The skin-cracking January weather may be inhospitable to most humans, but it makes for the perfect battleground scenario. Trapped on an isolated planet, it's you against an endless army of giant bugs and ruthless snow pirates. Your only memories are of loss and violence, something about betrayal and a towering knowledge of rocket-launching robotic suits. Basically, you're well-equipped to blast the living hell out of everything you see.
And in Lost Planet, that's all you need to do. The path is set, the goal is clearly defined and all you have to worry about is your constantly diminishing thermal power. If it runs out, your energy will cease to replenish itself and it's game over. You'll need to activate a few glowing data posts along the way to supercharge this meter, but they're all easily found on the linear path. Everything else, from tossing grenades to commandeering bipedal death machines to vaporizing hordes of insects, is all about action. Sure, there are some slow moments of trudging across the frozen wasteland, but once the Akrid burst from the ground or spew from their hives, it's on.
There are so many ways to go about dismantling your enemies that it's hard to go back to other third-person shooters. Predator -style disk grenades can stick into enemy mechs (called Vital Suits) or you can zip away to safety with your super-quick anchor line. The latter allows you to ascend buildings or avoid incoming, teeth-rattling explosions. It opens up combat to a vertical, as well as horizontal plane that makes each level a joy to destroy.
While the basic gameplay can be boiled down to "BOOM! FIRE! MACHINES MAKE VIOLENCE HAPPEN!" there are countless, subtle touches that make Lost Planet more than just a bug bloodbath. It's the sights, the sounds and the visual effects that bring this game to life - each of the Vital Suits sounds slightly different but all share a common clunky, barely functioning hum that you'd expect a neglected mech to make. Reloading your machine makes a satisfying click, but slamming a new rocket shell into your two-handed launcher delivers a noise that's simultaneously alien and familiar. The audio is so damn accurate you have to wonder if the developers are really manufacturing these things under the radar.
Then there are the graphics. An already stunning game, Planet offers one of best action experiences of all time. When a rocket whizzes past your head, you'll flinch in real life. If a Suit comes crashing down on you from above, your body will tumble, flip or lurch in the appropriate way. Toss a grenade into a cluster of snow pirates and they'll soar through the air with realistic heft and flailing. The aforementioned boring stretches of snow and ice do take a while to run through, but they do serve to sell the atmosphere - lifeless husks of aged machinery and rundown buildings suggest a world that's as unforgiving as it is beautiful.
As intense as the single-player game is, what with all the monstrous bugs and all, the online multiplayer rocks even harder. Expertly crafted maps provide excellent showdowns for large or small groups, plus all the zip-lining, mech-riding insanity you can handle. A few different modes exist, all equally enticing - regular deathmatch and team games are here, plus a capture the flag-style Post Grab mode where you try to activate all the data posts in the level. The Fugitive mode is pretty unique, though, in which the host becomes a target for the other players. The longer the Fugitive can hold his own against the hunters, the more points he'll acquire at the end.
Ranked matches offer these points as a way to "level up" your profile. Take down a VS or nail some really nice head shots and you'll earn points, along with, of course, simply killing a bunch of dudes. Once the match is over, the points are tallied and individual ranks are handed out, plus points awarded. It's a nice bonus to see your progress charted in so many ways.
Our time online has been consistently impressive, though a few menu troubles made getting in and out of matches a small hassle. Capcom assures us these issues will be addressed by the time the game hits retail on Friday.
All complaints with Lost Planet are trivial, honestly. Having the B button be "hop in this mech" as well as "take the mech apart" is slightly annoying, and maybe it's just the fur collars talking, but there's a lot of Resident Evil 4 floating around. Spamming action buttons for contextual actions, a hero with a mysterious health condition and an unnecessary story that's only good for ogling the character models instilled a little Leon lust in our hearts, but they surely don't bring the experience down at all. Just skip the plot (filled with hyper-cool words like "rendezvous" and "amnesia") and you'll be stranded in bug-blasting, giant robot heaven.