Lost Planet: Extreme Condition review

£18
Price when reviewed

If you’ve been following the progress of the latest batch of blockbuster games releases, you’ll no doubt be aware of third-person shooter Lost Planet, the PC demo of which was released a few months back to the sound of gamers’ collective jaws hitting the floor.

The hype surrounding Lost Planet’s graphics engine is true: it’s amazing, and the setting – a frozen, snow-covered planet – is original for this class of game, too. The bad news is the game proper doesn’t follow through on its promise and, on top of that, a litany of annoyances tarnish it further.

This is yet another game in the growing roster of titles that were clearly designed for the Xbox first and PC a pretty distant second. It isn’t often that the pre-game menu system is bad enough to put you off the game itself, but Lost Planet makes a good stab at irritating the hell out of PC players. You can’t navigate the menus using the keyboard (not even the Escape key works), and it’s the first game we’ve encountered that, bizarrely, requires you to right-click to get back to the main menu. The control setup configuration is focused on the assumption you’ll be using an Xbox 360 controller, despite the fact that everyone knows it’s far easier to play shooters of this type with a keyboard and mouse. The menus also look visually terrible, their lack of polish spoiling the impression of the dribble-inducing graphics in the game.

Fight through the menus and start a new game, and the overriding impression is of a title that could have been stunning but is spoiled in the execution. We downloaded it from www.steampowered.com, and there’s no hint of a manual or any in-game clue as to how your controls work – you’ll need to have figured out your character’s capabilities by looking at the list of controls in the setup menu. After a short initial cut-scene, you’re dumped into the game with no chance to accustom yourself to the controls. This could be seen as a deliberate attempt to induce an adrenaline-fuelled and frenzied start to the game, as you run around trying to avoid being trodden on by a giant cockroach while simultaneously trying to get comfortable in your own skin. But, in fact, it’s just frustrating and annoying, and led us to give up the first few times we played, plumping for a session in Geometry Wars instead. Never have we been more desirous of Half-Life’s Boot Camp training facility, or even a basic sandbox tutorial.

The trouble with Lost Planet is that the initial impression offers so much and delivers so little. When we played the two-level demo, we couldn’t wait to get into a new game universe that we thought would rival Half-Life 2 in complexity and depth. Looking back, there wasn’t all that much evidence on which to base such an assumption, but it seemed impossible that a game that looked so fantastic could be so far behind the competition. Make no mistake: there is a story, but you don’t experience it – it’s delivered to you as a passive observer through cut-scenes. It’s also bewilderingly and pointlessly complex, and has nothing like the panache of Half-Life 2.

But there are positives. While Lost Planet is clearly a console shooter, with its 12 levels being so straightforward as to verge on insulting, the graphics engine is gobsmackingly fine. Playing the DirectX 9 version in Windows XP, the use of motion-blur effects, the ability to trudge realistically through knee-deep snow and the explosion effects are genuinely groundbreaking. The Windows Vista DirectX 10 version is even better.

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