I remember my first chocolate Easter egg, wrapped in shiny, purple foil. The foil gave way to a smooth, beautiful chocolate surface, and my child eyes saw, of course, that this gorgeous thing must be solid chocolate all the way through. The shell broke to reveal that it was a lie, a hollow lie, empty save for a tawdry plastic packet of chocolate buttons. You might chalk this up as one of the first life lessons: don't judge a corporate book by its cover. I didn't. I chalked it up as major league disappointment.
Lost Planet is a third-person shooter from Capcom – a genre I have a genetic disliking for, although Max Payne, Dead Space and the sublime The Suffering are very close to my heart. Lost Planet was one of Capcom's first efforts to develop with a Western audience in mind and was initially an Xbox exclusive, an unpopular console in Japan. It was released to PC in 2007.
I don't like to whine about games as the internet has already got that covered. Honestly, I'd rather be quiet than say something nasty; but Lost Planet is a perfect example of where AAA goes wrong. If it wasn't for the fact I got the game free with a graphics card, I wouldn't have played it. If it wasn't for this article, I wouldn't have finished it. (Bonus Content Alert! This week's I Hate Bioshock Trailers Award goes to the Lost Planet theatrical trailer which has amazing action you will never see in the game.)
On the surface, Lost Planet is adorned with beautiful graphics and art - the strange enemy designs, the attention to character detail, the harsh snowscapes. Get too close to some of the enemies and a low poly count will be in evidence, but I don't get worked up about such things. However, underneath the icy sheen, Lost Planet is an incredibly empty experience and it saddens me that it was so successful to have spawned a sequel.
It offers nothing new – it's all photogenic prettiness that lacks gravitas or draw. The characters are anime archetypes - the brooding hero (x3), the maniacal nemesis (x2), the sagely, emotionlly-restrained father figure, the quirky sidekick, the capable cute girl who is capable until she needs rescuing. The obligatory melodramatic screaming (noooooooo!) when somebody dies.
The cut scenes achieve the astonishing apex of banality by being both boring and incomprehensible. There are nine characters across the cut scenes and many of them get little screen time to explain anything about them. The narrative time line is messy and fragmented. It's Japanese influences are obvious, wringing emotion where not enough has been developed to warrant such a response. I saw one character's death scene three different times, in three different ways. I didn't care for any of them.
Getting down and dirty with the game side of things, there are some irritating mechanics. Bad-ass battles shroud you in blinding explosions and smoke, often knocking you off your feet while enemies continue to pound your location, targeting perfectly through the haze. Your viewpoint is artificially constrained so it is difficult to shoot directly above or below. Sure there are cool robots to zip around in, but it's too easy to pull an armament off a robot by mistake, as you use the same key to climb in and saddle up - this costs not only valuable seconds in heated combat but can also leave you with a disarmed robot. Literally.
Lost Planet is by no means a terrible game, it simply doesn't satisfy – particularly on the PC. I just don't have time to play something which is neither well-executed nor particularly innovative in any area. I look at the finesse and gritty charm of Dead Space, another game with console roots and poor, convoluted narrative, and wonder what went wrong.
I am at a loss to explain its sequel-spawning success. I suppose if there's one thing that sells, it's graphics, giant robots and even gianter monsters. And Lost Planet has them in silicone-enhanced spades.
Post-game buzz: A pretty chocolate shell.