Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lost Planet 2 Review

Lost Planet 2, developed and published by Capcom.
The Good: Lengthy cooperative campaign, variety of weapons, sixteen-player online play, looks really nice
The Not So Good: Can’t save progress mid-mission, linear campaign, high difficulty playing with incompetent AI teammates, can’t skip campaign levels to play with friends, Games for Windows LIVE
What say you? This unremarkable third-person action sequel must be played with friends: 4/8

First, there was Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Now, there is Lost Planet 2: Extremer Condition. Shortest introduction ever!

Part of the reason that Lost Planet 2 for the glorious PC came out five months after the console version is the introduction of DirectX 11 graphics (ooo…tessellation!). While this addition might not have been really necessary, the game does look fantastic. First, what is with console games’ fascination with third-person? Is it to show off character models, or just to get in the way of the killing? Who knows for sure, but I will state that the varied character models are animated well and look very nice. This extends to the unique enemies you will encounter during your time on E.D.N. III, each complete with pretty amazing behaviors and crisp visuals. E.D.N. III features a host of varied environments as well, complete with nice effects like snow and rain. Lost Planet 2 is certainly a game to show off the capabilities of your hardware. As for the sound design, things are much more average: decent voice acting, appropriate weapon and alien effects, and suitable background music complete the package. Lost Planet 2 is certainly notable for its visual presentation.

Lost Planet 2 returns to the distant world of E.D.N. III: a great place to visit, except for the GIANT FREAKING ALIENS. The game features a lengthy (fifteen-or-so hours) campaign that is intended for cooperative play. It is quite linear, featuring the same enemies in the same places, and it doesn’t allow you to skip around, despite lacking a true progressive story. There are some unique portions, like defending bases, but usually it’s simply “move to the next waypoint and kill everything along the way.” The campaign requires you to scout for data nodes, which must be annoying activated by constantly hammering the “Q” key on your keyboard, in order to display nearby objective locations and enemies. The campaign offers nothing unique or interesting, with typical boss battles and recycled gameplay.

Now, to the epic fail that is cooperative play in Lost Planet 2. It’s clear the game really, really, really wants you to play online: you need to host a room even if you are playing with three AI bots. You can adjust the difficulty level and effectiveness of friendly fire to adjust how often you want to die. It’s nearly impossible to coordinate with friends because you can’t play any levels you haven’t beaten previously. Despite the lack of a linear story and the fact that the campaign jumps around between the various factions on E.D.N. III, you can’t “catch up” to others or join populated servers that are further along than you are. You can go back to previous missions, but the linearity of the scenarios means this has low appeal. In addition to this shortcoming, you can’t save your progress mid-mission. Ever. This means you’ll have to invest at least 30 minutes to an entire hour of continuous shooting in order to unlock the next level. I guess this is the price you pay for cooperative play (hey, that rhymed!). The crazy part is that each chapter in the campaign is broken up into five-minute bites that could easily contain checkpoints, but the game simply won’t let you save your intermediate progress. All of the frustrations and limitations with the cooperative campaign make it simply not worth the effort.

You can also play competitive multiplayer using the incompetence of Games for Windows LIVE. Both ranked and custom matches are available, in addition to faction matches where you can join one of five teams and battle over territory in a persistent world: pretty cool. Lost Planet 2 features five game modes copied from Unreal Tournament: deathmatch (with team options), conquest for single or multiple data nodes, capture the flag, hunted (where a team of fugitives try to avoid getting shot), and assault. Each mode can be customized to various victory conditions: time, kills, or accumulated points. Further customization options include allowing different initial weapon layouts, weather conditions, and respawn times. While multiplayer can be fun with increased player counts, there’s nothing terribly unique here to make it warrant a purchase based on online play alone. Finally, Lost Planet 2 features a “training” mode that’s not a tutorial: rather, it’s a short, time-based single player competition through linear levels.

Controls for Lost Planet 2 are typical for an action game (jump, roll, melee attack, zoom, throw grenade, et cetera). Luckily, the control limitations of console hardware do not impact the copious options present on a PC keyboard. Suck it, gamepads. The only unique aspect of Lost Planet 2’s control scheme is the use of an anchor to access hard-to-reach places. Yes, this is a ripoff of Just Cause 2, and in Lost Planet 2 you have a lot less options (there’s no tethering cars to helicopters, for example. Just Cause 2: good times). The game clearly highlights vulnerable locations on each enemy for easier targeting, and displays a red “X” over nearby foes (likely an artifact of console auto-aim madness). Overall, Lost Planet 2 plays like any other third person shooter in terms of control options.

The main two things that differentiate Lost Planet 2 from other games is health and thermal energy. Your team is given a “battle” gauge, which decreases when one teammate has depleted their health. Once it reaches zero, the game is over. This is intended to make you work as a team, but invariably what happens is that one incompetent teammate (especially an AI player) can ruin the experience for all. Rehealing is done by using thermal energy, collected from defeated enemy units. Thermal energy can slowly increase your health over time, or you can speed up the process by equipping the harmonizer weapon. Energy is also used for powering shields and the robotic suits, so you might not want to spend it all on bringing your health back up to maximum. Lost Planet 2 features a fine assortment of weapons, from standard fare like the gun sword to short-range revolvers to long-range plasma guns and support shields. In addition, Lost Planet 2 features a variety of grenades that float, stick, and generally cause aliens to explode. The game also features robot suits that offer gunner seats and side handles for multiple-person use. They have very slow movement and marginally better armor than normal people, but far more damaging weapons. While Lost Planet 2 isn’t short on guns and the use of energy is nice, overall the gameplay rarely becomes anything more strategic than aim and shoot.

Lost Planet 2 is almost impossible without human teammates. The AI is generally quite terrible: standing still as you get shot, getting shot themselves, and costing your team overall health points. Part of the problem seems to be that part of the AI is scripted: they occasionally go far ahead of your current position, leaving you susceptible to enemy attack, or stay well back if you haven’t activated a trigger. Complex team coordination is impossible with the AI since you cannot issue orders, and it's required for several of the game's sequences. Don’t even think about trying Lost Planet 2 unless you plan to play with friends.

Lost Planet 2 tries its best to force you to play cooperatively, but the game does an absolutely atrocious job supporting this feature. First off, the game discourages you to play alone by featuring useless AI teammates: you can’t issue them orders, they doesn’t like to cover you, and forget about coordinating the more advanced actions occasionally required in the campaign. The AI’s heavily scripted behavior means it might leave you behind or stay well back, allowing you to absorb all of the damage. Thanks, teammates! Finding friends to play against might be difficult, as you can’t skip ahead to join up with then, odd since there isn’t a linear story to care about. You also can’t save your progress mid-mission, so plan for having to play up to an hour in one sitting. Despite featuring some minor changes in procedure, Lost Planet 2 features a linear campaign with somewhat vague objectives and the same encounters every time you play (decreasing the desire to play previous missions with other players cooperatively). The game features a variety of weapons for a range of conditions, including a blatantly stolen, limited version of the grappling hook from Just Cause 2. The robotic suits offer a small increase in protection and vastly superior weaponry for much slower movement: a minor diversion overall. The use of thermal energy for rehealing yourself and teammates is a nice feature in theory, but usually the quantities of it gathered from defeated aliens is high enough where Lost Planet 2 isn’t ever that difficult, as long as you are playing along with humans. Speaking of other humans, Lost Planet 2 has decent fun in competitive multiplayer, featuring multiple game modes stolen from Unreal Tournament that offer a bit of a consolation prize for the underdeveloped campaign. And let’s not forget the excellent graphics. In the end, though, Lost Planet 2 disables its cooperative features enough to make it an action title that’s easy to skip.