Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Lost Planet 2

Post-Launch Reviews #2:
Lost Planet 2 (PC)
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Released: May 11, 2010 (console), October 12, 2010 (PC)

Lost Planet 2 is a science fiction third-person squad-based shooter set on E.D.N. III, a harsh world colonized mainly by a corporation called NEVEC for its thermal energy resources. There are also many factions of snow pirates, independent colonists or NEVEC deserters who make their own way surviving and gathering thermal energy. Problem is, thermal energy is only produced within the bodies of creatures called the Akrid: giant bugs of many different varieties, ranging from the size of a man to the size of a city block. Across the planet, various factions fight each other and the Akrid for control of the world's thermal energy resources.

At Launch
Lost Planet 2 launched to mixed reviews with a metascore in the mid-sixties. Reviewers wrote that despite some great set pieces, nice graphics, and overall good gameplay, the game suffered from some fairly severe bugs with the camera, control scheme, and movement, as well as poor characterization and friendly AI.

Post Launch
LP2 released on PC a few months after it came out on consoles. Apparently it was much improved: I never experienced any issues at all with the bugs described by the original reviews. The game ran pretty much flawlessly and I had no technical issues at all. There have been no updates since the Steam release in October 2010.
The Good
This game is absurdly epic. Unbelievably so. The opening cinematic is especially brilliant; it plays like the intro to a blockbuster movie. The plot starts out with a pirate faction raiding another, and quickly develops into a race against time to save the entire planet from the machinations of a corporation bent on draining every last bit of thermal energy — E.D.N. III's potent energy resource — to sell it off-world, plunging the planet into a devastating new ice age. Through each of the six episodes of the game, you play as different factions on the planet, each coming together in the final episode to save the planet they call home. At the end of each episode you face a boss battle against a massive Akrid — the indigenous life-forms of E.D.N. III, which are the only source of thermal energy.
I'll give you to try to convey how completely awesome this game is. It's pretty spoiler-heavy so stop reading if you don't want to know about the end of the game.
* spoiler time * At the end of episode six, you've fought your way to an absolutely massive Akrid the size of an entire city, which NEVEC plans on destroying to take its thermal energy. Your team can't get inside the Akrid, and it appears that all hope is lost. But another team who had hijacked a massive weapon called the railroad gun — so big that it has to be carried on the backs of two parallel trains — shows up just in time. As they approach, they're attacked by massive worm Akrid, and they fire the railroad gun sideways to protect themselves. The train starts to rock back and forth, nearly derailing. They stabilize by firing again in the other direction. They come through a tunnel and find the way blocked by dozens of massive Akrid, so of course they fire down into the swarm, blasting the entire train into the air. As the train flies through the air in slow motion, they continue to fire with no effect. Finally the train itself crashes into the shell of the giant Akrid, allowing your team through. You fight your way into the core and plant GPS beacons, allowing a satellite superweapon built into an asteroid base to target the creature before NEVEC can arrive. The weapon fires, but doesn't kill the Akrid. With no options left, the team on the asteroid decides to CRASH THE ENTIRE THING INTO THE PLANET TO KILL THE AKRID.

Graphics & Art Design
The game looks gorgeous. The PC version takes advantage of DirectX 11 features to add some great depth and shine to the textures of the massive Akrid, and each leaf in the jungle casts its own shadow. The creature design for the bugs is great: they look pretty plausible and sometimes pretty scary. The character design is also impressive, with a huge variety of costumes and uniforms that are distinct for each faction and environment.
For a game that didn't really advertise the feature, the character customization is incredible. For each of the five playable factions, there are multiple costumes to unlock, each able to mix and match parts between head, torso, legs, and backpack. Additionally, there are something like 10 or 12 categories of weapons, each with at least five alternatives to unlock and swap based on your preferred playstyle. Some of the more exotic weapons include the gun sword, a slower-firing machine gun with a mechanical bayonet for bonus melee damage; or the Akrid launcher, a flamethrower variant that fires a stream of aggressive bugs instead of fire. You can also choose between hundreds of noms de guerre (displayable character titles), assign eight taunts or poses from a selection of dozens, and choose two abilities to equip out of a few dozen.
You earn XP for playing, whether it be the campaign or multiplayer. Each of your five factions earn XP separately, and at certain levels you unlock character parts or weapon variations. You also earn credits that you can cash in on a slot machine to earn random rewards. So there's a lot to keep you playing for a while.

There's a lot of variety in this game. With various combinations of abilities and weapons, you can choose to specialize in close-quarters combat, long-range combat, explosives, VS expertise, support, etc. There are a lot of different types of VS: some specialized for speed, others for armour or firepower, and even a few that fly and provide aerial support. Boss battles are varied and a total blast. The standard grappling hook allows you to scale walls and move around quickly. There are various in-game awards to unlock, mostly centred around killstreaks of various types: what you killed, what you killed them with, how you killed them.
Thermal energy is your main resource. You collect it by killing enemies — Akrid who generate it within their bodies, or humans who have some stored. You're equipped with a device called a Harmonizer that allows you to convert thermal energy into health: you have very slow health regeneration, or you can stop and make yourself vulnerable for a much faster recharge. Energy weapons drain your thermal energy to deal damage, and you can also expend thermal energy to repair VSes. Most notably, you can share it with allies: if you have a surplus, you can give some to your friend who doesn't have enough to get back to full health.
The game features online drop in/drop out co-op, or you can play locally. In a squad-based game this is kind of an expected feature, but I thought I'd mention it because of a few special examples.
In a fight against a bug the size of an apartment block, one player can climb on top of the bug and shoot the vulnerable spines on its back; one can go for the legs; one can pilot a VS; and one can climb inside to shoot at its internal organs.
In a few levels there's a multi-seat VS which has space for a pilot and two gunners. On mid-sized VS, there are handholds so that another player can hang off the side and fire their normal guns to cover the pilot.

The game has a great soundtrack, especially the two main themes. It's grand and orchestral, a lot like a John Williams film score in many ways. It's one of the few games for which I've gone through the files to get copies of the score on my MP3 player.

The Neutral
Lack of Characterization
Lost Planet 2 does not have a traditional Western story following the adventures of a main character and the supporting cast. Instead, in each of the six episodes, you play as a different squad from a different faction. Due to the harsh climate, everyone wears helmets or masks, so you never get to see anyone's face, and there are no names given.
On the plus side, it means you get to see all the different sides of the epic plot arc, how each of the different factions are dealing with the events of the game, and how all the plot threads come together and unite all the factions in the end. It's a clever way to convey a plot that affects everyone on the planet.
On the other hand, if you're interested in deep characters, their interactions, and how they develop, you're not going to find that here at all.
A lot of reviewers had trouble with this aspect of the game, feeling like they had no connection or investment in the plot and nothing to relate to. I very much enjoyed getting to see all the sides to the conflict and everything drawing together in the end, but I recognize that not everyone does.

I never really touched the multiplayer modes. There's a lot of variety, lots of different game types. There are seasons of competition between the five factions: you pick your faction and your victories or losses count towards your faction's standings.
Unfortunately the game doesn't have a huge following, so it may occasionally be tough to find games, and you might find yourself playing with the same people a lot.
The Bad
Friendly AI
The friendly bot AI is kind of terrible. The game is designed around a squad of four, so if you're playing alone, you get 3 AI teammates. When you play with bot allies, you really get the feeling that you're doing everything yourself. However, the weird bit is, if you turn off the bot allies and play by yourself, the game gets a lot harder. I suspect that it's not because the bots are actually useful; I think they just draw fire away from you so you don't die as quickly as you do without them. I recommend playing with at least one friend.
Don't get me wrong, the AI did not ruin the game for me. Nor did I even notice it most of the time. In fact I've probably played through the campaign at least ten times solo. But there are a few levels where you really need teamwork, and the AI doesn't really cut it. For example, in a boss battle where you use a superweapon called the railroad gun, your team needs to gather shells from around the train and load them into the weapon before it can be fired. A pilot aims and fires the gun. If the weapon takes too much damage, you need to climb down into its core to activate the coolant systems. The trouble is, it works best with one pilot on the gun, two people running ammo, and one to watch the coolant and help turn the weapon. But the AI don't really know what to do with themselves. They bring ammo up to the gun, but it takes them a while and they often forget to load it in. They won't fire or activate the coolant at all. So it's up to you to do almost all the work.
The Verdict
Recommendation: play it
I very much enjoyed this game, even though I never touched the online. I played local co-op with a friend a few times, and played through the campaign many times by myself. Messing around with all the character options is a lot of fun, and I never get tired of the epic plot and battles. I recommend it highly, unless you're looking for deep plot and character.

No comments:

Post a Comment