Even after the snow had melted on the harsh planet E.D.N. III, Thermal Energy is such a scarce commodity that the scattered human factions are still locked in a brutal war for its reserves, a conflict that further leaves them vulnerable to attacks from the insectroid race of Akrids native to the land. Of course, when a load of T-Eng is being transported by train, a worm-like beast attacks that is so massive, it dwarfs the four people that are forced to fight it back, even with the racks of weapons littered about. As it takes out the rear cars and any player left behind, the only thing that can counter its immense size is the cumulative strength of those standing against it, all focusing their fire into its mouth and tender insides. And when the worm finally falls, the group makes off with the spoils. With its in-mission economy, Lost Planet 2 portrays an ecological system reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s Dune, showing that, on E.D.N., every second is a fight to survive. It’s a metaphor ripped from the history books of every life form that’s ever lived.
The single most fundamental existential issue for all living things is survival. Since an individual shares the world with others, there are two opposing strategies for gaining the resources available: cooperation and competition. To that end, Lost Planet 2 is a machine that simulates the age-old dichotomy of these strategies, where teams of individuals come together so they can better survive, letting players explore both concepts inside its virtual world, safe from its real repercussions.
To put you on familiar ground, LP2 starts with your team crossing snow-covered tundra in search of thermal energy. Structurally, the original Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was a combination of Phantasy Star Online (via Monster Hunter) and Star Wars: Battlefront, offering RPG-lite elements and flexible class-based multiplayer in a frozen white landscape. Its gameplay married the modern shooter combat model’s trinity of gun, grenades, and melee to the third person shooter construct Shinji Mikami developed for Resident Evil 4. The projectile based gameplay and tight animation profiles means the action works in a series of straight angles that can be outmaneuvered and missiles that can be destroyed midair. This physical design was applied to grenades as well, letting players set up their own targeted detonations. It’s a very complete implementation of ideas.
For the game’s meta layer, the player’s avatar is essentially a moving peg that gets stuck onto each game mode depending on what they want to play. That avatar then gets dropped into a game, whether it’s a campaign mission or multiplayer match, with other characters based on the faction you’ve selected. As you’re always running with a squad, there is an immediate sense of in-group camaraderie separate from even the deep and wide ranging set of functional benefits, regardless of whether they’re AI or player controlled.
Within the narrative, the player is an unnamed unit placed in a squad based on the unfolding story, their identity-free characterization erasing the authorial distance between story and gameplay without diminishing its plot or theme. The four available factions show a range of cultural, political, and existential goals: the militarized NEVEC soldiers, the nomadic Rounders, the barbaric Fight Junkies, and the versatile Snow Pirates. Their dress and appearance are as different as their place in the story. It’s interesting that from level to level, you only care about the current group you occupy and forget about the one you were just in. Survival unites you.
Within the contained framework of each mission, the player has to contend with a multi-faceted economy. While ammo management is well-worn ground for action game vets, Thermal Energy has a different function, letting players recharge their life, open weapon crates, and, unless they equip a mod, continues to dwindle throughout the level to act as a prime motivator to keep pushing on. For the larger group, Battle Points regulate the number of respawns and every death takes from the collective pool. Like real life, success depends on efficiently using what you have to get more.
LP2’s mission structure is designed from the ground up to facilitate cooperative group objectives. On the smaller scale of the level, the squad is dropped at the edge of unknown territory and expected to make their way through, eliminating the forces standing in their way. With missions serving as the largest self-contained unit, each one is comprised of a series of physical maps, those subdivided by nodes. Node activation fills in the mini map but also adds Battle Points and act as spawn points should a player fall. In that regard, territory gain is more important for the gameplay than simply having a place to start should you die. The time it takes to activate a node changes with the number of people working on it.
These moments may seem trivial in the larger scheme of things, but they are a parallel form of teamwork to what is implemented in the combat. The Akrid offer a clearer distinction and added complexity. Coming in vastly different sizes from humanoid to battleship, these enemies offer equally different combat scenarios thanks to the diversity of shapes and design. Each and every one has tight animations and attack tells, providing a rounded, fair, challenge.
The idea of the glowing weak spot has been often maligned over the years as a design trope that arbitrarily destroys a game’s aesthetics, but that criticism misses their functional point. Unlike the human enemies, that have a hugely recognizable weak spot called The Head, the Akrid’s alien design isn’t as implicitly obvious. Despite often indicating weaknesses that can temporarily cripple the enemy, they are also a means of rewarding accuracy with a simple visual cue and give every player a focal point to coordinate on for extra damage. In a way, the glowing red spots are the combat equivalent of the nodes, as the time it takes to destroy the target decreases the more people are shooting at it. Considering how large the various Akrid are, more vital spots means you can contribute just as much to the fight regardless of where you’re positioned on the map.
In terms of the active combat, items stretch the different offensive and defensive capacities outward. The benefits to the modern combat model are its flexible gameplay affordances and here they are increased by several magnitudes thanks to the game’s squad-based nature. While every player’s career starts off with a basic set of gear, leveling unlocks more weapons, new abilities, and expanded equipment, most of which have several different versions with their own benefits and limitations. Support items give additional advantages. Though the shield is a known quantity, the V-Device shares the user’s visual data with the others and the Injection Gun provides temporary stat boosts depending on whether the target is friend or foe. These items allow the player to customize themselves, offering so much variability that they can become wildly different classes simply based on their loadouts.
As each player flexes their own individuality within the group, it’s fascinating to observe how the group itself builds out as a byproduct. When an individual chooses their gear, what they are actually doing is setting which item within a category will spawn for them when they run up to a cache in each level; when you select the rocket launcher as your heavy weapon, the rocket launcher will appear whenever you find a heavy weapon. This means everyone enters a mission with their own desired baseline and are provided with the ammo to feed it. As everyone brings in their own weapon sets, the total possible number of combinations grows exponentially more than it would if they were all limited by the items the designers placed for them in the level. As players level up and gain access to new body parts and emotes, they are developing their own character, and infusing the group with more personality. By focusing on the individual, the entire group prospers.
Throughout Lost Planet 2, we’re presented with mechanisms that place equal emphasis on the player and group. Naturally, the economy loop is the thing that tethers them together and there the player’s thermal pool and the team’s Battle Points exist in balance. As Thermal acts as a currency that can purchase health, players can maintain a strong core by sharing it with team members that are on the verge of death, since their loss will only end up costing them the precious BP they need to complete the level. This loop makes cooperation that much more important, as weak play leads to death and mission failure. No one needs to help out, but if the team fails, they all lose out.
In contrast to the cooperative campaign, the deathmatch modes help to cement the idea of the war for resources, and show that the human factions are locked in an endless conflict. In the confines of Lost Planet 2, players from all around the world have a free environment with which to safely exercise their competitive natures, natures that history has taught us come forth no matter where you were born, or when. It comes forth for the worst of reasons, or the best. As is the case so often, it takes a large threat to unite all.
The last chapter brings every man and woman on E.D.N.III together to pool their resources to overcome a singular threat. Every chapter until this moment was about building the strength of the respective factions, the act of gathering T-Eng driving them to cooperate in their squads of four players so they can better compete with the others. As their ambition has grown, so has the possibility that it will consume the planet and threatens every life on it. Here, they fight a collective Thermal mass undulating from the planet’s surface, the danger so large the NEVEC forces drop a massive station from the sky to obliterate it. It’s a simple enough metaphor, representing the all-consuming nature of greed left unchecked. When the superstructure falls, even the Akrid mobilize to bear the brunt, helping to destroy the Over-G and washing the planet in its energy, enough to ensure their survival, at least for a little while. As every individual is limited by their own abilities and available time, Lost Planet 2 shows that for the challenge of surviving in the world, the most stable unit is a small group of people all contributing their unique talents to work towards the same goal.
This analysis focused on the textual elements of Lost Planet 2’s gameplay and story, but hasn’t broached one of the game’s crucial functions. Because LP2 is a videogame, it provides people a virtual world to log into and engage with each other. When words limit communication, videogames are there to translate language into communicative actions. Individually, games let a person exercise their many emotions safely; in a group, they tear down the distances that separate each member, be they physical, cultural, or political. In videogames, you can be anyone, on any world, tied to the social realities of none. Suddenly, conflict dissolves away and all that’s left is teamwork.
Something amazing happens when you beat LP2’s final mission: with the story complete it opens the ability to slot any faction model into the campaign and after that any body parts on yours, ripping the character layer from the story world and letting your personality step into its place. Once you’ve witnessed the narrative’s moral of cooperation, you return to practice it. Ultimately, Lost Planet 2 is a machine that creates opportunities for cooperation against the myriad challenges it throws at you. It brings people together from all over the world to fight against war.
PLATFORMS: PLAYSTATION 3, XBOX360, PC
Dane Thomsen is the author of ZIGZAG, a sport-punk adventure in a world of electrifying mystery. With the voice of her people as her guide, Alex walks neon purple streets thrown into chaos, wielding the concussive force of her baseball bat the mighty ‘.357’ against the forces of evil. Print and kindle editions are available on Amazon. For sample chapters and to see his other works please check out his blog.