Lost Planet 2 came out on PC last week, and I've been having a poke about inside its giant alien carcass with a long stick of criticism. It's a game that earned a fairly mixed reception in console land, but how about that transition to PC? Here's Wot I Think.
There are certain games that you want to forgive. Beguiling creatures that, despite their flaws, have a pushy charisma that forces you onwards. For all Lost Planet 2's faults, there was something that kept me going, something valuable and violent, like a box of illegal fireworks. To complete that line of thinking, I should point out that we did end up getting burned.
I suppose there's a degree to which both the Lost Planet games are the response of a Japanese studio to Western action game pressures. With all the dudes in armour running about shooting in third-person it almost feels like it could have come from any studio in the world, but then there's also much about the game that could /only/ have come from a Japanese studio. It feels particularly logical that it should have been struck from the anvil of Capcom's energetic eccentricities. Those armoured folk, that you can customise at the front end of the game, and who are at once faceless, anonymous avatars and also the most stylish thing about the game, feel unlike almost any other armoured dudes I can think of. The proverbial space marines they are not. They are, perhaps, close to space samurai. Space ronin. Space ninjas.
It's that sense of originality within clearly defined parameters of running and gunning that I think interests me most about Lost Planet 2. The world design in the original was pretty fantastic, with its mechs, intense alien giants, corporate stormtroopers and “snow pirates”, but in Lost Planet 2 that has just exploded out of control, with multiple factions, exotic locations, giant supercannons on rails, ludicrous, unfathomable plotting, and lavish visual design in almost every area. Each individual soldier, every absurd energy-excreting alien, and each shiny, rumbling environment, is fantastically imagined, and the result is one of the most visually impressive games on the PC.
So, draped with these imaginative riches, Lost Planet 2 is essentially just this: a linear third-person shooter. Not much more, and no less. There are some true multiplayer bits, but I haven't looked at those, I've just been blasting my way through the campaign which is, well, multiplayer too. It's four-player co-op throughout, and actually multiplayer by default. If you don't want random people dropping into your game to play with you then you will need to set it up as an offline game, and then rely on the bots. The bots are a little scatterbrained, but they get the job done. Playing with strangers works fine, because there's not much you can screw up. That's mostly how I played: set up a game and let people join. Mostly it was full and ready to go within a couple of minutes. Playing with friends is, probably, optimal. But I will come back to that.
Each episode of the game sees you engaged in some shooty activities with a team of four men. It's not the same four men for each episode, which is a little strange, because they might as well have been, but instead they are a different four, each time representing a different faction's story and interests on the planet of E.D.N. III. Generally this involves killing the men from other factions, and then having a ludicrous, hyperbolic battle with one of the aliens – an akrid – which is a gigantic boss fight where you shoot the glowing bit and gasp in awe as limbs the size of intercity trains go flying. And trains do go flying too, on one level, while you are being chased at 100mph by what appears to be the sandworm from Dune. It's fucking incredible. (Alternatively: DEATHWORM!)
Where the planet was once frozen, with the life of the snow pirates maintained by their collection of “thermal energy” from native fauna, it is now a range of environments, including jungle, desert, and urban sprawls. (That thermal energy still plays a role, but it's now mostly about healing you up. You can't die from simply being too cold, which I seem to recall was an excruciating probability in the original game. It's also the only real concession I found to co-op play, in that sharing thermal energy is often vital to survival.) The pace through all of this is fairly breakneck. Thanks to the tiny silicon brains of the consoles, each of the levels is generally just a few minutes long. The slightly longer missions generally involving a defence of an area or a battle with one of the mega-akrids, remains in a single area. Lost Planet 2 looks consistently amazing, but we pay the price for that in the constricted arenas in which the action takes place. Initially this irritated me, but after a while I saw each end chapter screen as a high score table, and the game as a bite-size shooter, each level a neat, potent envelope.
Sadly the gunplay is rather variable. Occasionally all the baddies work as intended, and the scripting throws fun stuff at you – the battles with the mechs are particularly stupendous, especially when you are smacking them about at close range with the enormously powerful shotgun – but it's all absurdly easy, with the “failed” state of all four of you being dead at the same time being a remote possibility in all but the most fraught situations. The humanoid baddies are generally a little wonky, with many of them failing to respond correctly to your presence, and simply waiting around to be shot. Their deployment in the world is often crappy too, appearing in doorways that you need to travel through, or simply standing near the exit, like so many dejected mannequins out the back of a sci-fi department store.
Thanks to this shooting gallery behaviour, and by comparison to the fluid and dynamic combat that we get to see in any number of contemporary shooters, Lost Planet 2 feels a little limp. The beauty of the game does much to gloss over this - and grappling hooks are never a bad thing - but it's only really in the boss battles that I really felt a buzz of challenge or excitement. Vast alien creatures pissing out death rays and noise, I was keen to show this element of the game off to John and Quintin. We decided to play a game together. I'd carefully ignored that the game was based on Games For Windows Live up to this point, because my login worked fine, had no impact on the offline game, and had been fine for joining or hosting with other random users. Organising a co-op game with RPS, however, led us to familiar pain.
Quintin's name had to be case-sensitive, which took a few minutes to fathom. John couldn't log in at all, because something had happened to his GFWL logins (both of them!) What had happened? We still don't know, but they didn't work. Then, infuriatingly, the game told Quintin that he couldn't join me in my campaign because he hadn't already played the game up to the point I was at. We would have to start from the beginning, and we did, but fuck it, what was the point if I couldn't show off the battle with the absurd ultrabeast? We played for a while, but the longed-for magic wasn't there. And there was no option for text-based chat. For all the otherwise seamlessly ported PC controls, here was one I couldn't forgive when Quintin was without a mic. I let out a long breath and alt-tabbed out to start writing this review.
You know what I'm going to say now. Lost Planet 2 isn't a total loss. It's often visually extraordinary, even by current gen standards. But it is a game you should wait to be on sale before you point your credit nozzle in its direction. It's one of a vast catalogue of games whose fragile potential genius has been smothered with the heavy pillow of bad design. I wanted to love it. I can't recommend it without reservation. And still I am glad of the time we spent together.