Here in sunny coastal California, the very idea of snow is as alien as a twelve-legged man-eating a thirty-foot spider. Luckily for Capcom’s new sci-fi shooter, Lost Planet
, both snow and thirty-foot spiders are in abundance. There can be no confusing this planet with Yosemite, or even Berkeley. And while the gameplay is strictly by-the-numbers action, the graphics and enemies are more than enough to set this gem in a galaxy all of its own.
In an E3 that was sadly bereft of anything Halo
, the sci-fi geeks congregated around Capcom’s new game with rodent-like curiosity. “Look at the snow-whipped environments!” they whispered. “Aim for the glowing torso on the giant spider!” they instructed. “Climb into the giant battle mech and tear alien thorax!” they shouted. And I did. And it was good.
In Lost Planet
, you will play as a grunt named Wayne, stranded and struggling to survive on an arctic planet. In as much as we know of the story, Wayne must battle both giant monsters called the Akrid, who are native to the planet, and space pirates who have their own agenda. There was little talking or exposition in the E3 demo, but the giant environment, cluttered with frozen bodies and the remnants of a human outpost, tells a story already. And it’s as pretty a story as it is mysterious.
The snow effects might be the best rendered for a video game to date. Clouds of frost and ice whirl and lash, obscuring your vision in moving patches. But this is no gimmick to cover up draw distance, as behind the whistling snow giant mountains loom majestically. The enemies, especially the spider-like Akrid, are also graphically sublime. Their multi-limbed and multi-jointed bodies propel over the uneven land like insects, fluid and jittery at the same time.
But they don’t move for very long, because Wayne sports an impressive arsenal of weapons, including both projectile machine guns and more curious energy weapons. As the shooting takes place in third-person, it isn’t quite as twitchy as a first-person-shooter. The emphasis is clearly on pouring out lots of lead and explosive and not necessarily on pinpoint accuracy.
Which fits with the heavy feel of Wayne himself. He’s not a very speedy guy, especially when hoofing it through five inches of snow. So it’s a good thing the game offers vehicles, especially the mech-like VS suit. Remember Ripley’s big anthropomorphic loader
? The VS is basically the same thing, except with giant cannons. Even better, those cannons can be swapped in and out with the same ease as choosing between weapons on foot. It’s like jumping into a new body - a giant, murderous robot of a new body.
There are loads of neat touches evident in the demo as well. For instance, Wayne is outfitted with a grappling cable that allows him to quickly pull himself onto platforms or ledges. And in an act of pure Hulk strength, he can even pluck a giant VS cannon off a mech and tote it around without the mech itself. They look pretty heavy, but Wayne seems to be a pretty tough dude.
So long as he’s toasty. Although the game sports the ubiquitous life bar, there also a meter for thermal units. When Wayne runs out of heat, he dies quickly. Dead enemies drop heat-emitting doohickeys, and so we anticipate quite a bit of collecting. It’s clever that the gorgeous environment, which is obviously the game’s strong suit, gets to play an actual role in the action itself. The environment may be pretty, but like a German booth babe, it will freeze your heart solid.
Capcom has promised Xbox Live! compatibility, with both co-op and multiplayer battle modes available. It might be a long winter before Halo 3 lands, but from what we’ve seen of Lost Planet, a long cold winter might be just what we wanted.