The giant bugs and beasties, known as Akrid, were the reason to play Lost Planet. I'm no scientist, so I can only postulate that somewhere, deep within the gamer's brain, there's a pleasure center dedicated solely to the destruction of glowing, orange weak points.
After playing through the first three "episodes" of Lost Planet 2 -- each split into several chapters -- the game seems to strike most of the same chords as the original. The formula hasn't changed much; the combat is exactly the same; and there's no real story to speak of -- the characters don't even have names!
The only notable changes in the sequel are the additions of four-player co-op and a few, much larger Akrid. Unfortunately, I can't say whether co-op makes for an engaging gameplay experience or not, as I was unable to test it out. What I can tell you is that co-op is bound to be better than playing alone, because that isn't very fun at all. As for the bigger baddies? I'm not sure bigger is necessarily better.
As Lost Planet 2 is so similar to the original, it comes with all the ups and downs of the first game. The negatives include some of the more annoying aspects of the combat, especially what I call "the death loop." Basically, there are quite a few enemy weapons and attacks that can knock down your character. Typically, these knock-down attacks require a few seconds of "recharge" time before they can be used again by your enemies, which is about how long it takes you to get back up. You do the math.
The frustrations aren't just limited to combat. The grappling hook is back, and again there's often no way to predict if it will safely carry you over a chasm or simply drop you to your death.
The most obvious addition to the game is the co-op option. My recommendation: Play Lost Planet 2 with friends. When playing alone, your AI teammates are about as useful as a sackful of wet bread. They occasionally take down an enemy soldier or activate a checkpoint -- which still requires you to mash the B-button like an idiot -- but usually they just roam around aimlessly. Once, an enemy soldier dropped down right in front of my entire squad, which proceeded to do nothing but stare at him.
"But what about the giant monsters," you ask? I'll admit that the Akrid are much more interesting to fight than the human enemies. Rather than simply absorbing a few bullets and keeling over, the Akrid have specific patterns and weaknesses that must be exploited, making them more enjoyable to take down. The only issue I have with the Akrid so far is the boss battles. Specifically, the bosses take a long time to defeat, leading to bouts of boredom (though I suppose more human players might speed things up).
In particular, the boss of the third episode -- a humongous sand worm -- was a nightmare. The battle is fought on a train with a big cannon mounted on top. In order to defeat the sand worm, you have to pick up gigantic shells, load them into the cannon, and then shoot one of several weak points on the monster. It might sound like a great idea for a boss fight, but it's just poorly designed.
First of all, the cannon itself rotates about as fast as a northbound snail on a southbound turtles back, and both the snail and turtle are covered in molasses. Complicating matters, there are various tasks to keep up with, from dumping coolant into the cannon to charging the bullet-shells -- most accomplished by, uh-huh, mashing the B-button. I can imagine the process is easier with co-op players, and maybe even fun, but it was nothing but an exercise in frustration in single-player mode.
Oh, and when you do kill the worm, it primes itself for one last attack that will destroy the train and instantly fail the mission, forcing you to restart the entire chapter. If you don't already know that attack is coming, it will kill you. In other words, actually killing the thing is guaranteed to take one more try than it should.
Beyond the frustration, the most conspicuous aspect of playing Lost Planet 2 thus far is my pervasive sense of boredom. Like the first Lost Planet, this is not a bad game, but it's not great either. I can only hope co-op will make the experience more palatable. The Akrid are still the selling point, and hopefully they feature more prominently in the rest of the campaign than they do in the first three episodes. With so many AAA games already available this year -- and more on the horizon -- Lost Planet 2 needs all the glowing, orange weak points it can get. Decent multiplayer couldn't hurt either.
Editor's note: This preview is based on an unfinished build of the Xbox 360 version of Lost Planet 2.