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Finding Frozen Fun

Game On


Published January 31, 2007 at 3:08 p.m.

Remember when the West was fun?

Playing cowboys and Indians once took a central role in childhood roughhousing, but things have changed along with our understanding of history. Somehow, pretending to mow down an indigenous people with a six-shooter has lost much of its heroic appeal.

These days, kids swap their Colt .45s and chaps for tactical assault rifles and Teflon body armor, and the bad guys run the gamut from foreign terrorists to extraterrestrial terrors. But beyond the switch in sets and setting, the story remains the same. In "Lost Planet: Extreme Condition" we've colonized the frontier, and now it's time to clear out the natives.

Cobbling together a plot that borrows its best parts from "Starship Troopers" and the Hoth scene from "The Empire Strikes Back," "Lost Planet" returns to a more naive playtime, when killing the locals was fair play.

In the fiction of "Lost Planet," humans have fled Earth to homestead an icy, desolate world. Much to their surprise, the snow-cone planet sports a local civilization of giant bug creatures. These humans of the future - having retained their basic contempt for native culture - begin negotiating for real estate with a hail of machine-gun fire.

Science fiction has always harbored a special kind of xenophobia in its depiction of space aliens as saliva-dripping, ray-gun-toting sociopaths. And it's hard to blame "Lost Planet" for picking up on this trend. It's more fun to set aside morality and concentrate on the action when your opponent is a fast-moving, armored beetle the size of a school bus with spikes for teeth and a maniacal focus on eating you.

Fear for your life keeps things hot as you roam through the frigid game environments, taking out bugs and searching for the monstrous "Green Eye" that munched your recently departed dad.

Digging through snowdrifts for weapons, wandering around abandoned buildings and under-ground bunkers, and, mostly, running and gunning for your life provide the thrills. A belt-clip zip line allows you to pull off Spider-Man moves, shooting up the sides of buildings and darting out of harm's way.

The game provides enough variety in environments and wave after wave of bug-eyed monsters to keep players from having to reflect much on the thinly sketched story, ponder the conspiracy that seems to underlie it all, or even reflect on why people would so desperately want to live on an ice cube overrun by mutant insects.

It turns out, the game's deeper meaning holds that snow looks cool and shooting at things - as the frontiersmen whose rifle practice consisted of decimating American buffalo herds from moving steam trains could have told you - is fun.

On those accounts, "Lost Planet" brings back the joy of a Wild West shoot-'em-up - without all the historical baggage.

Who's It For: The running-and-gunning format of "Lost Planet," so well-worn in the video-game world, benefits from a snowy location and tightly scripted action. If you like to visit exotic places and shoot things, this game delivers.

If You Like This, Try That: "Gears of War" for the X360 combines visual power with brutal combat. Killing monsters in a military setting has never looked better.

Best Part: Playing on the theme of subzero temperatures, the player must watch his character's thermal meter. When your suit runs out of juice, you freeze to death. Killing bugs and collecting their heat keeps you going.