So far the Lost Planet series has been, well, silly. This is, after all, the franchise that started with a lead character called Wayne, and followed it up with a sequel so crazy that it could easily have had Arkham in the subtitle.
So it's a bit jarring to play Lost Planet 3 and realise that it's not that silly anymore. Granted, there are still giant space bugs, huge stompy robots, and the main character is called Jim. But this prequel has a far more Western vibe to it than before. A prequel to the other two games, it is closer to the space trucking monotony of Alien, of playing a blue-collar contract worker on a far away planet, rather than (just) a whacked-out Starship Troopers shoot-fest.
Jarring, but not a huge surprise. It's developed by Spark Unlimited, who are based in the US. What is a surprise is that it's nowhere near as bad as the last two games created by the firm (Turning Point and Legendary. Average Metacritic score: -206). For the most part it's your average shooter, but it does contain some elements that set it apart. The aforementioned vibe as playing as a guy who simply wants to pay the rent - rather than save the universe - has a lot of merit, and it actually feels like you're doing work. Not busywork - I don't mean Dead Island-style 'go here and fetch this for me 900 times' grindfests. Instead, it feels like your actions are justified by your environment. It's an interesting game with a solid core.
Granted, it's a bit generic - the score sounds like Aliens composer James Horner might want to start getting his attorney on speed dial, and there's a lot of noise about nefarious companies using humans for their skulduggery. Newsflash: that's what companies do in the future. That's what they do now.
The multiplayer, too, suffers from being over-familiar. Versions of capture the flag - where an Akrid spawns and leaves teams fighting to recover its thermal energy when it dies - and Horde mode - with a nice PVP twist at the end - are present, but there's a feeling they've been done elsewhere, and better as well.
But Lost Planet 3 is something a bit more than the sum of its parts. Instead, it represents, just by existing, something far bigger. It's the final move of a strategy for tackling this generation that Capcom thought would keep it from getting left behind by Western devs. The firm was smart in a way that peers like Konami weren't, at least on paper. Acknowledging which way the wind was blowing - toward western game ideals and systems - Capcom decided to co-produce with western talent.
It worked in fits and starts - Dead Rising 2 and DmC being notable - but soon turned sour, leading Capcom to lower the boom on collaborations last week. The question as to why these games failed seems easy to answer: the dev teams (among them Spark, Grin, and Slant Six) weren't the best.
That's at least part of the reason. But an interview with Capcom producer Andrew Szymanski shed some more light on other explanations as to why the games weren't very good; inadvertantly revealing the main flaw with the process of bringing two very different development cultures together. (If, of course, you can attract the talent in the first place.)
"Japanese developers in particular, they think about the individual components in the game systems and the design, and then they figure out how to justify it later. Whereas the western developers, they always start with, here's the world, here's the narrative, here's the characters, and then they try to figure out how to make it fun. Frankly, I think [neither] of these is the perfect solution, and I'm not going to purport to say that Lost Planet 3 is the perfect game because it bridges these. Obviously that's a goal that you'd have to reach over the course of many games working in a collaboration. I think for us, it was making sure that we didn't go too far in either direction."
That last line is the problem, or at least one of them. It's a half measure: Capcom wants to appeal to western gamers, and while it correctly figured out that relying exclusively on its eastern teams would be a blunder, it can't attract top dev talent. Worse, once it had a team - in at least this instance - it chose to stay in the middle ground. Safe, but safe doesn't really cut it if your name isn't FIFA or CoD.
I enjoyed playing Lost Planet 3, and it seems to be trying to do something slightly different. But the real question that came out of the event wasn't anything about how the game plays. Instead, it was what iLost Planet 3 represented in light of both the interview and the news that Capcom has binned its relationship with western devs due to a "decline in quality of titles outsourced to overseas developers".
That seems a good call, but a problem remains. Capcom itself can't really make action games that appeal to the west - have you played Resident Evil 6? - and the popularity of first and third-person man-shooting doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon. As the videogame industry prepares to make another huge transition, it'll be interesting to see how Capcom attempt to embrace the zeitgeist this time around.