Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was a game that nearly had it all. Designed as a flagship title for the Xbox 360, Capcom's game was a conscious effort to marry the dynamics of a Western shooter with the style of a Japanese action game, meaning that on top of the usual blasting, sniping and grenade-lobbing, we got giant robot suits, gruesome insectoid monsters and a grappling hook thrown in.
The game looked great, with gorgeously detailed characters and critters and had some brilliant ideas, but it was, unfortunately, a little bit boring. Setting the game on the surface of a frozen planet didn't help, but for all the spectacle of its icy landscapes, huge weapons and vast alien bugs, Lost Planet always seemed a little short on thrills. 3 years on, and with the exception of the epic boss-battles, we struggle to remember anything of the game.
We can't blame the team behind Lost Planet 2, then, for junking a lot of the stuff you might just maybe sort of vaguely remember about the original. Thanks to developments on the titular planet since the first game, frozen wilderness is no longer the sole order of the day, and we now get verdant jungles, scorching deserts and grimy industrial cities to explore. The single strand storyline has also gone, to be replaced by a fractured narrative that shifts from faction to faction in some kind of slightly bewildering civil war. Clear plotting was not exactly the first game's strength, and that goes double here. The insects - known as the Akrid are back - as are the mechs, but the gameplay has seen a revolution.
In the first game, you collected thermal energy from downed bugs and blown-up barrels just to live a few minutes more in the icy wastes. Now you can use it to heal, but it's no longer a matter of survival. Instead, your focus is on earning battle points, gained by completing mission objectives, which you'll need to respawn after you die. Most importantly, Lost Planet 2 has been designed up as a four-player, co-op game. You can play it on your tod, but you'll be teamed up with a trio of computer-controlled comrades. This just isn't a lone wolf sort of game.
To say this has repercussions is an understatement. In order to work as a four-player game, many of the missions have been made deliberately brief, and there's a huge emphasis on using teamwork to complete objectives, guard key points and tackle the game's truly awesome bosses. Up to a point this works brilliantly. Your AI mates are surprisingly competent with a gun, and when the game is at its best there is a sense of spectacle that you'd have to go to the likes of God of War III, Gears of War 2 or Bayonetta to really match.
When it doesn't work, however, it's a nightmare. If, for example, it's your job to guard four mechanisms against a constantly respawning army, then you can guarantee that, as a single player, you'll be doing all the work. Sure, your chums will be shooting baddies left, right and centre and racing around the level getting shot themselves, but will they guard those mechanisms? Not on your nelly. This gets more and more annoying as the game goes on and the missions grow more complex.
With three human allies it all gets a lot better. The action kicks up a gear, there's a nice sense of friendly rivalry, and when you're up against it in huge-scale scraps against overwhelming numbers or blasting chunks off a massive Akrid boss, you really feel like it's the four of you against a hostile world. However, the reliance of battle points turns later, more difficult, encounters into a struggle of persistence rather than a fight for glory, as you end up losing the points in your kitty and getting sent back to the start of the battle one more time.
It also has to be said that Capcom still hasn't got its head around great, well-paced, level design. Even taken in short chunks, many of the levels are unimaginative, repetitive, and lacking in memorable features or great moments. Bar a cracking boss battle on one train and a subsequent raid on another, it's only the big bugs that stick in the mind. Fighting off waves of creepy-crawlies in a giant, rocket-launching mech should always be a blast. In Lost Planet 2, it's a bit of a drag.
There is a competitive online element as well, but again it's a tale of one step forward, two steps back. Some of the maps are just stunning, particularly a coastal effort with surging waves and driving rain that clouds your visor. However, the action still feels slow and pedestrian, low on thrills and real adrenaline. Sure, we like the persistent experience system and the huge range of costume customisation options, but these things do not a Modern Warfare-beater make.
All this is a shame, because on a technical and artistic level, Lost Planet 2 is up there with the best. The different areas of the world look gorgeous, and the creature design proves once again that nobody produces enormous, horrific beasties with the genius of Capcom. The score is powerful, and the sound big, bold and noisy. It's arguably a more entertaining game to watch than it is to play.
Kudos to Capcom for pushing the four-player, co-op concept, but Lost Planet 2 still doesn't quite work as a compelling shooter. As a single-player it's too bitty and frustrating to compete with the likes of Gears of War, and while the online mode can be fun, it also veers between the mundane and the punitively demanding. The big bugs are brilliant, but it takes more than giant, man-gobbling insects to produce a cracking action game.