With Gears of War ripping up the sales charts, it's hard to get excited about the Xbox 360's "next big thing." After our most recent multiplayer mash-up with Lost Planet, however, we're ready to declare it next in line for the coveted Xbox Live crown. We just spent several hours duking it out with 15 other players on all kinds of maps, and now we're loading up our frost-bitten experiences into a gargantuan mech-cannon and blasting it down your gullet.
Unlike Gears' chainsaw-in-your-mouth splatterfests, Planet's versus matches tend to unfold gradually. They begin as a mad dash to scope the area and search for precious energy beacons - whoever controls these radar-powering towers can effectively block out all enemy strategies. If they can't see you, they can't expect a missile in their chest. After that, it's every man for himself. Bullets, rockets, jolting EMP blasts, towering Vital Suits equipped with Gatling guns and wall-crumpling projectiles... if you've seen it in a science fiction shootout, chances are it's here.
The first skirmish we dove into didn't take place on a frozen tundra as would be expected. Instead, it appeared to be a broken highway in the middle of volcanic territory. Searing lava and wisps of smoke flow through this forgotten chasm, and like other Planet maps, it's built for battle in all three dimensions (c'mon... Gears is outstanding but how often do you worry about vertical threats?).
When there are 16 people all fighting for supremacy in a cave blanketed with lava, you've got to think up. That's what makes Planet feel so much different from other run-and-gunners - its Bionic Commando-like grappling arm that lets you zip up walls and scope out perfect attack points, or, if you're lucky, an unattended Vital Suit that can turn the tide of any battle. It's more of a 3D platformer than a straight shooter - you just happen to be able to unleash explosions so big they blur the screen and annihilate anyone in the vicinity.