Almost 7 years have passed since the release of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and nearly 3 since Lost Planet 2. After seeing it under a pile of old pre-owned titles at EB Games it seemed like a good game to play, having never played it closer to its release in 2006 (2007 for Windows and PS3, and 2008 for Australia). Conveniently I opened a present on my birthday last month to find, low and behold, a copy of Capcom’s Lost Planet. With the price tag still attached. Sloppy.
I’m still not sure how much I like the game, but I will admit that Lost Planet: Extreme Condition did a lot of things right – by combining the strengths in all its gaming elements it created an original story-driven experience. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any matches in multiplayer, so I can’t accurately assess this part of the game.
The game begins with a cutscene flashing between soldiers storming a facility in the game’s present day, and a narrator describing the back story: during the fictional year T.C. -80 (Trial Century), humankind abandoned Earth in search of new worlds to live on. In their search they found E.D.N III, a planet with a surface largely consisting of snow and ice. Shortly after the colonization began to thrive, the humans encountered a hostile alien presence, known as the Akrid, who were incredibly aggressive, and began driving the humans off E.D.N III. Discovering that the Akrid’s bodies housed special thermal energy – the means by which they survive in the extreme conditions (get it?) – the humans decided to fight back to harvest this energy for themselves. To combat the Akrid, the humans have built large mechs known as Vital Suits, or the VSs. With these VSs they gain a fighting chance, and a second attempt at colonization resumed. The opening scene finishes by saying that 22 years of passed since the second colonization, and humans still don’t know how to harvest the thermal energy. With each clip played in the game’s present time, such as the soldiers moving through an abandoned city, the narration follows with new dialogue to explain these images. This allows for players to know all they need to in the first few minutes of gameplay.
It also subtly introduces one of the soldiers in the facility, Wayne Holden, as the main character, following under the command of his father. After the first level Wayne is frozen in stasis for 30 years, and is finally discovered by a group of snow pirates – Yuri Solotov, Luka, and Rick. Yuri reveals that their mission on E.D.N III is to eradicate the swarms of Akrid to make it easier for the corporation NEVEC to thaw out the planet, making it habitable for humans. Wayne joins Yuri and his band, and the four of them work together to endure the Akrid, other bands of pirates, betrayals, and the hostile conditions of the planet itself.
The story itself is a little confusing to start with, especially when wrapping one’s head around the different timelines during the opening cutscene and first few levels. That being said, it is also a well-developed plot that paces itself well through the course of the game.
Lost Planet includes a variety of gameplay features, such as the ability to switch between third and first person. Other features cleverly tie into the story and the environment: chief among these is the health system. While shields and health were nothing new by the time Lost Planet came out (see Halo: CE, the armor and health system in Doom, and so on), they took the classic formula and introduced their own relevant twist. Wayne has a ‘Harmonizer’ on his arm that enables him to collect and store thermal energy. The thermal energy is on the top left corner of the screen, just below the player’s health bar. This energy level is always depleting due to the cold climate of the planet. If the player gets shot or injured then the health bar will diminish, but the energy level will deplete faster than normal to fill the health bar back up. This depletion also speeds up if the player is jumping, using energy weapons, or manning a VS. Once the thermal energy levels hit zero, the player will be unable to use energy weapons or man a VS, and if the health bar is fully depleted then they will die. This is a very well implemented mechanic because it ties directly into the story and environment, and forces players to keep an eye on their energy levels and change their tactics in battle, if necessary. Players get thermal energy by defeating enemies, destroying VSs, exploding barrels, activating data posts that dot the levels, etc.
An interesting note is the style in which each level plays out – they are largely linear experiences, save for a couple of free-roam levels, that always end with a climatic boss fight (which is typical of a lot of Capcom games, but my favorite to reference is DuckTales). Such bosses include enemies in a VS or giant Akrid, both of which are incredibly fun to fight. These boss fights are where the game truly shines. My favorite boss was in the first free-roam level, where upon riding a VS into an open snow field it was destroyed by a giant underground-tunneling worm, and I had to face it on foot. This fight is optional but was still one of the more exciting, if only for the optional circumstances and open level. Each enemy, even bosses, have several weak points accented by thermal energy glowing under their skin – if the player shoots a weak point enough then the thermal energy will pour out and, depending on the number of weak points the Akrid has, it will freeze upon defeat.
All that being said, however, there are still some elements of the game that don’t particularly gel with me. The second free-roam level is a literal copy-paste of the first with a night-sky thrown in, and for no purpose. It worked in Halo CE with ‘Assault on the Control Room’ and ‘Two Betrayals’ because the latter juxtaposed a familiar location with unfamiliar events and radically different circumstances, both story and gameplay-wise. In Lost Planet the second free-roam level has no function in the story and the player is literally dropped at the same starting point, the only difference is there is no giant worm the second time around. The characters also aren’t my favorite aspect of the game. While they work well within the context of the story, they aren’t really expanded upon – players expecting Far Cry 3 or even Final Fantasy style development will find it not as engaging or in-depth. While few, the game’s flaws unfortunately detract from the overall experience.
Lost Planet was a fun game to play: it had average gameplay, was easy to control, had some interesting and well-implemented mechanics, a range of weapons, plenty of different enemies, and the boss fights were fantastic. The elements that Capcom blended together to create the game were very well done and, as previously mentioned, the game had a few - albeit distracting – flaws. The story could be fleshed out a little more, the characters definitely could have been given more depth, and the AI was very basic. That being said, they completely nailed the atmosphere; from the graphics to the soundtrack, players will feel like they are alone on a Lost Planet. Unfortunately for the game, what it did best only barely outshone what it did the worst. I still recommend Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, if only because of the low price and the fun combat and boss fights. Did I mention those boss fights?
Suitability: Some violence, probably not suitable for children under 15
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Replay Value: Medium
Disclaimer: Pictures taken from joystiq.com, Ebay Australia, and marketplace.xbox.com