Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lost Planet demo impressions

Kudos to Microsoft for making so many E3 trailers and demos available through Xbox Live. It's a great use of the medium.

The big news so far this week (well, besides the Halo 3 trailer) is the early demo of Capcom's Lost Planet. Talking about previews is dicey -- it's not fair to criticize the flaws in an unfinished product, so all you can do is praise what works. This results in the often orgasmic previews you see from some of the larger outlets. Even so, there's a lot to like about Lost Planet.

The demo contains two modes: one in which you face off against Starship Troopers-like alien bugs, and one in which you take on humanoid space pirates. Whether the latter is supposed to represent an online multiplayer experience, I can't say.

I spent more time fighting the bugs. The game's third-person shooting mechanics are more traditional than those found in Capcom's own Resident Evil 4. You can run and gun. One great new innovation is that hitting a shoulder button will swing your view 90 degrees. It's one of those slap-your-forehead touches that makes you wonder why no one thought of this before. We'll be seeing that in many more games to come.

The graphics are great, probably on par with Ghost Recon. The transitions between environments are so seamless that only after playing did I realize I'd gone from a sub-arctic landscape through an industrial installation into a cavernous underground hive, without any interruption in gameplay. People say graphics aren't as important as gameplay; although that's true, there's no questioning that strong visuals like these heighten the feeling of immersion.

There's one complaint I have, which I hope will be fixed by the final version. There are no animation interrupts. That is, if you're firing a gun and decide you want to throw a grenade, your character won't simply stop shooting and fling a grenade without delay. Instead, the animation needs to finish and your input won't register. It doesn't even buffer. This is odd coming from Capcom, who have made their bones off of that kind of hyper-responsive gameplay. I don't like having to clear away from battle and stand still for a moment in order to switch weapons. I hope this is something that Capcom will tune up before release.

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