It's absolutely essential that you play LP2 with real people, and ideally people who know what they're doing. The difference between three AI dummies and three people who will work with you, offer support when needed, cover you with a shield, guard the right area of the map, and generally use a brain is huge. It's the difference between LP2 being borderline unplayable due to the difficulty and a great deal of fun. One early defence mission in which the team had to guard mining posts for 90 seconds was a chore when played with AI, but with real people there was the required coordination to make it a well run operation. Later on a giant Akrid whose mouth could be entered proved to be a pain in the ass with computer allies, but as four buddies together, we'd blasted off its legs and got inside in double quick time.
Other issues come once again from the grappling hook, which still feels a little restrictive. It's used more here than it was in the first game, but there's still no fluidity to it. You can't use it while in the air, meaning there's no way to link grapples. It's handy to reach high platforms, often containing cool weapons and pick-ups, but it's no Bionic Commando. Also fiddly is the odd menu system. There's character customisation tucked in there somewhere, but accessing it all is awkward.
What doesn't disappoint is the in-game presentation. Lost Planet looked amazing, and the sequel looks better, even though the snowy locations made more of an impact at the time. The Akrid are, unsurprisingly, the high point, showing just what Capcom's MT Framework engine is capable of. The beasts come in all shapes and sizes, at times completely dominating valleys. These are big creatures and some of the most visually impressive creations you'll see this year. Some of the locations are duller than others, although you usually only need to look up to see just how much detail Capcom has packed in. Even the fairly uninspiring built-up industrial area suddenly becomes more attractive once you take in how high the buildings are and the beautiful sky above.
Something I've yet to test on live game servers is the game's competitive multiplayer game modes. Up to sixteen players are supported across Elimination, Team Elimination, Data Post Battle, Akrid Egg Battle, Fugitive and Battle Series. VSs play a big part, with online matches often beginning with a scramble to get into them, but new mechanical vehicles have been included too, such as a Warhawk-like gun ship that can nip about the sky and fire down on enemies below. There are 10 maps, and some are enormous, spanning ground and sea, meaning there are full-on underwater battles with players able to swim around.
You'll want to figure out how to make the most of the character customisation tools for multiplayer, as it's possible to make a fairly unique character and kit them out to suit your play style. Career Points earned throughout your time with the game can be used in the Lost Planet 2 slot machine to win new weapons, skins and even abilities. Abilities work similar to the perks system in Modern Warfare, granting you bonuses while on the battlefield. These range from being able to start matches with a full load-out of plasma grenades, to doubling all Career Points earned. The ranking system is based on these points, with ranks indicating your skill level so everyone can see who they're up against. If the multiplayer component in LP2 can deliver the goods I've sampled in closed game sessions it could well gain a large online community.
Capcom is either extremely bold and clever or quite foolish. Lost Planet 2 is a game that is hard to recommend to solo gamers, such is the way the game has been designed to be played with friends. It feels like a completely different experience with real players at your side; an experience that betters the original and features some of the most intense, visually stunning battles we've seen on this generation of consoles. Just know what you're getting yourself into. It's hard, frustrating and at times a very unfair.