I played Lost Planet 2 wrong. That is, I put the disc in my console, picked up my controller, pressed start, and tried to play the game. But that’s not what Lost Planet 2 wants you to do at all. What it wants is for you to convince four friends to buy the game, so you can all play it via online co-op. I can certainly understand why Capcom thinks making you buy four copies of a game in order to play it is a good idea, but it’s harder to see why you should bother.
Lost Planet 2 is so desperate to be regarded as a kind of action MMO that even when you play in single-player, your AI allies get phony online handles, complete with gangsta “a"s for “er"s. There isn’t even a “Start Game” option, just “Open Session,” and you have to specify that you want to be offline if you want to play without online intervention. That would merely be cute/annoying, but what makes it truly obnoxious is that mission after mission doesn’t just encourage teamwork, it absolutely depends on it—many chapters require coordinating players at far-distant points on the map. And of course, brain-dead ally AI can’t do that, and you don’t have the control over your allies that other squad shooters offer, much less the ability to hop between characters provided by smarter team games like the original Xbox’s Brute Force. So in single-player, you have a game that’s flatly unplayable.
Maps are confusing and over-embellished, making it hard to figure out where objectives are or when you’ve gotten turned around.
And unless you actually have four friends willing to buy the game, plug into Xbox Live, and carefully coordinate a time like you were the Ocean’s 11 crew, getting a proper co-op game is well-nigh impossible. Although there’s a matchmaking system, there’s no drop-in, so you can only join another game when someone else is specifically waiting in the lobby. And God forbid you try to do some co-op with a friend in meatspace; the split-screen co-op cedes half the screen to two mini-maps, leaving you with a tiny little window to play in as though it was trying to punish you for having the temerity to share one copy of the game between two people. You can try to join up with some random players, but if you’ve ever been on Xbox Live: Does it strike you as a good idea to make your enjoyment of a game dependent on finding teamwork-oriented people on XBL?
What’s really sad is that deep inside Lost Planet 2, there’s a good game struggling to be born. The zip-line movement is exhilarating, the environments look groovy, and the enemies are absolutely terrific. The smaller enemies move beautifully and look great, and the big bosses are scary, awesome, and create all kinds of opportunities for high-pressure strategizing much like Capcom’s way more successful Monster Hunter series.
Unfortunately, any interest the above might generate is done in by the game’s formless levels. Maps are confusing and over-embellished, making it hard to figure out where objectives are or when you’ve gotten turned around. And while I understand that it’s in the Japanese constitution that all video games must include mechs, the mech combat in Lost Planet 2 is sluggish and boring even by the genre’s low standards. This combines with eccentric controls, badly implemented aiming, and a confusing color palette to keep you from enjoying what few bits of pyrite are embedded in this great big hunk of junk.
I love co-op gaming, and I’m delighted that this generation’s designers are rediscovering it—particularly at Capcom, where Resident Evil 5 and Monster Hunter Tri have demonstrated how much co-op can enhance a game. But Lost Planet 2 demonstrates a favorite topic of mine: the problems big game development and distribution creates for innovative concepts. If the co-op only Lost Planet 2 was a $15 downloadable title that ran four hours, you might have a shot at convincing four friends to drop the cost of a movie ticket and schedule an evening. In fact, if the game were smaller, cheaper, and tighter, they could have had something really fun and original, especially if they did away with the weaker parts of this long game and focused on making 10 really good missions. But at $50, those of us not living like the dudes from Entourage are going to find it awfully hard to play the game the way Capcom wants us to play it—that is, the way that gives them maximum cash.