Whether you're fighting solo or hunting in packs, it's obvious when Lost Planet is at its best: during the Big Battles. Capcom have long had a reputation for delivering the most epic boss fights in all of gaming, and they're on top form again this time around. The wars with the Category G Akrids (which punctuate the action around twice per level) are remarkable not for their size but for their sheer emotion. No, really.
Although like all gaming bosses, Lost Planet's Akrids are only capable of drawing from a small number of behavioural patterns, they do it with such force, purpose and unpredictability that they demand respect from the player. They've got character, too. A giant skeletal sea-horse thing might not seem the most obvious vessel for sympathy, but wait until you see and hear it flail and wail in anguish once you lop one of its limbs off*. The attention to detail helps maintain the illusion that you're fighting a living thing, and one worth fighting for that matter.
You'd be surprised by how much variety they've managed to squeeze into their 'horrible insect-y beast' remit, too. The next Akrid you meet takes the form of an armoured platypus-like creature, complete with retractable spikes hidden within its club-shaped tail, with which it can mace you into the ground in the time it takes to hurriedly plug the Play & Charge kit into your controller. In the third episode, you're greeted by a horrific train-eating moth mega-beast, just going about his daily business, not expecting to be drilled with holes by small pink bastards. Every one's unique, every one's a winner.
During these battles, Lost Planet 2's brewing tension finally bubbles over, delivering the balls-out adrenaline rush of a shooter that the Lost Planet series has always wanted to be. Sadly, these glimpses of genius are few and far between, and early indications suggest that the rest of the game is forever doomed to play catch-up. Replace the dozy AI bots on your side with real people, of course, and LP2 will inevitably liven up and maintain that same frantic pace throughout. But the game relies too heavily on multiplayer being its saviour, and this may eventually lead to offline players feeling a little, well, unplugged.
The menu screen offers the first hints to the lone player that they've unwittingly entered a couples-only club. It offers no distinction between multiplayer and single-player, instead merging them into a single option. This makes setting up a split-screen or online game a piece of cake, but the unfortunate side-effect is that when playing on your own, you're still working under the constraints of an online game's structure, which affects the game negatively in many different ways.
Superficially, it gives rise to a number of incongruous moments, such as at the end of each level where, upon reaching the goal, you're forced to watch a ten-second countdown (during which time you can 'strike poses'), before you're returned to the lobby. On a far more serious level, Lost Planet 2 kills a huge slab of its suspense stone dead by having you 'respawn' rather than restart after a death.
Dropped dead halfway through a critical gunfight? Don't worry - after a few second's grace you can hop back into the action from the nearest (or, at times, not-so-nearest) checkpoint without any more punishment than a 500 experience point penalty (which is a deterrent, but not nearly by enough). It's a design quirk which takes a lot of the intensity out of the experience, and we hope it's something that might yet be addressed in the final version.