Resting right at the top of a dreadfully large pile of games I’ve meant to play is the original Lost Planet for the Xbox 360. One of those woulda, coulda, shoulda titles that just never made it into my rotation, it still waits for me in its original shrink wrap. When its counterpart on the PS3 showed up a year later on my doorstep for review, I couldn’t have been happier. Now, there were no excuses.
It quickly became clear what I had missed the first time around - a visceral experience of explosions, exploration, and gobs of bugs. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is a maelstrom of fire and ice. There’s no rest right from the beginning, as Planet wastes no time throwing you into the middle of a full-bore onslaught while you desperately try to make sense of the chaos around you. Virtually all of the hallmarks of the game are on display right off the bat, between a combination of on-foot and mech-based combat, a wild array of insect enemies, and a cheesy, predictable plotline that uses every sci-fi game convention ever known.
The story, such as it is, puts you in the shoes of Wayne, suffering from amnesia and seeking revenge for the death of his father. Trapped on a frozen iceball of a planet known as E.D.N. III, he is rescued by a young trio of freedom fighters who are seeking to defeat snow pirates and an evil corporation, while also fending off giant masses of snow-bugs known as the Akrid. It seems that these insects have a thermal energy source inside their bodies, which is key to survival on the icebound landscapes. Keeping a supply of this energy is crucial to staying alive as you bound across the whitescape – if it runs out, so do you.
Luckily, the plot is secondary to the action, since shooting is the true heart and soul of the game. Action is fast, furious, and virtually non-stop, as Wayne employs all sorts of weaponry when battling the seemingly endless array of big bugs. Choosing your gun is never an easy task, since each enemy offers its own unique problems. A trusty machine gun handles the lowest-level akrid fairly well, and also takes out their nests quite nicely. When piloting a mech, however, the gatling guns and rocket launchers are your best friends, especially when up against bosses and their underlings. At various points, sniper rifles, sticky grenades, shotguns, and laser beams will help you eliminate your foes and move on to the next level. There’s no lack of variety when it comes to the instruments of death, nor the creatures you’ll be attacking.
Lost Planet’s most striking feature is its variety of combat. While there are plenty of times your character is on foot shooting everything in sight, all kinds of different mechs (termed Vital Suits in the game’s vernacular) litter the landscape and are available for use at key points throughout the game. Each model offers a varying experience; some can support dual-wielding machine guns or rocket launchers, while others don’t pack as powerful of an offensive punch but can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Learning to use their distinct advantages goes a long way towards being successful.
Even when you’re not piloting metal behemoths, Wayne has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. A nifty grappling hook allows you to scale all sorts of treacherous obstacles, and particularly thoughtful usage of it will put you in a dominating position just when you think there’s nowhere else to turn. One great example of this was when I was up against a nasty mech in a middle chapter, getting rockets blasted at me and feeling virtually helpless. After a few tries, I was able to carefully make my way all the way to the top of a huge building, looking down at the mech who suddenly found himself in an impossible situation. He couldn’t reach me, yet my rocket launcher found him just fine. Problem solved.
About the only problems Planet has lie in its surprisingly underwhelming usage of the PlayStation 3 hardware. There were several occasions when the on-screen action came to a virtual halt, notably when a plethora of enemies and firepower were all in the fray. You’ll fight the controls too, especially when it comes to reloading your weapons. There’s also no denying that Lost Planet looks rather ordinary. It’s not ugly by any means, but I’ve come to expect a bit more from Sony’s powerhouse of a machine (especially in cutscenes).
Even so, these complaints are relatively minor when viewed in context of the overall experience. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is a powerful, bombastic exercise in mayhem. Whether you’re up against bugs, humans, or machines, Planet is challenging and explosive. So what if the popcorn movie-worthy plot isn‘t the greatest you’ve ever seen; how many good action movies need a compelling narrative? With Planet, the action is the driver, and that’s all that you need.