Demo Driver 8: Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
In order to talk about Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, I kind of feel like I have to talk about Red Faction: Armageddon, also known as one of the games I got from the Humble THQ Bundle. More specifically, one of the games I didn’t care about but just got along with the titles I did care about, most of which were well worth the price of admission and the others of which are still sitting and waiting for me to give them their due.
Red Faction: Armageddon is a pretty generic third-person shooter. Its central gimmick barely gets to come into play after the early stages, which is a shame if you enjoy tearing apart structures (and you naturally should). None of its other gimmicks get the space to really explore themselves, leaving you with a coverless shooter that’s never terrible but never quite manages to climb up to excitement either. It’s just a bland progression of shooting setpieces that never vary.
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is similar in many ways, with a manheap protagonist unable to take cover facing waves of bug-things and masked enemies. The difference, though, is that this one was pretty fun.
Two things do a lot to make the game feel more fun, and the first is the game’s central mechanic. See, the planet you’re on is cold. Very cold. Your equipment is heating your fragile human body as you tromp through the snow, of course, but it takes energy to do that. A timer just below your life bar counts down as your precious heat is eroded, heat that can be replenished by shooting enemies, detonating explosive barrels, or stopping at one-shot recharge locations.
In practical terms, this means that you have a timer running down as long as you’re playing. It’s not oppressive, giving you ample time to complete your objectives, but neither does it allow you to traipse about endlessly with no concern for your dwindling heat supply. Aggressive motion keeps your heat up but carries other risk, while more conservative strategies keep your life from danger but also bring you closer to freezing. The result is a sense of forward motion and a need to finish things up faster, pushing forward and not trying to waste every single target so long as your immediate threats are dealt with.
The other addition is lumbering robotic frames that not only play slightly differently from when you’re on foot but allow you to hot-swap their weaponry. The demo shows off a few of the different options in that department, although it doesn’t feel the need to inform you of how these different machines distinguish themselves, as I’m assuming there are some differences between the styles of frame. But that hardly matters; the fixed health bar and ability to fire multiple weapons at once ensure that the experience feels different. The game also does not make the mistake of making these frames unassailable by ground forces, as you can take them down on foot and be taken down yourself.
All of it keeps pushing you forward, though, as the cold constantly threatens to seep in. None of the enemies I faced were particularly dangerous except insofar as they could always knock me down or slow me up, preventing me from getting another dose of that precious heat. Much like in Assault Android Cactus, the real threat is taking too long to flow from kill to kill, unable to recover, trying to scrape enough heat together to make it through the next quiet stretch.
Plot elements were not on display in this demo, so I can only assume that Shootguy Winter Edition was forced to live on a chilly planet because blah blah dead wife blah blah stabbed in the back blah blah Elsa blah blah bug shooting. I don’t care and odds are you’re not going to, either.
Unfortunately, like many demos, a positive evaluation can only stretch so far because of what might lie in the future of the game. While the whole picking up weapons and dropping them on the fly worked in the demo, without any sense of character progression the game might feel a bit thin upon the ground after a while. So much depends on having entertaining setpieces for the player to shoot through, and if that starts to taper off further in the game, it’s an outright game killer in this format.
It’s here that I’m most strongly reminded of Red Faction: Armageddon, which had a similar two-weapon setup along with an upgrade system that sort of dissuaded you from weapon swapping. The game also started well enough but quickly lost its enjoyable shooting setpieces, and that turned it from fun into boring. Yes, it also lacked the pressure mechanics that are on display in Lost Planet, but the lack of any upgrade system might be just as damning in the long run.
But maybe I’m being overly cynical. You can tromp around, you can shoot things, and if the game keeps moving briskly enough you’re going to have a fun time, upgrades or no. The onward pressure makes the game a challenge, and it sort of does speak to a tacit upgrade system – even with regenerating health, clearing one segment quickly ensures that you’ll have the energy needed for clearing the next section without a problem. The result is a game that favors an onward look rather than going from crap starting guns to better guns further on, trying not to use too much of your energy on any one encounter.
And it manages to do that without making its firefights needlessly brutal to play through. So I’m going to go ahead and mark Lost Planet as a net win. Its $15 price tag might be a bit much for a pretty simple game, but it does one thing and does it well.