With a crowd of journalists hanging off his every word, Jun Takeuchi, producer of Lost Planet 2 declared that the number 2 in the game title wasn't actually a number 2. Interrupting the bewildered murmurs of the crowd, Takeuchi boldly explained that, in fact, the digit meant 'squared'. On closer inspection of the logo (and you can do this yourself), I realised he was right: the number wasn't a number at all - it was a power. He went on to explain that Lost Planet2 is more than a sequel in the traditional sense. It's a quantum leap forward for the franchise; a game that's exponentially better than the original. While this might seem trivial at first, the positioning of that number says an awful lot about the scope of the sequel.
Takeuchi's mathematical ramblings echoed in my mind as I played LP2 for myself. It was indeed an evolution of the first. The story takes place ten years after the events of the original and the snowy plains of E.D.N.III have seen lush jungles and colourful vegetation spring up. It's a striking contrast, but the game looks gorgeous. Structurally things are different to the first too, taking advantage of the linearity to concentrate the action into a smaller area. This banishes idle wandering around, creating chaotic and frenzied shoot outs, with action that never relinquishes its grip on your attention. There are a slew of new weapons and vehicles, and everything has a much more solid feel to it, part in thanks to the new and improved MT Framework Engine. Then - and this is where the sequel really lives up to the power of 2 in the title - there's multiplayer.
Be under no illusion that this is simply an improved version of the multiplayer in Lost Planet 1 tacked onto the main campaign. Oh no, the influences of multiplayer seep into each and every aspect of the experience. In fact, the single-player often feels like it takes a back seat, and even when it does take the wheel, there's four player co-op to steer gamers back on track. Much like any multiplayer experience, the campaign mode has lobbies, where players can prepare a four-man team to tackle the Akrid threat. If you're playing alone, three AI team-mates will assist you in combat, but you're urged to share the experience with others - the AI does a decent job but it's just not the same as playing with real people.
Then there's the boss battles; gargantuan, over the top and seemingly one-sided boss battles. Lost Planet 2 flaunts the tagline 'Kill Big' - and for good reason. In a demonstration of a never-before-seen level, four of Capcom's finest spent the best part of ten minutes trying to take down a particularly nasty Akrid. All teeth and claws, the monster was a formidable opponent, towering above the level, filling the screen with its foul body. Each of the team was doing something different; one pumping the beast full of lead, one zipping to a better vantage point with the grappling hook, another desperately seeking cover. After enduring more gunfire than any enemy I've seen in a game before, the monstrosity finally hit the floor, dropping lovely power ups and ammo as it did so. The crowd cheered; seeing such a large foe brought to its knees was inspiring stuff.
My own time with the campaign was short, and the Akrid I disposed of were not nearly as impressive. No, the majority of the time I spent with the game was in the multiplayer; team deathmatches to be precise. I'm going to preface my account of that experience by first explaining an important fact: I don't particularly enjoy multiplayer. I'm the kind of guy that prefers to shut myself away in a room, turn off my phone and immerse myself in the world of whatever I happen to be playing. Multiplayer only serves to detract from that, and I therefore tend to ignore it. MMOs, beat-em-ups and certain co-op games are a different story, but I stay well clear of online shooters and action games. I can be quite irritable at times, and losing online stresses me out too much. I play games to relax and unwind - not to get my arse kicked by annoyingly exuberant kids who scream profanities down their microphones whilst tea-bagging my lifeless body. But I digress.
The point I'm trying to make here is that even considering my disposition as a single-player gamer, I still had an incredible amount of fun with Lost Planet 2. After a good hour of repeatedly getting myself killed at the hands of the giggling journalists on the other side of the room, things started to fall into place. The initially clunky controls no longer bothered me, I began to get a feel for the weaponry and aiming sensitivity, and I finally took control of one of the game's impressive vehicles. It wasn't long before I was embarking on killing streaks of my own, and I too found myself laughing at the misfortunes of my slain foes.
As with Lost Planet 1, mechs and vehicles play an important role in deciding which team will emerge victorious. The start of each match often ends up in a mad scramble to grab the best vehicle, and those that do will have a distinct advantage over the competition. The VSs (Vital Suits) make a return, equipped with gatling guns, laser lances and rockets, depending on the suit. As in the original, your character can even wield VS weapons outside of the suit, though how they can carry such large contraptions is unknown. New vehicles are introduced too; contraptions that take the form of scorpions and dragons, flying around the game's expansive environments with a deadly presence.
Supporting the multiplayer are some seriously sophisticated customisation options. Whilst I wasn't able to try them out first hand, Capcom was all too happy to show it off. Before starting a game, a player can tailor their character, appearance and weapon load-out to suit the match ahead. Chances are you've seen Marcus and Dom in the Xbox 360 trailer already, but Albert Wesker (Resident Evil) and Frank West (Dead Rising) are signed up for action too. Not only can they be used in-game, but individual parts of their bodies can be used to create an all-new character. Imagine dying at the hands of an abomination with Marcus' head, Frank West's torso, and a pair of bear legs. There's a near infinite amount of combinations, and a lot of what I saw was in the same comical vein as my absurd example above.
This is all aesthetics though; customisation options will also affect the experience itself. Before the start of a game, you can customise your armour, guns and grenades to suit your style of play. Based on your choice of weapons, different weapons will spawn in multiplayer arenas. Where one player might pick up a rifle, another might pick up a rocket launcher. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a medic, you can customise your grenades to heal on impact, perfect for keeping your team alive as they take on the oversized nasties of the campaign. You can even customise your own taunts, with over 200 unique moves to frighten, humour and embarrass your enemies with.
Customisation is definitely the cornerstone of the experience, and ties together the multiplayer elements of the game perfectly. The wide range of characters, weapons and vehicles allow for some fantastic interactions; unique experiences that keep players returning to the multiplayer for more. Couple all this with solid shooting, well thought out controls and numerous game modes, and it'd be safe to assume that Capcom has a multiplayer winner on its hands.
As far as sequels go, few come with as many improvements as Lost Planet 2. How popular the multiplayer will prove in the long run remains to be seen, but Capcom is clearly giving it the very best chance possible. The campaign, at least when played alone, might suffer at the hands of such a deep and rewarding multiplayer experience, but four-player co-op will ensure it's still an absorbing experience. Lost Planet 2 appears to be a shining example of what a sequel should be. It doesn't just add extra characters and environments; it improves on every aspect of the original, not just in scale, but functionality too. Lost Planet 2 is a whole different beast to its predecessor, a game that proves the positioning of the number 2 in its title is completely justified.
Lost Planet 2 will be released on Xbox 360 and PS3 on May 18.