Video-game publishers seem bent on changing the perception of this hobby as a solitary pursuit. Over the last few years we've seen a flood of games that are meant to be enjoyed by two or more players, either online or on the same couch, working together toward the same goals.
Sometimes teaming up makes sense, as in the mercenary adventure Army of Two or the zombie thriller Left 4 Dead. But in other games, such as the revenge drama Splinter Cell: Conviction or the horror epic Resident Evil 5, cooperative play feels tacked-on and absurd.
Many gamers, for example, found the second playable character in Resident Evil 5 more irritating than helpful. But publisher Capcom was pleased enough that it has turned Lost Planet, another promising franchise, into a purely multiplayer experience.
It's a puzzling decision that's likely to alienate far more fans than it attracts, and it makes Lost Planet 2 (for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) one of this year's most disappointing releases.
Capcom's website boasts a "deep single-player mode," but don't believe it; if you play Lost Planet 2 alone, you will find it uncommonly frustrating.
The uninviting design takes over even before you start the game. To launch a solo game, you have to create a lobby (as you would in an online match), then fill out your team with computer-controlled players. Once you're fighting, you'll be amazed at how stupid the artificial intelligence is, with teammates often doing nothing at all to help out.
So you need three other humans, but even then Capcom seems to have gone out of its way to suck all the fun out of co-op play. You can't jump into the middle of a mission. If you want to play a later mission but your friends haven't made it that far yet, forget it. And you can't save your progress between episodes; the game saves only at the end of each multi-mission "episode," each of which takes more than an hour.
Most of the missions are straightforward (get from point A to point B, shooting anything that moves), but every so often the developers throw in more convoluted objectives - without explaining what they are. And Lost Planet 2 is a hellscape of cheap deaths, sometimes from swarms of bugs, sometimes from just a stray bullet.
The setting, called E.D.N. III, is a once-icy planet that has been transformed to include jungles, deserts, and other environments. The human settlers have split into factions, so they are battling one another as well as the giant, insectoid Akrid from the original game. Beyond that, the plot is just baffling, made all the more confusing by the difficulty of playing a campaign straight through.
On the positive side, Lost Planet 2 is gorgeous, with beautifully rendered scenery and awe-inspiring monsters. But I'm hard-pressed to remember a game that did so much to discourage players from seeing the good things it has to offer.