Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition Review

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, developed and published by Capcom.
The Good: Great graphics, constant action and most enemy engagements are optional, innovative energy/health mechanic
The Not So Good: Console port issues like preset sluggish mouse control, can’t join multiplayer games in progress, short, checkpoint-only saving, rudimentary AI, inadequate objective information
What say you? It looks great, but there’s not much substance beyond the style: 5/8

Once in a lifetime, a film comes along that defines a generation: a classic work of art that will stand the test of time and serve as a record of the accomplishments of times gone by. I am, of course, talking about Starship Troopers. I mean, shooting bugs AND Doogie Howser! Sign me up! Wouldn’t that make a great computer game (actually, it made several crappy computer games)? I know I need to satisfy my ravenous craving for shooting large insects, and Lost Planet: Extreme Condition looks to fulfill that desire. The Xbox 360 port makes it way over to the superior PC platform; how will it stack up against the oppressive swarm of PC shooters?

Clearly the best thing about Lost Planet is the graphics: they are outstanding. Everything in the game looks awesome, from the character and bug models to the environments to the explosions. Watching your character turn his hips, instead of rotating the entire body, is neat (though most games are played from a first person perspective these days). The level of detail on the enemies is also well done: they look very lifelike and believable, for drastically overgrown insects. Even the level design, taking place in snow-covered run-down cities and towns, is superb. There’s almost too much snow and smoke, making it hard to see (probably by design). I can’t comment on how DirectX 10 looks since I am not gullible enough to downgrade to Vista. There are some small camera issues when you are up against a wall, noticeable during the heat of combat (the first boss battle had me very disoriented right from the start). Oh, and if you have a nVidia 8800 card like I do, you'll need to download beta drivers or Lost Planet will crash; that’s absolutely fantastic (*sarcasm alert*) for a game that has an nVidia logo in the introduction. Despite these small problems, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition presents a very real environment to play in, and it is clearly one of those “benchmark” games. The sound of Lost Planet is pretty standard for the genre these days: the weapons sound like weapons and the bugs have convincingly scary (though repetitive) effects. There is some background music that fits the game as well. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is a very polished game with some fantastic visuals that allow you to show off your computer quite nicely.

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (to the EXTREME!) is an action game with a capital “A.” Unfortunately, the main campaign has a lower-case “c” since it is very, very short. Clocking in at less than ten hours in length, Lost Planet is over before it really begins. This amount of content pales in comparison to pretty much any game released on the PC. The story involves taking back a planet from its indigenous insect population, but it’s generally forgettable and you’ll end up just skipping the cut scenes. Well, if the single player portion of the game is light on content, multiplayer can always make up for it, right? In theory, the multiplayer of Lost Planet could be decent, at it “borrows” from several different successful multiplayer games (well, Unreal Tournament), offering deathmatch, onslaught, and mutant (the names have been changed to protect the innocent). Lost Planet keeps track of your progress in multiplayer and assigns a level rating depending on how successful you are, which is a neat though ultimately meaningless feature. Unfortunately, you can’t join any multiplayer games in progress. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever; this means there are rarely games to join and no list of available, open servers (just a search feature). This may work if there are lots of people playing online, but we demand more matchmaking features here on the PC. Lost Planet also features some unbalanced multiplayer action: whoever gets the robot walker (called a “vital suit”) first has a big advantage on each map, as there is no good counter to armored units (the rocket launcher takes a few hits to take care of vital suits).

Lost Planet screams console port. From the numerous and persistent references to Xbox controllers (press the “A” button for OK!) to the sloppy use of PC peripherals, it’s clear that Lost Planet was designed for the consoles. In fact, the game suggests using an Xbox controller instead of the righteous mouse and keyboard combination. I suggest this as well, because mouse control is extraordinarily slow. There is no mouse sensitivity setting in the game, so playing Lost Planet feels like you are moving your mouse through molasses. It’s a game breaker and makes playing Lost Planet way more tedious than it should be. When I need to physically pick up my mouse off my desk to look behind me, there’s a problem. Lost Planet only saves at checkpoints as well. What? My 150 GB hard drive isn’t big enough to allow me to save anywhere? Also, you are given a PDA that can be given map information by turning on towers scattered around the map, but the PDA is completely useless and objective locations are just given a generic arrow when you are near a tower. The limitations imposed by a console are not present on the PC, but Lost Planet still carries over imperfect data and obtuse controls.

Lost Planet’s gameplay can be boiled down to two words: shoot bugs. It is a very linear action game full of fairly constant action. There aren’t many guns to choose from (six, plus four grenades); they run the usual gamut of modern Earth weapons to more powerful Alien versions. You can only carry two weapons at a time (realistic), so you must make some interesting choices in armament. There are a lot of weapons scattered around the map, though, and the most appropriate weapon for the next section of a level is usually given to you beforehand. You are also given a suite of vital suits “borrowed” from Battlefield 2142 to lay waste to the enemy forces. There aren’t any puzzles in the game, other than using the grapple to scale walls. While this is kind of cool in a gimmicky way, it hardly qualifies as advanced, thought-provoking gameplay. The most unique aspect of the gameplay is the use of thermal energy: it is used to refill your life bar and it’s collected from defeated enemies. This gives you incentive to destroy bugs that you don’t really need to, assuming you have the ammunition for it. There are enough enemies present that you really never run out of thermal energy, except during the boss battles.

The pace of Lost Planet is slower that most contemporary twitchy action games because running is less energetic than usual. This is fine, but the bugs move really fast and it doesn’t seem fair. There are lots of things to shoot and the game does provide good action. The AI is really basic: most enemies have one tactic that, once you see it, you can easily exploit. All you need to do is aim for the glowing portion of their anatomy and they will eventually succumb to your awesomeness. Unfortunately (that word is coming up a lot in this review), Lost Planet results to massing enemies to compensate for poor AI. I realize they are supposed to be bugs, but they should be at least a little more of a challenge. As if the controls in the game didn’t make playing Lost Planet more arduous than it should be, your character will execute scripted moves whenever they are hit. You must then wait for them to finish flailing about to run away. As you might imagine, this gets annoying quickly. Although the basics of solid gameplay are there, Lost Planet simply has too many problems to recommend.

Pretty graphics and generic gameplay: sounds like a console game to me. Lost Planet doesn’t offer enough to the discerning PC gamer to make it recommended against better, native offerings. While the PC lends itself to precise control in action games, Lost Planet lacks complete control over the controls (that’s one too many “control”s) and playing the game is more difficult than it should be. While some people might be wooed by the graphics, I need something more than attractive visuals to win over me. Sure, Lost Planet is fun for the first level or two while you dispense the bugs, but it’s over too quickly and there’s no reason to play the game more than once. Lost Planet is too short and the multiplayer, which would have extended the life of the game, is poorly implemented. Enemy AI is lacking, the objective locations are sketchy, and the game thinks I’m playing on an Xbox. The few bright spots (the graphics, energy) are shrouded in the darkness of the game’s shortcomings. Lost Planet is full of small, annoying issues that add up to an unsatisfying gameplay experience on the PC.