Before dropping into a match, I scoped out the various character customization screens in the build I was playing. When you fire up the game for the first time you'll be prompted to create your own character, which will be used in both the campaign (which supports single-player and co-op play) and in multiplayer. Everything you unlock, earn or otherwise collect in either portion of the game will carry over to the other. Trick out a particular weapon in online multiplayer and it'll be ready for use in single player.
With the game's character customization and profile, you'll have a persistent "career level" across all modes, which increases as you play (and win), unlocking new items and upgrades, including cosmetic items, such as new head, torso, leg and backpack looks, as well as weapon upgrades and special abilities.
Weapons are arranged in several standard categories, including basic rifles, long-range weapons, close-quarters selections (shotguns, for example) and support items such as Gears of War 2–style "plant-able" shields. The "abilities" (think: Modern Warfare's perks), on the other hand, were more interesting. I spotted places on the main list for 42 of them, although Capcom isn't saying what the final number will be. Two abilities can be equipped at a time. The ones I saw were "Conserve T-Eng" (prevents constant consumption of thermal energy) and Lifesaver (keeps your life meter from diminishing when your T-Eng is exhausted).
There are lots of pre-match customization options, to be sure. Once in a match, I found that there were also lots of options in the way of different Vital Suits to wear (and ride) into battle.
The Vital Suits that I encountered in my multiplayer preview included: a small "exoskeleton" that gives players an extra health bar (but not much else); a flying "scooter"; a gun platform lashed to the back of an Akrid insect; a suit that looked and moved like a scorpion; a dual-rotor cargo-lifting "helicopter" ride; two-legged "hoppers"; variations of a "standard" VS with everything from Gatling guns to energy swords; and a massive, spider-like VS that could carry several teammates.
Fortunately, the selection of Vital Suits seems to be tied to the size and type of map. For example, there were several types of VS available on the huge "Dual Complex" map (which looks like Shadow Moses from Metal Gear Solid) but only a couple, smaller ones on "Turbulent Jungle." The other two maps I played on were the snow-covered "Pirate Fortress" and the rocky, stormy seaside of "Thunderpeel Precipice."
There's a clear push to get players using the VS options in battle, but I noticed one other, welcome aspect to Lost Planet 2's multiplayer: It's very vertical. Each map I played offered varying degrees of high and low ground, from mountains to actual buildings. This led to situations where killing an enemy meant hopping out of my protective VS in order to climb a tower, since there was no way the suit could jump that high. The demo's map is a good example of this level design, being nearly as tall as it is wide. (And oh, does it look brilliant -- with lush vegetation that reacts to every explosion.)
It was hard to get a solid feel for the overall multiplayer experience in one short play session, but I have to say that I was impressed, especially by the massive scope of some of the battles and the creativity apparent in the many Vital Suit designs. Everyone can get a taste of this when the demo goes public in late April; and some will even be playing it today.