Review: Warmer climate, frozen frame rate
A helicopter screams across the arctic abyss. For you and your fellow Snow Pirates, it's a lucky escape from the jaws of a massive Akrid beast. This evac is your ticket out of an icy grave in more ways than one. Soon the frozen landscape below you reaches an end, and you're soaring over a valley of vibrant undergrowth. Beginning the descent, your pilot welcomes you and your fellow mercs to the jungle. ?The jungle, huh?? one of your squad mates remarks, ?well the jungle smells like s***.?
Going from Hoth to the Amazon pretty much sums Capcom's about-face in concept for the Lost Planet series. 2006's Lost Planet: Extreme Condition introduced the ice planet E.D.N. II. Lost Planet 2 is also set there, but you'd hardly know it from a Snow Pirate's vacation photos. The ice deserts they patrol are melting, revealing thick undergrowth. This isn't the only change; LP2 has a newfound co-op fixation, and has you hacking through the jungle with teammates. Whereas the original's icy expanses could be eerily lonely, this game is all about crashing through the brush with three of your buddies. Well congratulations Capcom, no one can say you're afraid to shake things up. But while you've made bold, possibly audience-expanding changes, you've repeated many of the original's flaws verbatim. The spotty AI, massive system requirements, and finicky controls have all made a comeback. Worst of all, you've served up some very poorly implemented multiplayer, and is billing it as the main attraction.
Thankfully, there are some positive trends from the original on display here. Like the first game, LP2 is gorgeous. E.D.N. II has a variety of environments, and they're all rendered lavishly. Snow flurries gleam in the sunlight over frozen tundra. The new jungle levels really pop; they're hot, steamy, and teeming with life. You'll also do battle in some truly massive industrial facilities, full of frivolous engines of burning and smashing. They're like factories full of sparks in a music video, they only exist to be visually entertaining, and, in this case, deathtraps. To get things good and chaotic the environments are destructible. The rules on what can be demolished are unclear, but it's always a nice surprise when a nimbly-lobbed grenade brings the roof down on the competition.
The game's most visually arresting moments are the boss battles, where you face off against massive Akrid creatures. Monster movie fans take note, these guys are lizards and bugs of Godzilla-sized proportions. They blot out the sun, thundering around like cities with feet. It takes serious firepower to bring them down, provided by mech-like Vital Suits. Even in one of these babies you can still be squished flat, but there's some real satisfaction to be had when you're as big as a boss's tooth, and you bring him down anyway.
Of course, this immense scale comes at a price. LP2 has the inflated system requirements of a subpar port. A beefy rig is an absolute requirement, even for a frame rate in the thirties, and if you want to get fancy, make sure you have a DirectX 11 graphics card. For those choosing between LP2 on PC or console, call me a blasphemer, but I say go with the console, unless you have a seriously nasty gaming computer. In fact, PC enthusiasts who can't stand a port may want to avoid this one altogether. In addition to the performance issues, the controls are very clunky, and feature some, shall we say, nontraditional button mapping. Expect to tweak your settings for a while before you dive in. I agonized over my mouse speed before I got it feeling right. You can also use a 360 controller, if you're into that sort of thing.
The game's loose controls are made even worse by exaggerated character animations. Every jump, step, or roll feels like shuffling through molasses. Either on foot or piloting a ten-ton mech, your jump still has the same hang time and recovery delay. While the overwrought animations are annoying on your character, they do a great job of breathing life into the world around you. Bosses have long, painful death animations, writhing like the worms in Princess Mononoke. Enemy soldiers cheer and pump their fists when they bring you down. These animations are extremely fun when they're not getting in the way. When you watch your Vital Suit boot up the millionth time, the charm quickly evaporates.
Speaking of irritating design decisions, can we talk for a second about button mashing? Activating a control point, starting up a vehicle, and practically all other common tasks require you to hammer a button. It's annoying, repetitive, and so very unnecessary. The game tries to be suspenseful with it (mash faster, cap that point before your enemies regroup!) but the only tension created is in your wrist. Not cool Capcom- we PC gamers already live in fear of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The only thing more mind-numbing than all the button mashing is the game's story. The plot involves different factions fighting each other, as well as the indigenous Akrids, for control over a hostile planet. A story of colonialism, climate change, and civil unrest should be highly relevant. Instead it's a non-stop regurgitation of the most tired clich?s of anime and action movies: power armor, space marines, mechs, giant bugs, amnesia, hard-bitten machismo dialogue, endless double-crosses, and pausing dramatically as stuff blows up behind you. On a more basic, less pretentious level, the game has no protagonist, no side to get behind. You play a few levels as each faction, and while it's interesting that none of them are cast as outright villains, I would have liked someone to root for. Let's just say I was glad the cutscenes could be skipped.
Like the story, the game's AI is best described as dimwitted. Sometimes it took a bullet to the chest for an enemy soldier to notice me, other times they were taking aim the second I crested the horizon. Your squad mates' pathfinding is pretty messy as well; don't take a creative route if you want them to follow. They're altogether unpredictable, sometimes even behaving like DotA minions, dying, spawning and attacking on an infinite loop. Other times they'll stick by your side, and provide adequate backup. You'll want online buddies to fight alongside. Unfortunately, the game's matchmaking isn't much help, and worst of all, players cannot join a game mid-session. Unless you have a bunch of friends who bought this game, or you're the type who will troll message boards for potential allies, co-op may prove difficult.
Besides the matchmaking, LP2 has other design decisions destined to frustrate. Way too many of your oversized enemies can dish out one-hit kills, or stagger you into submission. Combine that with a lack of mid-level saves, and you've got the recipe for an ulcer. Also, you can't pause unless you make your game private, a setting that cannot be changed mid-session. I mean, why even designate games public or private if no one can hop in anyway? Lastly, most of the game is without music, which is too bad, since the music included is quite good.
Yes, LP2's most surprising strength is its orchestral score, though it doesn't bust it out very often. This leaves plenty of room for the passable voice acting, thunderous gunfire, and tremendous roars of giant foes and their frequently explosive destructions. This game will make you glad you sprung for the pricey subwoofer (your neighbors won't be as happy). As with the graphics, sound is another place where LP2's aesthetics outdo its more practical design elements.