarly lackluster. Not really -bad-, but so mundane as to be totally uninteresting. Enemy AI is particularly bad, which is excusable for giant breain-dead bugs, but a little harder to let slide when a human being watches you put a sniper bullet in his friend five feet away without batting an eye. The guns have decidedly generic names like 'Rocket Launcher' and 'Machine Gun', and perform much as you'd expect. This would've been acceptable ten years ago, or if the enemies did more than just stand there and act boring while you shot the with boring guns. When Half-Life 2 gives you the ability to throw dumpsters at people and Gears of War attaches a chainsaw or exploding arrowhead to just about every gun, the old FPS staples just won't cut it anymore. The rocket launcher in Gears had personality; I just don't get the same oomph from Lost Planet, and am now relegated to killing boring bugs with even more boring guns.

Maybe Capcom sought to fix this with the myriad robot armors. Called Vital Suits in this game, they come in a large variety of types... though only a few are actually worthwhile. A couple could pass for weapons of war. The rest look more like farm equipment. They're slow, ugly, and clunky as hell, and their inability to dodge or absorb damage worth a damn makes you wonder if you shouldn't just abandon them and engage the enemy on foot. Later on you'll encounter more interesting suits, like on that can actually dash (imagine that!) or a spider robot that transforms into a tank, and these guys are pretty fun to tootle around in, but for the majority of the game you'll sit in the (dangerously exposed) cockpit of a robot that's probably better suited to hold a wheat thresher than a gatling gun.

If you tire of moving around in the robotic equivalent of the Brontosaurus, you can remove their giant lasers and rocket launchers and use them on foot, but this is another practice that proves to be mostly futile. Without exception all the Vital Suit weapons, from the lowly Gatling Gun to the overpowered Grenade Launcher require you to stand still while you fire them, and stand still even LONGER when the bullets run out and you have to reload. In a game like Lost Planet, where you encounter sometimes dozens of enemies at once, this is patently bad business, and will probably get you knocked down.

Being knocked down in Lost Planet is exactly where you don't want to be. In a furious firefight as you're standing up you'll likely be knocked right down on your ass again. Because the game's mechanics grant you nearly unlimited life (your T-Eng is drained to fill your life bar, and your life needs to be nearly empty for you to be actually killed) this often leads to minutes of frustration as you're continiously knocked down, stand up, and are immediately knocked down again. It doesn't help that the game's graphical effects are so overblown that every bullet from your machine gun seems to leave a blinding cloud of dust in your wake. Often you won't even know where the person with the Rocket Launcher IS, much less be able to stand on your feet long enough to get a clean shot off. Because of your basically unkillable status in Normal difficulty, this is just a major annoyance rather than a game-crushing flaw, but I dare you to try and restrain yourself when you're caught up in the mix of it. In the beginning of one level near the middle of the game I let out so many profanities I'm surprised my girlfriend didn't force me to sleep on the couch that night.

The bosses, whose gigantic stature was one of the game's major selling points, work in much the same fashion; they annoy you with explosive area attacks that put you in stun-lock until you're finally able to shoot them with enough bullets to knock them down. Dying on any boss besides the final one will be a rarity. Most of the boss fights are battles of attrition and because you have the ability to immediately heal yourself, and because most bosses are surrounded by two or three Vital Suits you can hop into and fire rockets from, you likely won't be seeing that Game Over screen very often. Indeed, it seems the nigh unmanuverable VSes have but one purpose in this game: stand still and chuck rockets at the giant mantis boss until it shoots enough spikes and lava at you that you're forced to eject and move on to the next basically immobile robot.

Lost Planet 3
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: stand still and hold the fire button.

In fact, the sole saving grace of this game, the only thing that prevents it from being a wasted purchase, is the multi-player, which is exactly what Xbox Live was missing up to this point: a fast paced, kill or be killed arcade-type shooter. If you're tired of the Gears of War multi-player you'll probably find a welcome home in Lost Planet. Most matches revolve simply around killing the other team to gain enough points, and this is accomplished by running straight at the enemy until you die, waiting seven seconds to respawn, and doing it again. This is can be a refreshing change of pace from the Gears of War gameplay, which has a slightly more strategic bent. Though I still prefer the Gears, Lost Planet is no slouch when it comes to killing people over the internet.

The best part about multi-player is that it actively encourages the use of the grappling hook, something the single-player or single player campaign might as well have left out entirely for all the times you actually need to use it. During the main game the grappler is pretty much only there to scale the "exciting" two cliffs in the entire game. In multi-player it can be used to great effect to set up ambushes on unsuspecting victims, get yourself back into the action quicker after a respawn, or, and this can be really cool, to grapple onto an enemy mech and unload a clip of bullets into its knee before flipping away. The only thing missing from this feature is a sort of Spider-Man dual-grapple system. As it is, you're forced to wait until your feet touch the ground after hooking onto something. You won't be able to realize your dream of swinging from rooftop to rooftop like Peter Parker, but it still livens up the play experience.

Thanks almost entirely to the multi-player, I don't feel like I wasted my money on Lost Planet, but I question the amount of time I wasted plodding through the single player game before I started annihilating my enemies online. Multi-player puts Lost Planet a scotch above the canyon of failure that was Dino Crisis 3, but not by much. If you already own a premium subscription to Xbox Live you're probably getting tired of running through Gears of War and Rainbow Six by now, and Lost Planet has more than enough multi-player style to keep you interested, but those who haven't taken the plunge into online play will likely find the solo campaign annoys more than it entertains.

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2 comments for ‘Lost Planet (XBOX 360)’

#1 Seraph_Six Mar 7, 2007 11:20pm

I have to agree with you about most of the points you've covered

I absolutely hate getting knocked down... such a pain... and multiplayer is awesome to play...

As for the singleplay, I wasn't impressed but I love playing it. My friends all have their mindless games like Dynasty Warriors... this is my mindless shooter game.

Hopefully, you enjoyed the final boss battle? It was a good way to finish it off in my opinion...

#2 D. Riley Mar 8, 2007 07:22am

Actually, I thought the last boss fight was just terrible. The controls were awful (like a horrifying version of Zone of the Enders) and the boss was outrageously cheap (once he was down to half life he could take you from full health to dead almost instantly). It was a cool concept for a fight, but the execution of it was really... not great.