Announced back in 2005 for the launch of the Xbox 360 in Japan, the first Lost Planet was finally released about a year later in the country of the rising sun, soon followed by the European and North American version. Capcom's new franchise was quite original back then as there was a strong emphasis on the hero's body temperature the thermo-energy allowed to regulate. The game featured a campaign mode and some multiplayer action that actually got quite a strong fanbase at the time. The plot of the main story was clearly not the best out there but it still gave some incentive to keep playing in order to discover Wayne's lost memories. Four years later, here comes Lost Planet 2, and the least we can say is that its campaign mode will certainly not please everyone.
As early as the main menu page, it becomes obvious that Lost Planet 2 was thought as a multiplayer game right from the start. Everything there reminds of the interface of an online title, and even when selecting the campaign mode, you will be asked to either "join match" or "create game". Freed from his amnesic hero and any constrain of a real narrative structure, Lost Planet 2 is built as a series of rather small maps in which the objectives are also very reminiscent of the game modes you usually find in multiplayer: assault an enemy base, protect an area for a certain amount of time and so on. The campaign mode is composed of 6 episodes, each divided into several short chapters and it should take you between 8 and 12 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty setting you choose and on who you play with - AI or friends.
Though Lost Planet 2's plot line is reduced to its minimum, it would not be a Capcom game without a good number of cutscenes at the beginning and at the end of each mission. It is still hard to figure out what is going on and why the hell we are fighting each other, and the fact that all the characters remain anonymous soldiers makes it difficult for the player to really feel connected to them. No charismatic bad guy to be expected among humans either, which makes sense as the player will switch sides at each episode, so the Akryds - the Starship Trooperian aliens of the series - will be the main attraction to make up for it.
Gameplay-wise, not much has changed in four years. A dash button has been added to complete the evasive moves you can make but most of what was created in 2006 is still there. The thermo-energy can now be used to replenish the character's health bar, provided you have enough left to trade, and it is not long before you realize how important this is. Indeed, contrary to what you may think, data posts do not give you infinite checkpoints as in any multiplayer game. A new battle gauge shared between all members of your team will empty every time someone dies and when it reaches 0 point it's game over for everyone with the obligation to start the chapter from the very beginning. Considering that one death makes you lose 500 points, you will quickly understand that daredevils will be punished big time.
As for the rest, you get everything that made the first game what it was: varied weapons, a not-so-handy anchor - especially after tasting the grappling hook of Just Cause 2 -, VS suits and ground turrets. Like I said earlier, the maps are in fact rather small and it should not take you a lot longer than 10 to 15 minutes to complete each of them, should you play correctly enough that is. The sequences opposing you to a human resistance are not particularly exciting due to the very poor AI, something that was already pointed out in the first game. It is then a shame that, four years later, the same complaint can be made in that area. A lack of pace is also to blame in some chapters, in which case there goes the thrill of combat against humans.
The real stuff comes when you are faced to G category Akryds, G certainly standing for gigantic, which would still be quite an understatement. These boss sequences are simply thrilling and memorable and they will require skills, a bit of strategy and patience. These Akryds are not only immense, they also look incredible and horribly powerful, which they are by the way. The areas in which you will have to fight them are filled with weapons of mass destruction and it is a lot of fun to send everything you've got and see what happens. Well, when the AI does not interfere with your plans that is... And there, is the whole problem, you cannot count on your teammates when they are controlled by the AI. It is even made worse by the fact that it is not possible to give them orders, so when something specific must be done, it just takes more time because you have to do it on your own. As things get tougher, you can easily imagine how frustrating it can get.
When playing with friends, it will all depend on their skills and their team spirit. As the battle gauge will lose 500 points every time someone gets killed, it means you have more or less two lives each in a team of four. No need to say it is not much when facing the most challenging enemies. Expect some yelling at your friends if they are the go-head-first-and-kill-them-all type, or if they simply suck. That being said, the game was clearly thought as a multiplayer experience, and that's where you will get the most of it. To make things clear, playing the campaign mode solo really is not worth your while.
Technically, the engine is starting to show its age and the graphics even disappoint when taking a closer look. Textures are blurry and sometimes even way too shiny and some effects like the rain on the ground look terrible. The character models are also lacking in details when shown in cutscenes, especially when compared with Capcom's latest AAA title, Resident Evil 5. However, the game does not look bad at all, thanks to some varied environments - which can paradoxically disappoint too as they take away what made the first game's atmposphere -, cool-looking VS suits and nice explosion effects. Hats off to the gigantic Akryds, perfectly modeled, and breathtaking the first time you encounter them. The framerate is rock solid most of the time, but a few drops can be noticed when chaos invites itself on screen.
Much like Left4Dead, Lost Planet 2 will appeal to those who want to play online, co-op and against others. Cooperative play is at the core of the gameplay experience in the campaign mode and playing alone will obviously make the game a lot less interesting and strategic. Needless to say that if what you are after is a well-built storyline, you should not even bother. Like me, you won't get much satisfaction from the game and you will simply go through the different maps to be done with it as soon as possible. Disappointing then, when you think of what Capcom could have done on a narrative standpoint with such a background. But it would be unfair not to admit that Capcom delivers an effective multiplayer game, even though it does not bring much to the genre. In the end, I would advise you to give a try to the two demos that are available on Xbox Live and PSN. They will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect, and after all, your own opinion is the one you should value the most.
Thanks to Bertha for stepping in to help me capture the co-op action which can be seen in the end of the two gameplay videos.