ron, Mar-07 2008

Lost Planet impressions

Capcom recently released their mechs-in-the-snow-versus-filthy-aliens opus for the PS3, and it was only 36€, which made it quite an attractive proposition. I couldn't pass. Can you?

Installation

Lost Planet requires the installation of game data onto the internal drive. On my PS3, with the original 60GB drive and a bunch of demos and save games already in place, this process took precisely ten minutes and 39 seconds. Going by the information displayed in the XMB's Game Data Utility afterwards, this installation data occupies 4955MB of space.

Portholes

The game wasn't originally designed for the PS3, but was ported over. However, the game is running great. It doesn't stay at 60fps, like Capcom's Devil May Cry 4, but it reaches that rate quite a lot, and otherwise never seems to go below 30fps, no matter how insane the action gets. The biggest angle of complaint here is that the game is double-buffered with v-sync, which avoids tearing, the other can of worms, but makes the framerate fluctuations more pronounced, as it removes all gradations between 30fps and 60fps. It's either 60 or 30 with no middle ground, and the switches are known to irritate some people. I wish Capcom had included a configuration option to control this behaviour, so that everyone can pick what seems the most natural to them. I'd personally rather have tearing than the harsher framerate jumps. Other people might even prefer to be locked at 30fps, and forego the higher fluidity that the game can produce, just to avoid the transitional artifacts.

The load-times are impressive, that is they are hard to even notice. The longest instance of a load-screen I've seen so far was in the middle of mission #6, where gameplay transitions into a cut-scene. The game loaded for four seconds. In all honesty, I don't even recall any other instance of even seeing the "Now loading" message being displayed. 5GB of hard-drive space may be a big sacrifice, but the results are good.

And the game?

Oh, that. It's a third-person shooter that is balanced rather towards hordes of enemies that are incredibly stupid and likewise trivial to kill (one shot from any weapon). It has lots and lots of enemy generators, so picking the right targets and knowing when to toss a grenade is instrumental to keeping enemy numbers down. Most of the enemies (not the humanoid ones, but nearly everything else) have glowing, orange weak spots that you must hit. And it has a number of different mechs with their individually quirky control schemes (some can double-jump, some can float, some have melee, some can transform into bikes), with their own subset of super-heavy weaponry that can be detached, reattached and hauled around even on foot if you want to.
The actual levels are fun rushes. The grappling mechanic allowed for some interesting moments and nicely vertical level sections that are still a breeze to play. The thing with the "thermal energy" gauge that keeps ticking down constantly keeps you moving forward, which is of course a cheap trick to increase the pace, but it does wonders for the experience, as you can really only afford to clear those enemies that directly hinder your progress. You'll rarely have time to properly clear out an area.

So far so good. However, I am boiling a little inside about how the (many) boss battles in this game are set up. The boss battles are invariably an insane, unfitting ramp-up in difficulty beyond the normal flow of the missions. Players can choose between three difficulty levels at the start, so it's not impossible to complete the game or anything, but the "normal" bosses are already so unforgiving of tiny missteps that they just don't fit in with the "normal" rest of it at all.
There are some design problems at play as well, namely the fact that bosses use chains of area-effect attacks, and due to the way your character gets knocked over and stunned when hit, you have to pick up the (usually acoustic) cue and immediately, perfectly evade the first attack, or you'll otherwise get stuck in a series of three or four powerful attacks with objectively no way to escape. Add to that the camera's tendency to get stuck behind falling debris, so that you can't see your own character nor the boss, nor the weak spot you're trying to target, and you end up with a large portion of boss-fight time being spent just waiting things out that you can no longer influence. And, in good old arcade tradition, bosses tend to get meaner, stronger, faster, the more you deplete their health. It's insane.

Overall, PS3 owners who find the idea of stomping alien creatures back into the snowy holes they crawled from attractive, and have no known aversion to mechs and simpleton enemy AI, may very well go ahead. Lost Planet is indeed an intense tickle of the senses, despite that being just the coating around a merely "ok" budget-game. I'd really recommend starting the game straight on easy however. I originally started "hard", and threw in the towel in mission #4. Then I was stuck for over an hour on mission #6 on normal until I got everything just right and could (barely) kill that boss. I'm not that bad with a controller usually, so make of that what you will, but I really don't want to recommend that exact experience. It's worth playing, but do start on easy.

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