E3 06: Lost Planet Updated Hands-On

How lost is this Lost Planet? Well, pretty lost, but it's still well populated with aliens and Snow Pirates, as we discover in the latest demo.

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Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is the intriguing Xbox 360 title from Capcom that drops you onto an icy, alien-filled world. The game is set in the distant future and casts you as an amnesic soldier contending with life on a frozen world that's home to an unfriendly alien race, known as the Akrid, and groups of your fellow humans who've banded into packs of snow pirates. Unfortunately, you'll come to find that despite the Akrid being about as unfriendly and murderous as you can get when it comes to interacting with humans, the snow pirates will pose almost as big of a threat. The last time we saw the game was at Capcom's press event in Las Vegas, and we were given a demo of the title by producer Keiji Inafune and some of the team working on the game. We've since gotten in some hands-on time with two demo levels, which offer a work in progress look at what to expect from the promising title that currently stands as one of the best-looking Xbox 360 games we've seen. The demo is now available on XBox Live for everyone to try out, so feel free to download it and give it a whirl yourself.

Freezing temperatures, nasty aliens, and snow pirates. Lost Planet will throw the gauntlet at you.
Freezing temperatures, nasty aliens, and snow pirates. Lost Planet will throw the gauntlet at you.

The two levels we were able to try offered a sampling of the varied gameplay found in Lost Planet. The first was a simple search-and-destroy mission that sent us to take out Akrid nests. The mission was a touch more involved than stomping a few bugs due to the complicated relationship you have with the Akrid, which boils down to you being one reasonably armed man against a horde of ill-tempered, murderous aliens. The mission started out easy enough; we found ourselves going through the icy city ruins that litter the planet's surface. We started on the outskirts of a settlement nestled near a cliff's edge and came across some medium-sized Akrid, who bore more than a passing resemblance to the bugs in Starship Troopers and were popping out of oozy nests. The nests seem to act as infinite spawn points for the Akrid, so you'll have to take them out if you don't want to be surrounded by the insects, but a couple clips of machinegun fire will do this well enough.

Though their numbers were plentiful, we were able to cut through them pretty easily thanks to the one-two punch of our machine gun (your default weapon) and some well-placed grenades. Besides blowing up real good, the Akrid left behind globs of thermal energy, which we were able to collect. The squishy orange energy is key to your survival in the game, since it serves as a shield of sorts and helps build up your health when you take damage. The catch to thermal energy is that, due to the frigid conditions around you, it's constantly running down, forcing you to collect more or die.

As we moved on, we started exploring the interior of the ruined city and went into a structure that was crawling with the bugs. The close-quarters combat made things a bit more challenging due to the sheer number of Akrid and the lack of maneuvering room. Though there was an equalizer in the form of explosive barrels, which were scattered around the area, it goes without saying that detonating such things in such a cramped space is asking for a quick and fiery death. Once we sorted out those nests, we moved on to a larger outdoor area where we were able to pop into one of the vital suits that you'll find in your travels.

The mechanoid exoskeletons are mech-like suits that afford you better protection and firepower to use against your foes. Unfortunately, we didn't have too much time to appreciate the suit, as a massive Akrid appeared, as they do, from an underground burrow and began wailing away at our shiny new suit. The ambush did afford us the chance to get acquainted with the powerful suit's finer points, namely its jump jets and independently firing armament, which all came in handy for killing the Akrid. The mech suits also offer a neat feature, in that you can detach either of their two mounted weapons and use it while on foot. It'll replace one of your two weapons, but won't share ammo with the infantry weapons, so if you have an infantry shotgun and a mech shotgun, they'll have independent ammo supplies. Still, if you ever hit a chokepoint through which your mech can't fit, you'll still be able to grab a weapon off of it and use that instead of your infantry weapons. You can also reattach weapons to any mechs you find, allowing you to customize your mech as you see fit.

The handy grappling hook will get you out of some tough situations.
The handy grappling hook will get you out of some tough situations.

Though we found ourselves feeling pretty good with how we did against the opposition, as we moved into the mammoth Akrid-hive area, which can be seen in the trailers for the game as the massive nest-space swarming with creatures, our sense of well being evaporated as we tried to make our way to the level's end boss. Navigating the narrow pathways leading to the boss while being swarmed by dozens of dive-bombing Akrid is a humbling experience. The massive end boss finished off our confidence, as the creature nimbly attacked us like greased lightning, forcing us to abandon our vital suit and face him on foot. We'll gloss over how that battle went, and merely say the game's sense of scale and speed is coming together very nicely.

The second demo level gave us a breather from the vile Akrid, since it offered us a more conventional action experience by pitting us against a faction of snow pirates who needed a good stomping. Our impressions were only half right. The level wound up being even more hectic and fast-paced than the Akrid-extermination level, because the snow pirates were packing comparable weaponry to ours, which included their own vital suits. The pirates were able to use heavy-duty turrets to reduce us to an awkward stain on the snow. The basic goal of the level was to make our way to the interior of the snow-pirate base and take out a boss. While this sounds relatively easy, the fact that everyone is trying to kill you and is packing tremendous firepower, keeps things lively. The boss is in an armored, but surprisingly spry, vital suit that winds up jumping all over the area like a demented Robbit (points to anyone who remembers what that is) while shooting at you. Thankfully, you'll find all sorts of interesting weapons to use against it. Our personal favorite was the rocket launcher, which, while slow, sure did blow things up good.

Mechanoid suits let you get all Sigourney-Weaver-at-the-end-of-Aliens-2 on the Akrid enemies.
Mechanoid suits let you get all Sigourney-Weaver-at-the-end-of-Aliens-2 on the Akrid enemies.

The gameplay mechanics felt pretty good, whether we were on foot or in a vital suit. The on-foot mechanics had a nice feel to them; running, jumping, and shooting were all a breeze. The control scheme features handy quick turns, which let you quickly turn to deal with whatever trouble is coming your way. The weapons system is an interesting one, as you'll be able to find and use vital-suit weapons in addition to your standard array of guns and grenades. Though large and bulky, the weapons pack one heck of a punch. An interesting addition to this standard mix is a grapple cable, which you can use to reach new areas or, should you accidentally walk off an edge, save yourself from plunging to a horrible death. However, as fine as the on-foot mechanics are, we're obviously bigger fans of the vital suit. When piloting a suit, we were forced to move at a methodical pace to compensate for the unit's bulk, but the fire power and additional thermal energy are a nice trade-off. We're also big fans of the ability to equip weapons on each arm of the suit, which you can then fire independently with the left and right triggers.

The visuals in the game, though not complete, are looking fantastic. The effects, especially those from explosions and weapons fire, are extremely impressive and put the game in the ranks of the best-looking 360 games we've seen. The environments are large and expansive and are complemented by the perpetual motion from wind and falling snow. The character models are detailed and animate smoothly. The vital suits are intricate showcases for the ornate design work done in the game. You'll see moving gears, flexing joints, and exhaust from your jump jets displayed in crystal clarity. However, the creepy Akrid are just as impressive thanks to odd fleshy bits that jut out at weird angles and a surprising amount of running lights that play out over their bodies. What's stood out so far is the amount of action happening onscreen at a generally smooth frame rate. The game manages to achieve a more-than-respectable amount of intensity thanks to the engine's steady performance and a near-overwhelming collection of foes.

Even though the demo was far from complete, the audio in Lost Planet is shaping up nicely and taking good advantage of the 360's sound hardware. What stand out the most at the moment are the weapons' fire and the ambient effects you'll hear. The weapons we heard in the demo showed off a nice range of audio, which complemented the insane explosions. The ambient effects, such as the wind and the background-critter effects from the Akrid, were good at setting a mood. We also heard some respectable voice acting, mainly the cries of the recently deceased, amidst the cacophony.

Just trying to kill some bugs, sir.
Just trying to kill some bugs, sir.

Based on what we played, Lost Planet is showing a lot of promise. The blending of on-foot and mech combat has a good feel to it. The two missions we played were different enough to give us hope that the game will keep you on your toes. Perhaps the most impressive elements from the demo are the action and the game's fast pacing. The hectic nature of everything going on around you is disconcerting and goes a long way toward setting that unique feel, which we like. Lost Planet is currently slated to ship early next year for the Xbox 360. Look for more on the game next month from the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

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