Lost Planet 2 Preview

Our frostbite has barely worn off, our Thermal Energy not yet recharged, and here comes Capcom with one of the most anticipated sequels of the year: Lost Planet 2.

It's been ten years since the events of the first game, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Snow pirate (which, coincidentally, was the result of my elementary school career aptitude test) Wayne Holden tries to overthrow an evil corporation and destroy a race of orange goo-leaking giant insectoids called the Akrid, all while trying to stay toasty on a hellish planet that has been cursed without hot cocoa or the requisite tiny marshmallows.

LP2 takes place on the same planet as the original game, E.D.N. III (apparently, they ran out of names in the future, so they had use numbers in their planet names). The snow has melted due to global warming, revealing fully-grown jungles and harsh deserts underneath. Okay, that doesn't make sense, but I'm not a space scientist. Anyway, a war's on, and everybody's after T-ENG--not to be confused with the similarly colored Tang, this stands for Thermal Energy and is pronounced "Tee Energy" for short. You'll be able to play as rival snow pirate factions as well as the evil corporation you fought against in the first game, NEVEC (Neo-Venus Construction), along with other groups still battling the Akrid. Word is, the Akrid have bulked up and recruited some unfriendly new faces since the last game. Though the planet has become much more hospitable to human life, the global warming has enraged the locals. Capcom hints that there might be a "centralized brooder," which we guess we might see towards the end of the game. Images of a character known as the "Queen" have surfaced.

The sequel is a third-person shooter like the original, and a lot of elements will be returning. Epic boss battles, crazy environments, and mechs will be back. Supposedly some of the mechs (known as Vital Suits or VSs in the game; you may be familiar with them from playing as a VS in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars) will be able to carry you and your co-op buddies. Producer Jun Takeuchi (Street Fighter II, Resident Evil 5) has let it slip that while one player controls the VS, others can come along for the ride by hanging off the side and shooting. They'll need to get a decent grip, because some of the VSs will be able to fly for an unlimited amount of time (provided you have enough T-ENG).

One of the elements that distracted us from the main affair in Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was the endless need to collect orange goo to refill your T-ENG energy, which drained consistently throughout playtime. Since the snow has melted and the planet's a lot warmer, you won't have as much of a need for T-ENG. This time, T-ENG energy will only drain when the player pilots a VS, uses a weapon that relies on T-ENG, or sprints. If you play co-op, designate one of your more agreeable friends as a T-ENG collector: if you are about to die from lack of the sticky stuff, a new gun allows your co-op pals to deliver a life-saving dose.

Those co-op pals (up to four can play together at once) can come in three varieties: one real-life buddy playing with you on local split-screen, real pals or random players joining in online, or potentially obnoxious AI bots not following your very clear commands. Together, you'll work your way through six different episodes with unique stories and heroes, all of which will come together at the end of the game. Choices during the campaign will affect the outcome of the story, but Capcom is tight-lipped about exactly what that means.

Five of the game's six episodes have been revealed, though with little detail. The first episode, Amaruba Jungle, pits you against Akrid and pirates in a dense jungle. Episode 2 takes you into Central City, where the wealthy citizens , inexplicably called "Carpet Baggers," reside. From the screens we've seen so far, it looks like battles here will take place primarily in an industrial setting, possibly beneath the city or in its factories. We haven't seen any signs of Akrid; it looks like you'll be fighting against humans that want you out of the city. Of course, Vital Suits will be involved on both sides. This level showcases a multi-seat VS with room for one pilot and two co-op buddy or AI bot-manned gunner seats. Sorry, fourth player, you're on your own as usual. This level also shows off a deadly melee option: the gun sword. Yeah, it's basically a bayonet, but that name alone makes it feel fresh and new, something we can't wait to stick it to The Man with.

Episode 3 takes players into the West Desert (man, this place has changed in the past ten years). Some of the Akrid we've seen in this level look evolved--some hunt in pairs and use sound waves to attack. They're very grotesque and look more like elephant dinosaurs than humans, but watching one stand on two legs makes me wonder what horrible transformations this race has made since we last met. But as long as one doesn't walk up to me and say "mama," I'm still going to blow their nasty heads off. The area also seems to be populated by, for lack of a better descriptor, Sand People with rough French accents. A quick flash from a trailer shows a giant sand worm, presumably from this level, that seems to be transplanted from the Dune or Star Wars universes. The next two episodes have revealed locations but nothing more. Episode 4 takes place in the Polar Sea at the Northern NEVEC Complex. You'll be playing as what seems like a squad under military command, infiltrating the base in hopes of attaining the satellite cannon the NEVEC has created and using it against a Category G Akrid to prevent it from reaching its "final form." This level looks like it takes place on and under the water. Akrid that look like sea monsters and trilobites look to offer a pretty tough challenge. Maybe we'll see some Akrid sharks? That would be awesome. If you haven't programmed this in already, Capcom, you have my permission to delay this game once again in order to include them. Episode 5 is in The Gold Desert. From the one tiny picture available, it appears that The Gold Desert is some sort of blisteringly hot area with swirling fire. Nothing is known about Episode 6 at this point, but I'd like to think that at the end of the game we get to play as Akrids and learn an Avatar inspired lesson that everyone on the planet should just get along.

It is even less clear how (or if) the game's random guest stars will affect the story. Little is known about the playability of these characters or their effects on the game, but bosom buddies Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago from the Gears of War series will appear exclusively on the Xbox 360. Gameplay footage shows that these are skins, not a true import of Gears-style play. You'll still use the same controls even when playing as these special guests. Bad guy Albert Wesker from Resident Evil, complete with revolver, will be playable in-game as well. He was originally slated to be a GameStop pre-order bonus, but now those who shop elsewhere will get to don his famous shades, too.

Instead, preordering from GameStop will net you two exclusive multiplayer maps featuring underwater combat. The first, Helix, is an underwater NEVEC mining facility featuring Aqua Catapults, which can "launch you to the upper levels in a hurry." Sounds...wedgie-inducing. Back to the Island takes place on beaches and a partially-sunken aircraft carrier. Both maps will feature VS's that transform into submarines. Yes: robots that transform into submarines.

Despite the temptation to take on the Akrid as C.O.G.s Marcus and Dom, you may want to think twice before jumping on the Xbox 360 version. It's possible that some of the content from the game won't make it on to Microsoft's system.

Lost Planet 2 is a multi-platform game, and the Playstation 3 offers a lot more space on its Blu-ray format. Producer Jun Takeuchi admitted that Capcom had to cut plenty of content from the game to fit on DVD(s). "There wasn't especially any big trouble. More than those kind of difficulties, the edited content was way too much and dealing with that was more difficult than anything." In fact, Takeuchi expressed that his teammates were on the verge of tears as the game was spliced apart. "This time, truly, the content that was cut was significant, and at the end, we had to wrestle with disc space."

Cheer up, though, Xbots. Takeuchi went on to say "I think we could be able to add that content at a later date as downloadable content." It remains unclear whether the PS3 and 360 versions will be identical, and whether the downloadable content will be free or for purchase (in which case, expect fans to cry foul, then purchase the content anyway). So don't give up on the 360 version until we find out more.

Lost Planet 2 runs on the MT-Framework 2.0 engine, an updated version of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC engine used to make Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, Dead Rising, Devil May Cry 4, and more recently, Resident Evil 5. Though the engine is used primarily in-house, it has been designed with the intent of licensing it to external developers. You haven't seen Capcom make the same sort of licensing splash that, say, Epic has with the Unreal Engine, because MTFW 2.0 is more likely destined for passing around to external developers with whom Capcom has a publishing contract. It's a shame, because MTFW 2.0 is looking great. A video demonstrating the engine's powers within the game shows off luscious jungles, realistic water effects (an unbelievable design challenge), and individually swaying blades of grass. Capcom hasn't gone soft on us, though: we're still told to "Kill Big."

We don't know as much about multiplayer as we do campaign. It has been confirmed that split-screen multiplayer will be available--another victory for buddy gaming. Up to sixteen players will be able to compete with and against each other in modes similar to the first game's multiplayer. Team Elimination (team deathmatch) and Post Grab, which pits teams against each other with the goal of activating and defending data posts around the map, will be returning from the first game. New modes will be present, too, like teaming up against a huge Akrid in a last-man-standing mode. Just like in Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, you'll be able to customize your character before going into battle. A leveling system will be in place (how quickly this has become an industry standard!), with rewards like new clothing and skins being doled out for rising through the ranks. Three maps besides the pre-order bonuses have been revealed so far in previews: Turbulent Jungle, Desecration, and Cube. Turbulent Jungle is pretty self-explanatory: battles rage in a jungle landscape that provides plenty of cover. Desecration takes place in a ruined city that looks like it has seen the worst effects of war. Finally, Cube is a smaller enclosed area, maybe inside a NEVEC factory, with hundreds of jumbled steel crates.

Lost Planet 2 hits the streets on May 18th, 2010, for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

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