Lost Planet: Boring bugs

When the demo of Lost Planet hit Xbox Live Arcade last year, I was very impressed with the graphics and looking forward to more of the game. The demo immediately stood out as the best looking game playable at the time for the 360 or any system. That and the Gears of War trailer heralded the true next generation of graphics.

Lost2 Now it’s here, and I’m not so excited anymore.

The graphics are still great, though not as sharp as Gears of War. But what was a one-level rush before is now a monotonous, annoying shooter.

First, I played through the introduction sequence and started the real game (which is the first level of last year’s demo). I played a little more but it was late so I quit out and tried to continue a couple days later, but it hadn’t saved properly. Grrr. So I had to play through the intro again. Then I got halfway through the first part of level 1 and was exploring when I fell into the water at the edge of the screen. It put me back all the way at the beginning of the level instead of a clearly checkpointish area (there’s a garage filled with alien/bug creatures right before it). Grrr again. So I play through that first part, don’t fall in the water, get to a giant alien bug, shoot it with a rocket launcher … and blow up one of those video game barrels that’s always lying around to act as a stationary bomb. I was too close to the barrel; I blew up too; back to the beginning. Grrrrrrrrr.

I was ready to give up, but I gave it one more chance and made it through the level. In the second level you’re searching for pirates who are the other inhabitants of this post-apocalyptic snow world, but before you get there you go through a wide expanse that’s full of these alien bugs that kind of look like ankylosauruses. They roll up and spin toward you, and when they unroll you have to shoot them in their glowing tail. This whole field area consists of walking a little, dodging a rolling bug, shooting its tail, getting hit by the other one you couldn’t see, repeat. They look cool the first time, and then you just wish they’d get out of the way so you can move on.

Lostplanet_1 Then there’s another area filled with those plus these giant praying mantis/spidery aliens, and pirates shooting rockets at you. You have to use your grappling hook to get up on some buildings out of the bugs’ way, but there are so many giant aliens that you get kind of stuck and disoriented (there’s some slowdown as things crash and explode and screech everywhere). At least when I died there it didn’t start me all the way back before the ankylosaurus field, but it’s the kind of scene that’s annoying rather than satisfyingly challenging. Then you go into a building and bridge area where there are people shooting at you, and the board after that is more of the same people shooting at you in a rail corridor. I started going through and then just got bored.

I’m not usually concerned with the artificial intelligence of enemies in shooters. In general I think that’s a minor aspect that people harp on to try to find some kind of difference between games that are all essentially the same: go forward and blow stuff up. In most games it’s not the AI that matters but the level design; the Germans aren’t particularly smart in Call of Duty 3, but the way the levels are laid out and the rubble and varied landscapes and varying rhythms of the action make it challenging. In Lost Planet with both aliens and people I felt like I was just standing there holding down the trigger.

I always laugh at how every shooter somehow manages to put you in a corridor-like environment, so the open snow fields seem like a good change of pace in Lost Planet. But it turns out the corridor convention is more important than it seems. It keeps you moving in a certain direction and keeps the action focused and tight. But when shots and enemies come at you from all sides, or bad guys are just standing out in the open, it’s either annoying because you can’t tell where things are coming from or boring because you just shoot monotonously. Even the beginning of the inside level in Lost Planet had an open feel. I walked around shooting everything in sight with no sense of pacing or action. It’s like they made these great  character models and then plunked them into this new environment without really thinking about whether that environment and those detailed characters made sense as a shooting game.

— February 4, 2007

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