“Sunshine cannot bleach the snow,” wrote Emerson. But it sure can make it blindingly bright. As a child growing up in the snowy climes of Buffalo, I loved the winter snows. And I especially enjoyed a good blizzard. Sure, navigating wind-whipped snow as I drove the back roads was dangerous. But it made me feel as though I was in a wonderful, strange world, too.
So it is with LOST PLANET: EXTREME CONDITION, the big game of the year from Capcom for the Xbox 360. You and your team begin by fighting what appears to be a giant flea. But it’s far uglier and scarier than that because it’s the size of a skyscraper. When the flea knocks you and your large, computerized Vital Suit into oblivion, you’re completely out of it. The next thing you know, you’re on a blizzard-ravaged planet far from a polluted Earth. To top that off, only part of your character Wayne’s memory remains. And you have to deal with the giant Akrids.
Battling big monsters has been a staple in video games at least since Mario met Bowser in Super Mario Bros. But with the superb, next generation graphics in Lost Planet, the hideous Akrids become all the more awesome and frightening. And some of them are very hard to kill, too, especially the Dongo which turn into buzz saws and try to cut into your robotic Vital Suit.
The makers of Lost Planet have added a bunch of inventive gadgets and gameplay to make this Halo-like shooter more compelling. Sometimes you’ll have to dig through ice and snow to find a rocket gun or a Vital Suit (VS). While movement in the VS is slow, you can pop out at any moment to add some slightly more nimble combat yourself. You can affix gatling guns and rocket launchers to the VS, which also can hover and slide to the side, away from large Akrids, fairly quickly. Yet all of this requires too much of your human memory for button combinations on your 360 controller.
The upshot? Gameplay in Lost Planet can sometimes be too darn difficult. Plus, the tutorial isn’t complete enough. For instance, you won’t learn how to crawl immediately, and you’ll need to do that in the first hour of the game. Add to that the fact that Wayne moves about as quickly as a bug stuck in molasses, and you’ll become frustrated.
Even an experienced gamer will die constantly and be forced to restart the bigger monster battles. I really wanted to move forward to experience more of this wild planet. But this sort of gameplay daunted me.
Yet there was something in me that loved the slow movement as I trudged through the stormy cold and ice. That appreciation waned, however, when I was stuck battling a monster in a cave and I couldn’t move around with speed to avoid attacks. In addition, my life was timed, so I needed to move from place to place before I became too cold and froze to death. Thankfully, I gathered ‘thermal energy’ from dead Akrids to add precious seconds of life.
If Lost Planet weren’t such a beautiful game which immersed me into an environment more gorgeous and treacherous than the 1937 movie, Lost Horizon, it wouldn’t be worth the price of admission. After all, the sci-fi story is full of small holes that even a 6th grader might make fun of. It all begs my favorite question: when is the writing for video games going to become as stellar as the graphics? Still, here’s one of the few instances where graphics and atmosphere are as important as gameplay and writing. If you can deal with the problems in Lost Planet, you’ll find the game to be quite a treat.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 9, 2007