Perhaps the essence of Lost Planet isn't the snow of the first game or the jungle of the upcoming sequel's first demo. Kotaku's recent hands-on suggested a different signature element: Sci-Fi Battleground Chaos.
Capcom was showing a desert level of the company's winter-slated third-person shooter in New York this week. It controlled the same way the demo now available on consoles does, but it presented a new theatre of combat. And in that theatre were about a dozen human-sized combatants, many wielding super-human-sized guns. I fought alongside three other players on locally-networked Xbox 360s.
Clearing out the enemies triggered the arrival of two beast I can best describe as nimble, blind brontosauruses called Arkid. Though they could not see, they could hear very well. Anyone making a sound with their guns or feet would be mauled. That noisy man was me. A few times.
The controls and even the flow of the action in Lost Planet 2 take some getting used to. After playing so many other third-person shooters that react to a pull of the controller's left trigger by zooming the camera closer to a target, I find it jarring and dangerous to re-discover that Lost Planet 2 responds by having your guy toss a grenade. Your character makes right turns with the taps of other shoulder buttons. He switches his grenades and his ability to toss health energy with a two-button press. The mission flow can be confusing too, because both levels I have played have pretty much dropped me into battle as if I was storming Normandy Beach. The player doesn't even have a mini-map at first, but several small stations the size of short trees can be approached and activated on the battlefield, the first one turning on that mini-map. Turning on others adds numbers to the players' battle gauge, which essentially acts as a collective pool of lives.
Those elements are odd, but I liked them. They seem to produce in players a tactical scramble, allowing for precise movement that requires some thought about where you stand, cover and fire — a shade more Gears of War than, say, Modern Warfare. Getting in a bad position forces a sudden shift in strategy, from combat to healing to more battle-gauge collection. This makes the battle feel just a bit more open and frantic, less scripted than the norm.
Of course, the battles are scripted in the sense that certain actions trigger new events. As I wrote above, clearing out the enemy forces triggered the arrival of the Akrid. These monsters showed up on an overlook in a scene that looked good enough to be pre-rendered but was happening in real-time. I could move my guy around for better position. And then I had a choice: 1) Fight them and hope to hit their orange weak spots enough for them to die or 2) Work with my team to activate a number of scattered switched that would enable us to board a train and get out of there. We kind of executed both strategies. I managed to get the killing shot on one Akrid but then hopped on the train as the other one rushed it.
Throughout the battle, players earn badges to note things they've done mid-mission. They are currently called "Good Jon Awards". An example I was given involved firing from cover. Doing it well might earn a player "Half-Ass Cover". Doing it well multiple times could earn a better commendation, though probably not one as amusingly named.
More important for players than whatever Awards you win will be the points you earn for a mission well-fought. These can be applied to your character's stat development. Lost Planet 2 doesn't have a main character and lets players play on different factions in order to experience different sides of the same war. But a player's accrued experience transfers to whichever character the game has the player controlling, a Capcom rep told me.
The ability to have four-gamers jump into battle and fight giant monsters is, well, a bit Monster Hunter-ish. The stat-gaining in a shooter is somewhat Borderlands. All of this can be played solo with no change in the mission flow, making it more, well, Lost Planet-ish.
Whatever comparisons you want to make, the game is shaping up to feel like a chaotic science fiction of men against men and monsters. There are a lot of ingredients here. Cooked well and already looking good, Lost Planet 2 has surprising potential.