Sporting a story-driven solo campaign and an immersive snow-covered setting, Capcom's early Xbox 360 offering, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, stood out in a sea of samey sci-fi fraggers and me-too military shooters. Sadly, its sequel abandoned the very things-rich narrative, icy environments-that helped its predecessor rise above the predictable lock-and-load pack. Thankfully, the recently revealed third instalment seems to be getting the series back on track.
A prequel to the 2007 original, Lost Planet 3 not only brings back the below-zero conditions, it also favors a cinematic single-player experience over the second chapter's undercooked co-op focus. In addition to making a welcome return to the franchise's roots, LP3 introduces a number of fresh features, not the least of which is a promising new horror element.
While most gameplay demos open with an attention-grabbing bang, our first look at LP3 begins a bit slower. More specifically, it starts with a guy taking a nap. Jim, the game's protagonist isn't fighting the series' signature alien-bug Akrid or piloting one of its mech-like Vital Suits; nope, he's just waking up. The demo's slow start is intentional, though, taking time to introduce Jim not as a super-soldier or space marine, but a blue collar everyman just trying to make a buck. He's a miner on E.D.N. III-the planet where the previous two titles took place-working to support his family back home.
Once established as a likeable guy we can root for, Jim heads out to start his work day. He enters the hangar-an obvious homage to The Empire Strikes Back's Hoth base-and gets into his rig; more construction vehicle than mech, the enormous machine is a cross between a Vital Suit and the Power Loader Ripley uses to combat the queen xenomorph in Aliens. Of course, the rig's buzzing drill arm can do more than mine precious minerals, but the Capcom rep steering our demo first shows off its basic functions.
E.D.N. III's wintery conditions are as nasty as its oversized arachnids, so Jim first uses his rig to fight off the frigid elements. From a first-person cockpit view, he uses one of its mechanical arms to remove ice from the hangar's frozen doors before exiting into the snow-blanketed tundra. Once outside, the rig's cockpit glass frosts over and ice forms on some of its moving parts. Auto-rifle in hand, Jim jumps out to blast the ice from the crippled machinery. The gunfire apparently attracts some of the planet's pissed-off populace though, and Jim's hand-cannon quickly becomes more than a glorified snow brush.
Utilizing a combination of ranged fire, up-close knife kills, and grenades, he takes on a pack of hunter Akrids while still trying to get his ride back on-line. Combating the baddies between defrosting the rig yields an interesting dynamic, requiring both thoughtful strategy and quick reflexes. With most of the extraterrestrial bugs reduced to pulp, Jim manages to fix his rig and get back behind its controls. Using the rig's clamp arm, he then crushes the remaining threats like pieces of ripe produce.
Before he gets too cozy in the cockpit, he's forced outside again by a cave system that's only accessible on foot. Using a grappling hook-another series' staple-he enters the icy caverns to plant some thermal energy posts, which seasoned snow pirates will remember as the fiction's valuable power source. His work's quickly interrupted, however, by a giant crab-like Akrid that makes the previous threats look like pesky cockroaches. With his rig out of reach, he relies on a strafing and shot-gunning strategy to blast ice from the monster's shell. The frozen shards reveal glowing weak points, another returning gamplay element, on its joints and mouth; a few buckshot blasts to the limbs and a grenade in its maw later, and Jim's able to return to work.
As he delves deeper into the caves, the game's soundtrack takes a suspenseful turn and we get a taste of LP3's horror vibe. The cavernous interior begins to reveal itself as some sort of creepy alien base, complete with scurrying leech-like enemies evocative of Aliens face-hugging foes. One of the multi-limbed menaces tries to mate with Jim's head, prompting him to knife it-courtesy of a QTE-before its friends come crawling out of the woodwork. The fast-moving freaks are perfect shotgun fodder though, so it doesn't take Jim long to repaint the environment with their ugly innards.
After a bit more goosebump-inducing exploration, we find Jim back at his rig where another crab Akrid is waiting to be turned into a shellfish appetizer. Unlike his previous encounter of the clawed kind, this one's a fair fight; behind the controls of both mechanical arms, Jim essentially boxes the big bad with a combination of blocks, jabs, and weak point-piercing drill injections.
Reducing the monster to a snow-staining puddle apparently pisses off its momma, as Jim's quickly faced with a much larger Akrid threat. No thanks to the new enemy's thick exoskeleton, the rig's drill is unable to make a dent. Undaunted by the challenge, Jim incorporates a new strategy which conveniently showcases more of LP3's nuanced combat. Using one of the rig's arms, he raises the beast off the ground before grabbing his gun and exiting the vehicle; he then uses the hand-cannon to pepper the Akrid's exposed underbelly. After repeating this strategy a few times, the seemingly impenetrable alien collapses into the deep snow. While this showdown could have closed the demo on a pretty epic note, Capcom wants to ensure we leave wanting more. Back in the cockpit, Jim notices a severe electrical storm approaching as well as multiple spiky red blips on his radar-so yeah, looks like he'll be working a double shift tonight.
A promising mix of the original LP's best elements and a number of fresh features, LP3 was the biggest surprise of Capcom's recent Captivate event. While we didn't get our hands on it, we're already looking forward to helping Jim squash alien bugs and fight frost bite when the title hits in early 2013.
A full-time freelance journalist for over seven years, Matt Cabral covers the videogame industry for a variety of mainstream and enthusiast outlets. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @gamegoat.