Format: XBox 360
Approximate Time Spent playing at time of writing: 15 hours
Modes of play: Single Player, Online 2-16 Competitive
Well, this is quite an epic. The most memorable thing about Lost Planet is the storyline, cutscenes and voice ‘acting’ that is so good, with just a bit of sprucing up it would easily be ready for a primetime Saturday morning kids cartoon, an episode of Power Rangers, or maybe the giddy heights of a Teletubbies script. Just… wow. I was left laughing raucously or, at times, speechless and dumbfounded by what was unfolding before me. Can they really get away with this in what was a title I remembered with relatively mainstream ‘adult’ advertising? (It’s 16+ rated!). I guess if Final Fantasy can, than anyone can, says Capcom. Well played guys!
^ Astoundingly, laughable cutscenes like the above make even less sense in context.
So let’s move quickly onto mechanics: Lost Planet is a 3rd person shooter, and it’s essentially a very poor man’s Gears of War (or even Bullet Witch). It’s single player only and suffers from some huge flaws in the controls department. Here’s probably the worst example: Your B button usually does a melee attack – which is virtually useless. You also use it to pick up weapons. You also have to mash it to activate beacons (which act as kind of health recharge and scanner sweep points). You also use it to get into and out of vehicles & mechs. You also use it to dig in the snow (context sensitively), you also use it (depending on exact positioning) to remove or replace weapon “limbs” from mechs, including when you are IN a mech… hmm. Hopefully the astute reader is beginning to realise the problems of this. It takes careful control NOT to manage to eject from a mech accidently or swap out the wrong weapon because your character is in slightly the wrong position. You learn to work around it, and in a silly way it adds to the challenge of course, but it makes me want to shake the designers by their necks and scream “at what point did you think this control scheme was a good idea?!”. Adding to the annoyance is that the standard button mapping has ‘quick turn’ commands mapped to the very easily accessible LB and RB shoulder buttons, and yet these commands are completely unnecessary once you adjust the general motion sensitivity of your aim reticule, I ended up never using them. A 180 degree instant turn like L4D might have had some use, but naturally that isn’t offered.
The damage system seems to have been conceived by the same people who wrote the storyline for the game. It’s so nonsensical it beggars belief – but at least it’s functional, after a fashion. You have a life energy bar and a “Thermal Energy” T-ENG bar. Your life bar is essentially meaningless unless you take immense amounts of damage in a short space of time – that seems to cause you to die. But generally getting hit normally doesn’t do enough to your life bar to matter, but instead whittles away at your T-ENG, and it’s only when your T-ENG drops to zero you have to worry. Oh and your T-ENG constantly drops anyway over time (due to it being very cold on the Lost Planet I guess), and will drop faster if you’re doing certain things like moving in a mech and dashing or jumping with it, or firing certain energy weapons that drain straight from your T-ENG pool. It’s all very strange and ends up being more like a resource management game than anything else. Most enemies are no threat at all, you never end up too worried about being shot at by most things – in fact you need enemies them to “farm” them into T-ENG, by essentially converting normal weapon ammo into health. Even a lot of the terrain you can destroy for T-ENG – so the end result is yet more resource conversion farming.
Almost all of the levels break down into ‘puzzle-style’ solution to levels rather than stressing any kind of aiming skill – although sometimes good manoeuvring is needed. Trial and error exploration is the main effective method though, it doesn’t really exercise any puzzle solving skills at all. Most of the ‘difficult’ bits were a case of: Walk one way; die, try another way; die, see a cliffface, climb up, find another route – and the level becomes really easy. Also, ignoring all enemies and rushing past them is often an effective solution. It did not add up to much of an interesting challenge for me, and I found the main reason I continued to even play through the game (other than my usual sheer agonistic determination to finish it) was the mechs. These are really quite nicely realised within Lost Planet. The early one’s feel clumsy and clunky at first to control – but in a good way – and the later ones start to feel like you’re behind the controls of some sexy anime mecha. Most importantly they never feel like you’re controlling a tank rather than a mech and to me this is where far too many Gundam titles and the ‘Armoured Cores’ of this world utterly fail, so Lost Planet deserves a lot of kudos for doing mechs justice far better than most “mech games” do! I suspect that Capcom’s familiarity from the Gundam arcade games (which also have a great mecha feel) was used here.
The best bits of Lost Planet for me were some of the boss battles vs you in a mech: It actually starts to feel like a Virtual On battle at times – which is high praise coming from me! But the trouble is, rather than honing your general overall skill with the mech combat, it’s generally a matter of finding of learning that particular bosses pattern and the dodges and attacks needed for that stage – once ‘solved’, they are all pretty easy to actually implement. Oh and don’t forget you’ve got to wade through hours of the boring T-ENG management trial and error levels crap to even get to these good bits… whereas Virtual On was just these awesome battles all the time… so really, it’s a far cry from being my Virtual friend Ron. The final boss of Lost Planet is a great example of what’s wrong with it: This single battle took me longer than any other whole level of the game to beat, as I couldn’t figure out the ‘trick’ to beating it. Firstly you are hamstrung by some appalling controls that have you using the usual twin sticks for moving and aiming, yet you have to be use the Y & B face buttons to ascend/descend and the X button to shoot (what I thought was) your main guns! An atrocious control effort that somehow I managed to ‘pretzel-hand’ for ages with only minor hand cramps at least, but it was still stupidly annoying, and of course, there was no way to re-map the buttons to something sensible as there were only a few set options available… which notably don’t show you exactly how they will work with each mech – since they all have slightly different controls too (so Lost Planet scores a big *facepalm* in the options menu too). Anyway, back to the boss fight, after an hour of getting very close to beating it many times learning it’s tedious attack patterns (one of which meant I had to do nothing but dodge and chase for minutes) and then trying to weave in and out dodging it’s attacks to get to melee range & using my guns to cancel some of his attacks – which seemed to be the only way to do damage – as my mech seemed very ‘Virtual On Temjin-like’ I’d assumed that melee was it’s strength, I let Navan take a look on youtube so he could give me some spoiler free “am I getting warm” hints to it. It turned out, the thing I hadn’t noticed was that the melee attack did a “beam shot” as well that did a tiny pixel of damage to the boss. So rather than getting in close and using the really quite large amount of skill it was taking me to damage the boss without dying, you just had to run away and do that long range attack over and over. As soon as I knew this I beat the boss first time within 5 minutes by doing very little other than mash a button. This is exactly what I mean by the fact the whole challenge seemed to stress trial & error finding the solution rather than any real kind of execution or even logical puzzle-solving skills.
Because of the nature of the challenges in Lost Planet, once I’d beaten the game in Normal difficulty I couldn’t muster any interest in trying the harder difficulties – I am certain it would just be more of the same with more punishment on the errors in trial & error. I also can’t review this title as a Game, because when I tried to get into a competitive match, there were only two servers available, one with two players and another with one – so clearly this is not a game that’s stood the test of time as no-one is playing it anymore. So I feel it’s unlikely to be very good – and, notably, by showing me a server list the game had fallen over at the first gaming design hurdle by having no skill-based matchmaking whatsoever – so my interest was not even piqued at all. There’s also, remarkably, nothing in the way of online leaderboards or anything else that could constitute a game beyond the usual Achievements.
Competitive Gaming Design Review: It does have a level playing field, but no matchmaking or ranking whatsoever to speak of. Still, that’s preferrable to grind-based anti-competitive gaming design.
Competitive Game Review: Not Reviewed & Not Recommended (N/R). If I did try hard enough (given the tiny player base) to get into it, I am pretty sure it would not be very good though, certainly not good enough to put up with the lack of actual competitive gaming features.
Interactive Story: Highly Negative… other than to laugh at it. It’s also all cutscenes and extremely disjointed from the game mechanics. Even the best cutscenes made me feel “yeah, now let me PLAY that bit, not watch it”.
Toy/Experience: Positive. If you’re into mecha like me, this is almost worth playing just for the fantastic feeling mech control. There’s also a few really interesting weapons in the game that have a great ‘feel’ to them (although it’s no Gears of War in this regard either!).
Grind: None, thankfully.
Overall Score: (getting an extra star purely for the awesome mechs & some fun weapons to ‘experience’)
Other good reviews found: None