So cool it's hot.
Snow is good for: (1) flinging (2) canceling school (3) breaking the legs of skiers. Besides these happy accomplishments, snow is wildly overrated. I think this has to do with Christmas. Also because it’s white. No one sings carols about black snow or yellow snow, do they? Racists
But we can now add another accomplishment to the list: snow makes possible the gorgeous weather effects in Capcom’s Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
. It’s difficult to overstate how important snow is to the game—what might have been just a decent action shooter uses weather to become an epic experience, full of unique landscapes, changing environments, and blustery firefights. Snow, we thank you, even if you did “lickey” whatever a “boom boom down
You play as Wayne, an unfortunate fellow who lost his father and his memory on the wintry “lost” planet. Wayne falls in with a few kind-hearted snow pirates who support him as he quests to find his memory and to stop the evil corporation which has gained control of the wintry planet. The story is a vaguely anime-like mess of double-crossing and self-important, motiveless banter and paper-thin characters, but luckily it manages to stay out of the way of the game’s true star, the . . . err . . . planet.
The outdoor environment is a snowy arctic tundra, full of snowdrifts, mountains, and the deserted ruins of the colony planet. Snow wisps and curls in the wind and, during occasional gusts, will nearly white-out the screen. Underground, lava courses through jagged, treacherous trenches, and willowy flecks of fire float in the air.
You won’t have the luxury of stopping to admire the view. No matter where you are in the game, your vital “thermal energy” slowly depletes. Although this hardly ever proves a problem, as thermal energy can be harvested from fallen foes and ample energy tanks, it does keep you moving forward. Waste time just snooping around and you’ll end up an icicle. This loose tie between gameplay and environment might have been stronger—you don’t regain thermal energy even while hanging out by the lava river—but the depletion of thermal energy does give a sense of urgency and cold to a planet that clearly looks it.
All of the environments teem with life. Sting-ray-like flying Akrid (the planet's indigenous monster insects) flock in intricate patterns; giant scorpion Akrid crouch over their prey; and, during one beautiful segment, a behemoth Akrid butterfly soars over the environment, leaving a treacherous wind in its wake. But the Akrid are as dangerous as they are pretty. And after you’ve had a chance to appreciate their natural undisturbed beauty, you’ve got to exterminate them.
On foot, Wayne is a pretty durable soldier. Although the game is in third-person, the aiming and camera mechanic feels familiar to the first-person shooter. During your romp through tundras, canyons, and a military base, you will kill both human snow pirates and giant insect-like Akrid. Of the two, the Akrid are much more fun to take down. The humans are blessed with Artificial Stupidity and eat bullets like candy corn. The Akrid, however, are strong and mean and as difficult to kill as a celebrity rumor
Each of the various Akrid monsters has an exploitable weak spot that glows bright yellow. However, hitting the weak spot is tricky, as it can be under the Akrid, behind it, or on its quick-moving legs. Yes, you can shoot off Akrid legs, and no, it doesn’t count as psychotic animal abuse when the Daddy Long-Legs you are de-limbing is as big as a house.
But Wayne doesn’t have to take on the Akrid monsters on foot. Littering the landscape are anime-stock battlemechs called “VS Suits.” The “V” stands for “Vital,” and the “S” stands for “Suit.” But even if the acronym is redundant, the suits themselves are not. Each type of suit has its style—some are light and transform into snow speeders, others are heavy and transform into giant hole-drillers, and the rest can equip the oversized VS weaponry on each arm. While you can lug around a giant VS homing laser or missile launcher on foot, you can also swap out the attached weapon for each VS. The diversity of VS suits and their customization add formidable heavy destruction to an already violent palette.
Among the copious variety of energy guns, machine guns, hand grenades and VS suits, Wayne also has a neat “anchor” tool to help him get around. Basically a tow-cable, the anchor allows Wayne to shoot platforms above him and quickly zip up and down. While limited in its usage (Wayne cannot swing on it), the anchor adds a vertical dimension to the game, and many mountainous or towering environments capitalize on the anchor mechanic.
However, not all is cool in Wayne’s world (apologies, really). While trudging through the snow feels appropriately heavy, especially when you’re toting heavy weapons, you are slow even out of the snow. The left and right bumpers are assigned to “quick turns,” which helps a little, but your inability to look straight up makes you feel hunchbacked, especially in levels where things (like bombs) fall on you. You also cannot run backwards and shoot forwards at the same time, which means that you have to approach whatever is attacking you. While sluggish controls in the mechanized VS suits is appropriate, we’d have liked to see Wayne be a bit more limber and quick on his feet.
He also falls down a lot. Any explosion or nearby stamping Akrid leg will stun Wayne or put him on his back. That might be forgivable, but the length of time it takes Wayne to stand up is not. During the more frenzied battles, it is not uncommon to watch your life drain away from a permanent horizontal position. An analogy to drunken sorority life is probably unnecessary, but that’s also what makes it so apt.
However, there is way more good here than bad, and most of it makes its way to the engaging online multiplayer game. The variety of modes is slim—deathmatch and team deathmatch type games are the most conspicuous, although more strategic “post grab” (which is not as dirty or as fun as it sounds) and “fugitive” games are also available. Matches are easy to join, the maps are inventive and gorgeous, and persistent leveling unlocks new costumes and upgrades. The one negative blip might be the radar, which is hard to read (especially on the vertical maps) because it doesn’t discriminate between up or down, friend or foe.
The best part about the multiplayer game is the enormous sense of power that comes from wearing a giant VS suit while your enemies flee before you. Firing ICBMs into a single antlike human is a satisfying pwn indeed.
The worst bit, however, is the difficulty in hitting a rolling or fallen target. While an enemy is either lying down or rolling, bullets and explosions seem to have no effect. More elite players, one quickly notices, spend most of the game rolling around like an invincible tumbling team.
The multiplayer matches in Lost Planet are decided by “battle points,” not just kills. You can get battle points for capturing nodes, killing enemies, blowing up enemy VS suits, etc. You lose battle points for killing yourself. Whichever team has the most battle points at the end of the game wins. While this might also be the team with the most kills, it is not necessarily so. The battle points mechanic may seem arcane, but it strangely works for a multiplayer game that has more to it than just murderous goals.
All of what makes the game exciting—the gorgeous environments, the giant VS suits, the epic boss battles, and the neat anchor tool—adds up to a magical action game, immersive in its environment, challenging in its furious fighting, and wide in its balance of both human-sized and giant-sized strategies. The weak, inconsequential story and clumsy, lethargic control are the only blemishes on this impressive and original effort. If you’re not yourself buried under a mountain of snow (where you at, Denver?), you don’t have an excuse for missing Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, the best 360 game of the new year.