Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Titles afforded the status of 'Xbox 360-exclusive' aren't necessarily guaranteed to deliver a standout experience to prospective gamers hoping to secure a top-tier release not readily available on rival formats. Indeed, for every zombie-mashing Dead Rising there's invariably a bargain basement Enchanted Arms, and for every high-profile Gears of War there's a disappointing fractured Phantasy Star Universe. With Capcom's Lost Planet: Extreme Condition gamers are offered a much-hyped third-person shooter, which, while lacking the cover-to-cover tactical aspect of the hugely popular Gears of War, is, in actuality, a fairly similar package. But has Lost Planet's ice-bound action arrived a couple of months too late to carve its own convincing 'exclusive' niche?
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition focuses on mankind's attempts to colonise a new world, which is seemingly a snow-covered rock (no accounting for taste) indigenously inhabited by vicious insect life forms known only as the Akrid. However, the Akrid exist not only as massively hostile enemies (and morally 'the good guys') but also as an invaluable source of thermal energy in the deadly climate - an energy carried within their bodies. From a narrative standpoint, Lost Planet's heroic(ally cliched) protagonist exists as Wayne Holden, a Vital Suit (mech) pilot, frozen in the planet's icy wastes for thirty years following a tragic encounter with Green Eye, an Akrid monstrosity also responsible for the death of Wayne's father. Yet, there's a much more sinister plot running beneath the outward threat of the Akrid, and when Wayne is prised free of his icy prison it soon becomes apparent that the secret Frontier Project is much more important than merely exacting revenge against Green Eye.
Gameplay in Lost Planet is fairly straightforward, despite the undoubtedly next-gen nature of the game's aesthetic delivery, and it's often little more than a case of simple run-and-gun action with separate level-related boss showdowns. There are no puzzles to solve, no buttons to push, no levers to pull, no cover to hug, and no mission specific items to collect; in essence players merely get Wayne safely from A-to-B through a combination of shoe leather and Vital Suit. Of course, that's never easy, and Wayne finds himself battling against hordes of deadly Akrid, pesky snow pirates, and mysterious NEVEC troops throughout a well balanced collection of sprawling and tightly confined levels as he attempts to unravel the truth behind the Frontier Project and find Green Eye.
Akrid encounters grow progressively more challenging as the game runs through its 12 single-player missions (each taking approximately 45 minutes to complete), and while the most common Akrid swarms are relatively innocuous in terms of threat (think Halo's 'Grunts') there are still plenty of bowel-loosening moments against particularly towering adversaries to inject timely adrenaline whenever the tundra-based action may begin to flag. Respite from Akrid eradication arrives in the form of furious battles with snow pirates and NEVEC troops, which generally take place throughout more tightly enclosed structured interiors, or in the snowy streets of abandoned cities (where the Akrid presence is never far away, mark you).
Naturally, foot-bound gameplay leaves Wayne considerably more prone to serious attack and injury, as his snow gear is built for warmth not armoured protection, and therefore travelling by Vital Suit is much more preferable, especially where doling out heavy ordnance, taking evasive action, and scaling ledges and buildings is concerned. This is compounded by the fact that Wayne moves fairly sluggishly through the snow - though he does have a useful grappling hook to help him clamber up buildings and navigate perilous cliff faces when necessary. The game's varied selection of VSs don't come without a price, however, and while they provide excellent manoeuvrability, armour, and interchangeable weaponry, the Vital Suits drain Wayne's precious back-slung canister of thermal energy much quicker than when he moves on foot - a fair trade off considering the plus and minus points of each. That said, destroying virtually anything in Lost Planet coughs up puddles of glowing thermal energy (harvested from Akrid, human foes, storage containers, wrecked vehicles, oil drums, and more), all of which is instantly transferred into Wayne's canister as he passes over it. Of course, should Wayne run dry and his thermal supply becomes depleted, then the environment also becomes his enemy, and once his body temperature reaches zero, it's time for a heaped dose of frozen death.
Those gamers not wholly satisfied (this reviewer included) with the aesthetic quality portrayed by many existing Xbox 360 titles, will be pleased to note that Lost Planet certainly looks the part. It may not exude the same detailed obsession apparent throughout Gears of War, and it may not glory in the light-based particle effects of Rainbow Six: Vegas or Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, but Lost Planet convincingly delivers next-generation visuals despite any reservations you might anticipate arising from a largely white palette. It falls to the Akrid to supply the true impact of Lost Planet, through designs and animation that are extremely reminiscent of the alien creatures in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers - this is particularly true of the smaller arachnid-style Akrid. However, it's the larger, more massively vicious Akrid attackers that will live in the memory. For example, the first time Wayne encounters a giant snow worm is a heart-pounding moment of conflict, or when he's abruptly bombed by what appears to be a huge low-flying Akrid moth, or when he finally gets to face-off with the infamous Green Eye, these are all definite next-gen events.
Perhaps more visually impressive than the Akrid, or the Vital Suits, or the NEVEC mechs, are Lost Planet's absolutely staggering explosions and smoke effects. Going out on a limb, it's arguable that Lost Planet represents the biggest advance in next-gen effects, on any platform, ever - and it's been a long time coming that a videogame has actually nailed the seemingly impossible feat of creating believable fiery explosions and smoke effects that are not merely obviously animated layers. These atmospheric strides may not seem especially significant when viewing the whole, but they do catapult the player's immersion deeper into Lost Planet's gameplay when entire corridors, walkways, caves, etc, become completely engulfed in rolling fire and massively billowing smoke temporarily blinds Wayne's progress. And, to add to that visual yardstick, Lost Planet's in-game sound is nothing short of fabulous. Indeed, it may well rank as the most unremitting aural assault you'll ever hear and the aforementioned explosions are always satisfyingly executed, as are the Akrid's screaming attacks, snow pirate and NEVEC troop death rattles, and the heavy reassurance provided by the steady hammering walk (and force feedback) of Vital Suits.
Sadly, Lost Planet's Xbox Live multiplayer component aside (which, while solid, is never likely to overthrow the absolute dominance presently being exercised by Gear of War), it would be unwise to expect anything remotely deep and/or compelling from Capcom's third-person shooter. It is exactly what it is and nothing more: an action-packed bullet-fest with an impressive selection of weaponry, a progressively more taxing horde of opposition, and some truly memorable moments, all wrapped around a somewhat shoehorned storyline that feels rather surplus to requirements and largely fails (through pretty poor acting) to tease the player's interest or empathy. Yet, despite its undeniably shallow nature, Lost Planet provides notably more action-per-square-metre than the likes of Advanced Warfighter, and even Gears of War (which suffered from oddly vacant periods), by only ever tasking the player to find new ways to destroy Akrid and push on through the snowy thrill ride.
It's unlikely to lead Xbox 360 sales, and it won't rule over Xbox Live, but Lost Planet: Extreme Condition provides an impressively solid 12 hours of action and excitement that's just as appealing as any other third-person shooter presently available. Ultimately, it's just a shame that it's arrived on the tail end of the overcooked tidal wave of critical and consumer acclaim lauded on Gears of War - oh, and you never stupidly have to duck behind a wall before getting to leap over it in Lost Planet.