A Lost Franchise?
"Hurry up and get inside its mouth!" Ours was definitely one of the stranger conversations had at the Sony booth at Tokyo Game Show 2009. The three of us were excitedly shouting tips as we worked together to overwhelm the gigantic boss that starred in the co-op demo for Capcom's Lost Planet 2. Having done irreparable internal damage, we eventually downed the slimy creature, proving once and for all that you should never swallow a soldier with a mini-gun. We came away from the demo suitably impressed and in agreement that it was among the highlights of the show, deciding that we would pick up copies when it was released later that year - it would eventually slip to spring 2010 - so we could continue the messy, co-op shenanigans.
That was not my first encounter with the Lost Planet series, as I had attempted to play the first game earlier that very year. Sauntering back from an afternoon spent in the pub, I stopped by my local game shop just before closing and stumbled upon/into a second hand Xbox 360 bundled with Lost Planet. I'd been considering buying a 360 for some time and the beers gave me the final nudge needed to part with my yen.
I enjoyed what I played of LP, but unfortunately the disc had not been as well looked after as the console, as it refused to co-operate after about two hours. I quickly got over the initial disappointment and moved onto something with less Lee Byung-hun, forgetting all about Capcom's third person shooter until September's TGS.
Lost Planet 2 finally arrived in May 2010 and was greeted with decidedly average review scores. In light of the underwhelming reception my friends opted out, but I kept my pre-order and the accompanying gift; the neon orange t-shirt was every bit as ugly as I had hoped but the game would fall well short of my inflated expectations. Without my co-op buddies, I slogged through the single player all by my lonesome, a decision that soured me on the game and served to highlight its many faults. Rife with glitches and questionable level design, it sucked much of the fun out of shooting massive insects in the face. Save points were too far apart, the AI had shit for brains, there were cycles of never ending stumbling animations (big insect makes earth shake, you lose your balance, earth shakes again before you gather yourself, more falling over etc.) and the competitive multiplayer was dull and uninspired.
Somehow, in spite of all these frustrations, I became rather fond of Lost Planet 2. A much needed patch fixed some of the more glaring issues and I decided to replay it, only this time as it was intended: co-operatively. Gone were the space pirates with a fondness for facing walls and wandering in front of my gun, replaced by squad-mates capable of approaching situations tactically and not getting stuck in the upholstery. Co-op gave it a new lease of life and allowed me to better appreciate its charms, from over-sized foes and weaponry to interesting and colourful visuals.
Yesterday, word spread of a third Lost Planet, which was quickly followed by a cut-scene-only trailer. It would seem that Capcom have not given up on a series that has yet to realise its potential and have now handed development duties over to Spark Unlimited (Call of Duty: Finest Hour, Legendary). Apparently, the best thing to do with a series packed full of excellent ideas but lacking in execution is to hand it over to a less capable developer!
To be fair to Spark Unlimited, the trailer was perfectly agreeable, ticking all of the Lost Planet boxes - giant mechs, extreme weather, loud guns and aliens with glowing orange weak points - even if it shed little light on the gameplay. Further details have since emerged however, suggesting that there will be more emphasis on narrative and one central character. Usually I’d be all for a strong narrative and lead, but I feel that such things should not drive this particular series - Lost Planet 3 will succeed or fail on the strength of its gameplay and that’s where the focus should be. I was very disappointed to learn that this will be a single player campaign, seemingly content to ignore the strengths of the last entry.
Capcom’s other Tuesday trailers, DmC: Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 6, had the internet abuzz but it was Lost Planet 3 that got my attention. I still have a fondness for part two that is hard to explain, and hope that the series will one day fulfil its potential as a Monster Hunter with guns, arachnid and mech. I’m just not sure that Lost Planet 3 will be the game to do it.