Lost Planet depicts a hostile ice world which has been ear-marked for colonization due to Earth becoming so badly polluted. Unfortunately, this planet is home to the Akrid, a race of insect-like life forms that don't take too kindly to the invaders rolling in to town. The story finds the game's main protagonist, Wayne, looking to avenge his father’s death, but ends up embroiled in a wider plot for the planets future through the eleven missions that make up the single player game. These involve facing off against humans, in the form of a corporation called NEVEC, as well as snow pirates who engage in hit and run tactics to stay alive in this barren wasteland.
The reason for such open hostility is the revelation that the Akrid contain thermal energy which humans are using as an energy source to avoid freezing to death. This energy is gathered from fallen enemies and some scenery, with it serving a dual purpose. During fights, getting caught in an explosion can dangerously reduce the health bar and the thermal gauge will fill this back up, allowing you to continue. It also affects certain weapons, whereby using them will drain thermal energy at an alarming rate. Allow it to fall to zero and the health bar will then drain down to the point where it's game over, though the chances of your thermal energy dropping to zero during the normal game (excluding boss battles) are extremely low. As a result this feature ends up feeling more like a gimmick, as though the developers tried to make an interesting addition to gameplay but then ditched it midway through to concentrate on the other aspects of the game.
Cut-Scenes are high quality and are well produced, but the story is pure hokum with Capcom managing to do the impossible - make a title with worse dialogue than the vast majority of Resident Evil games. Cut-scenes feel tacked on at times, as if something was removed during development. They sometimes make no sense at all after certain missions and bear no relation to what the player has just done. Couple that with the irritation of Wayne's "friends" who manage to recite every cliché in the book, and it ends up a real stinker in places.
Considering the premise of the game, you would be forgiven for assuming art direction and levels would be bland, white affairs but Capcom have done wonders in this department. The fusion of bleak, apparently desolate tundra with the architecture of humanity is wonderfully realised, creating some fantastic environments. This continues all the way through the game, with later levels keeping up the standard set from the beginning, creating a believable, coherent world to roam.
The Akrid are naturally aggressive and make the game feel all the better for it. The same can't be said for encounters with human enemies, however. Both NEVEC and snow pirates seem to be playing bit-part roles in the proceedings. It's not unusual to find them literally standing and allowing the player to shoot them. It's a culture shock to see such basic attack patterns when compared to the more aggressive 'hunt down at all costs' ethics found in many of today's games. Fortunately, some of the boss battles involving humans are much more in tune with the game’s high points, but the change is too striking to ignore. The first time meeting some of the more elaborate Akrid creatures will delight fans of the studio's boss encounters, as they are vintage Capcom. While these face-offs can be straightforward, at no time is complacency an option. The scrap to finish off a fight can turn into a frantic scramble across the tight, claustrophobic arena. You will find yourself looking to find time before the next wave of attacks seek you out and the advantage swings from the player to the boss, and back and forth until one side is victorious.
Control feels right for the type of game with the heavy feeling of trudging through snow being captured perfectly. It's not massively refined in any way and it would've been nice if the main character had a bit more grace ala Dante from the same studio's Devil May Cry series, but it's not an issue in the end. Weapons have a floaty, disconnected feel to them, which can distract at first and feels almost as if they aren't registering their targets. After being so used to a perfect balance on titles such as Gears of War, it's slightly galling. Heavy weapons, although more satisfying, can't be carried around easily and result in slower, more deliberate movements which in turn make the player an easy target. On the whole though, they are worth the effort once the gleeful, pyrotechnic devastation of these arms are unleashed. With only two slots to carry weapons, favourites are soon identified and sought out. Grenades are more fun, with disc, hand and sticky amongst the variants on display. The grapple hook, which can by used to clamber to high or out of reach areas, is criminally underused; this should have been a third weapon option and would have been ideal to snare enemies or to cross substantial distances. It does neither and this is a great disappointment.
Though the real stars of the show though are the VS (or Vital Suits). These, loosely put, are similar to mechs (or mecha for the more anally retentive about such things) but far more agile to use. Capcom have quite obviously spent a great deal of time on these as there are many variations on the theme, from a giant, well armed unit, to a small skidoo with rocket boost. It's a real treat to seek out and use the different models littered around the game world. These come in especially handy during boss fights or even in clearing an area of Akrid or pirates/NEVEC troops. Don't be fooled into thinking its a simple case of coasting through the game in these though, as they are still vulnerable to attack and you have to eject from the VS once it's been damaged beyond use.
Multiplayer comprises of Elimination, Team Elimination, Post Grab & Fugitive, with each supporting sixteen players in configurations of two teams of eight or four teams of four. Arenas range from vast, snow-covered plains with a giant tower in the middle, to smaller, ruined buildings, ripe for ambushes and face to face combat.
While Elimination and Team Elimination are fairly standard fare, Post Grab and Fugitive really stand out. Post Grab requires you to snag a set amount of posts in order to achieve victory, with the tension mounting as each team fights it out to reach them, and switch it over to their colours without being ambushed as they near completion. The battles swing back and forth: one moment the opposing team are close to finishing, then an insane piece of luck swings it back in the opposite team’s favour. It's addictive and very rewarding. Fugitive pits teams of anything up to 15 against a lone player; for all that it sounds like an unfair match, for the truly skilled a "lone wolf" can give those players a run for their money.
Add to that the levelling up at the end of every ranked match, which in turn unlocks new items of clothing/patterns for camouflage, and it manages to rise above the usual online gameplay options tacked on the end of many single player games.
Lost Planet is an arcade style shooter divided into small(ish) chunks, designed to be played again and again. Whilst this might disappoint those who expect a sprawling, epic adventure, it still offers up some superb set pieces and excellent boss fights.