|Lost Planet (2007)
Available for: Xbox 360
The boys over at Capcom must have watched “Starship Troopers” several times during the making of their latest Xbox 360 exclusive, because without the cheesy alien bug flick, “Lost Planet” probably would have never happened. Sure, the game plays like the usual Japanese fare (especially that part about the main character investigating some evil company that just so happens to be entangled in a web of mystery), but it’s a great title nonetheless, thanks in most part to its old-school level builds and killer boss fights. Plus, who hasn’t had the urge to just let loose and shred an army of giant space bugs?
“Lost Planet” opens with a cutscene-heavy introduction that explains just about everything you need to know concerning the world you’ve suddenly been dropped into. Humankind is attempting to colonize a frozen wasteland called E.D.N. III when they discover that they’re not alone. Giant alien bugs called Akrids have all but forced the newly arrived inhabitants into hiding with the exception of a few brave soldiers. Wayne is such a soldier, but two weeks after witnessing the death of his father during a battle with their enemy, he awakens to discover that he’s been rescued from near-death – frozen in his Vital Suit (basically a Mech) after a disastrous meeting with a massive Akrid called Green Eye. Teaming up with the band of Snow Pirates that saved him, Wayne sets off on a dangerous mission to eradicate all existing Akrid hives, take down the Green Eye and, hopefully, even regain his memory in the process.
As you journey through the snowy terrain and take on a series of nasty bugs, evil Snow Pirates and a secret government group called NEVEC, you’ll quickly discover that movement in “Lost Planet” isn’t exactly its strong point. Maybe we’ve all just been a little spoiled by the super-cool roadie run from “Gears of War,” but moving in the game is so incredibly slow, and there’s no button to make Wayne run any faster. To make the movement a little more intuitive, the player can hit the shoulder buttons and swing their character 90 degrees left or right, but most gamers will probably just deal with the shitty controls rather than learn a new control scheme that they’ll never use again. Luckily, everything else is mapped perfectly onto the controller, from the use of the left directional pad to zoom in and out, to the ever-so-comfortable left and right triggers for shooting guns and throwing grenades.
Speaking of which, while ammo does deplete as you use it (with the exception of the energy gun, which has unlimited ammo), there’s plenty of weapons lying around the map for you to refill your supply just about whenever you need it. Highlighted in yellow, the weapons include a fairly simple array of machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers and the like, while the grenade selection is even slimmer. You can hold two weapons at once, as well as one kind of grenade, and if you’re really desperate for some firepower, you can even lug around a giant Mech weapon to use on your enemies. The Mechs that you can climb into and control are even slower than Wayne, but most include some pretty cool features that help to keep the gameplay unique and exciting.
And because every first-person shooter needs a cool little gadget to play with nowadays (the parachute from “Just Cause” and the chainsaw from “Gears”), “Lost Planet” gives the player a grappling hook to mess around with. I know, I know, it’s no “Bionic Commando,” but you’ll put it to good use as you traverse vertical buildings and mountaintops to progress through the single-player campaign. Unfortunately, the damn thing has an incredibly limited range and you can only employ it while standing on the ground, so don’t expect to use it for times other than when it’s absolutely necessary.
The overall gameplay is a mixed bag. The featured boss fights are some of the best (and most challenging) that most gamers have ever experienced, while the generic enemies you’re forced to plow through beforehand are beyond monotonous. Even more annoying is the fact that when you get pinned down by a group of enemies, they unleash a series of “cheap shots” that are timed so perfectly that you’ll be stuck in an ugly pattern you’ll usually never be able to get away from. The complete lack of save points is another serious issue, and while the concept worked quite well in last year’s “Dead Rising,” it’s just plain annoying this time around. You can play through a level, get to the final boss and die, and the game lets you restart from the beginning of the boss fight, but if you get to said boss and decide you want to take a break, when you restart your game you’ll be thrust to the very beginning of the level. Ugh.
Fortunately, the visuals are first-rate all the way, from the beautiful snow-covered landscapes to the wildly realistic smoke produced by explosions. The feeling of a rocket soaring just inches over your head is beyond words, and you’ll probably just stand in awe the first time you’re nearly blown to bits. This kind of attention to detail is what makes “Lost Planet” such a great game for the 360, and while the single-player campaign is disappointingly short, there’s plenty of replay value in the title’s multiplayer modes. Granted, when it comes to playing on Live with your friends, “Gears of War” is still where it’s at, but it’s nice to know that we all have another option if we need it. This is old-school gaming at its absolute best, and it’s exactly what the 360 needed to help ring in the new year.