Lost Planet 2 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 was a good example of how messing up gameplay basics can render a gorgeous and full-bodied third-person shooter hopelessly un-fun. How refreshing, then, that developer Capcom has addressed some of the shortcomings that plagued the console release, making the newly released PC version noticeably more enjoyable. The package still sports a number of flaws--a dumb and puzzling story, silly online rewards, and a reliance on frequent knockback attacks to create difficulty. And yet a variety of tweaks and fewer communication gaffes make a big difference in Lost Planet 2's overall playability. For that matter, so do the mouse and keyboard controls, which are smooth and intuitive as long as you turn off aim assist and tweak the sensitivity sliders. This still isn't the sci-fi shooter to end all sci-fi shooters, but it's a gorgeous technical achievement and a substantial package that will provide a comfortable home for action junkies looking for something a little different.
This sequel offers up a lot more variety than its predecessor. You sprint through a number of diverse locations, and fantastic visuals bring the planet of E.D.N. III to life. Some frigid areas hark back to the original Lost Planet, including the prologue, which features great Lost Planet standbys: giant mechs known as vital suits (or VSs), enormous aliens called akrid with glowing orange spots (hint: shoot them!), and snow flying everywhere. In other levels, red light bathes industrial corridors, lightning flashes brightly above a turbulent sea, and cyclones sweep across the desert plains. There are plenty of beautiful vistas to take in and many attempts to vary the pace. Over the course of the game, you will rush through the desert on a roaring speeder, defy gravity in the blackness of space, and bring down a giant akrid from the inside. Lost Planet 2 is absolutely stunning on the PC, particularly if you own a video card that can handle its fancy DirectX 11 effects, yet it runs surprisingly well on a medium-powered machine, even with many of the options cranked up.
The early levels have some weird pacing idiosyncrasies. They take just a few minutes to complete, too often coming to an end just as things appear to be picking up. Eventually, the action settles into a better rhythm, and you begin to pick up on Lost Planet 2's various delights and quirks. Perhaps the game's greatest claim to fame is its frequent boss battles versus the giant akrid that often loom above you. In one level, that might mean a giant multi-limbed creature rising from the water; in another, it's two lizardlike beasts paralyzing you with sonic bursts, and then lumbering in your general direction. Like its predecessor, Lost Planet 2 is big on knockback attacks. Monsters might send you flying backward, which can be frustrating, because it takes control away from you while you wait for your character to get back up. However, animation times seem to have been adjusted, and other elements have been changed to make for a much better experience. For example, the sonic attacks in that aforementioned dual akrid battle are much less frequent than in the console versions, which means you spend more time shooting and less time scowling while hammering on the keys that let you break free from paralysis.
The most notable improvements come into play in a level involving a speeding train under attack by a gigantic akrid worm. On consoles, you had to deal with a number of awful design elements during this level, such as absolutely putrid friendly AI, total communication failures, and an infuriating pair of turrets. Instead of dealing with a horrific barrage of missiles, you now set your sights on a flying gunship, which is a lot more fun than getting knocked off of a train over and over again. Your teammates, while still occasionally brain-dead, are less likely to run in place against a train door that won't open. (Too bad your humanoid foes are still as dumb as a box of rocks.) And the final stage of this level, in which you have to load a giant cannon, extinguish fires, and man side turrets, now identifies what you must do via a robotic voice-over and interface markings. This act's first sequence, which you can easily exploit by running to the rear of the train with a sniper rifle, is a total bore, but the rest of the act lets you enjoy the dusty environments as they rush by, all while sniping enemies from afar and mowing them down from within a clanging mech suit.
In light of the imperfect AI, it's best if you grab a few friends or strangers to join you in online cooperative play. Some fights, particularly against the giant bosses, are almost epic this way, particularly with a full contingent of players. One player gets in one of the many different types of mech suits, another rides on the mech's side, and others pummel the oozing creature above with rockets. Yet even co-op play doesn't turn out to be as simple as you'd want. There is no drop-in, drop-out play, so you can't join a friend already in progress. More importantly, you can't join a buddy at all if you haven't already played to that point. (If you want your buddy to help you through the train level but he's only in episode 2, it's a no-go.) The respawn system, which gives players a limited number of lives to share, can still be a frustration, but because the knockbacks here aren't as prevalent as in the other versions, it's a minor point.
Like most of Lost Planet's visual aspects, the cutscenes look great and convey a great deal of action-movie gusto. Unfortunately, they don't tell much of a tale. The original Lost Planet was not big in the story department, but it still made the attempt, and at least you got to know a few of its leading players. Lost Planet 2 doesn't even try. Its characters are nameless and have no discernable personality. A group of speeder-piloting bandits are apparently meant to inject a bit of humor, but they come across as embarrassing racial stereotypes. Without any character development, proper story exposition, or a better antagonist than a faceless corporation you know little about, there's no reason to care about the fate of this attractive world.
Competitive multiplayer is another reason to visit this planet. There are a robust number of modes here, along with an intriguing and occasionally silly system of persistent rewards meant to keep you invested. Many of the modes are shooter standards: Elimination, Team Elimination, and variants on two-flag Capture the Flag and Conquest, called Akrid Egg Battle and Data Post Battle, respectively. Fugitive mode has returned as well and pits a small team of lightly armed fugitives avoiding capture against a fully equipped team of hunters. Some modes come in several variants as well. For example, Team Elimination victory conditions can be customized so that the first team to use up a set number of respawns loses, or the victory might go to the team with the highest point total. These modes can be further customized by the host in a number of ways, from setting the default weapon types, to setting the number of mech suits on the map. Some of the mechanical drawbacks of the campaign are still an annoyance. For example, getting hit in the midst of throwing a grenade interrupts your toss. But the vertically designed maps and cool mechanical monstrosities can lead to some enjoyable shoot-outs.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of people playing online, which is a shame, since the game features a persistent mode in which five factions fight it out for control of a larger world map, a la Chromehounds and EndWar. The game also offers a problematic but intriguing system of persistent rewards to keep you invested. The crux of this system is the points you earn while playing, which in turn can be spent on a chance to earn something useful at the game's slot machine. Rewards include new weapons you can add to your default loadout, passive bonuses to equip, and new parts for customizing your character. They also include emotes and titles, called "noms de guerre." It's an intriguing system, but over time it lends itself to disappointment. Unlocking a new shotgun for multiplayer matches is cool, but most of the time, you're getting a new nom de guerre or an emote. So now you can run around with the words "lookin' for love" floating over your head and perform a new kind of fist pump. Customizing your weapons and appearance is great, but the more useless rewards make this system feel unnecessarily padded.
In spite of its occasional awkwardness, Lost Planet 2 is a worthy offering for shooter fans who enjoy the awe-inspiring sight of a colossal creature towering above them. It's good to see this game's better elements getting their fair dues, even if some of the other core issues weren't so readily repaired. The gameplay oddities and small online population keep this celestial object from shining too brightly, but if you're interested in shooting big bugs on a resplendent sci-fi world, or just want to show your friends what your fancy new video card is capable of, then Lost Planet 2 is an entertaining way to pass the hours.