Dead Space Extraction review
Extracting the 'game' from teh game
The original Dead Space was a third-person shooter in the same vein of Resident Evil 4, although unlike the title it drew inspiration from Dead Space offered Action-Adventure style gameplay whilst maintain a horror-based presentation, and whilst opinions on the game were mixed there’s no denying that the ideal was there. Regardless of my personal opinion on Dead Space itself, the universe surrounding it including the comic series and movie along with the game built up a large following, and as such there were a lot of mixed reactions when Dead Space Extraction was announced, however the majority viewed it in a negative light, whether that be because they didn’t own a Wii or because they assumed it would be merely a cheap cash-in. Regardless months went by and more and more information came to light and eventually piqued my interest, after all it turned out that Extraction was to be a ‘Light Gun’ game or a Rail-Shooter as other people call them, whilst also maintaining a horror-based presentation which is something practically no other games in the genre to date had really attempted. So when Extraction dropped in price I decided to pick it up, under the impression that it would either be a cheap cash-in or a failed experiment. I was wrong on both counts.
Extraction kicks off with a rather amusing conversation between our temporary protagonist Sam Cadwell and his girlfriend Lexine Murdoch which aside from giving us some amusing sexual banter, also informs of the Red Marker which any of you fans of Dead Space will instantly recognize. For those not so familiar with the series, the Markers are ancient artifacts believed to have supernatural power and are worshipped by the religion of Unitology. The original Black Marker was apparently back on planet Earth, and this new Marker is the first discovered in a very, very long time. Once the transmission between the two ends, the game’s sinister logo pops up and you realize you are playing the right game and not some strange porno set in the distance future. From there we move to the operation of extracting the marker itself, and you and your fellow colonists suit up and go out in the harsh terrain of Aegis VII. At this point you get acquainted with Extraction’s stunning visuals, for a Wii game Dead Space’s innovative prequel is nothing short of breathtaking, and at the time of release was the single best looking game on the console from a standpoint of ‘photo-realistic’ graphics. Putting aside the visuals for now, you and your companions get the Marker into position in a short sequence that serves as a tutorial for the controls and gives you a time to get used to the cinematic camera Extraction utilizes, and then all at once everything goes to hell. Just as you secure the Marker a bright flash blinds the lot of the miners and causes the gravity tether inside the facility to go down, effectively putting the colony at the risk of a black hole tearing apart. You and your fellow dudes in strange space suits race down to fix it and find yourselves confronted with some very messed up scenes and whilst I spoil anything else for the sake of the experience, Extraction makes it evident right on the first chapter that he style of horror you’re going to experience is the much more in your face while screwing with your head shit than the atmospheric experience of the original game.
Fast-forward a week or two and we’re now Nate McNeil; a P-Sec Officer having trouble dealing with the mass suicide and riots that have been plaguing the colony since the extraction of the Marker. You meet up with Sergeant Gabe Weller whom Nate apparently worked with in times prior to the events of the game, and his three officers all of whom are from the USG Ishimura; a planet cracker vessel that’s come for the Marker and many of you will remember as the setting of the first game. Weller and his squad are charged with bring back the corpses of the dead miners who came from the Ishimura’s crew to help with the Marker’s extraction, but on your way to the morgue with them all hell breaks lose on the colony as people go insane and start murdering each other, forcing you and Weller to kill several people and attempting to make your way back to P-Sec HQ. Along the way the two of you run into the Necromorphs; the hideous mutated life forms that served as the main enemies in the first game and are back once again as expected for the prequel. These nasties can only be taken on by dismembering them, forcing you to aim for their limbs and joints. Once Nate and Weller make it to P-Sec they run into Lexine Murdoch, the character you will remember from the opening sequence of the game, who is currently looking for her father who went missing in the carnage. The three of you ban together and battle through the colony witnessing more horrific scenes until you reach the shuttles in the hopes of making it to the Ishimura, only to watch the shuttles come back down and crash, nearly killing the group. The immediate destruction results in the death of all aboard said shuttles with the exception of Warren Eckhardt; director of colonial mining operations from aboard the Ishimura, whom reveals there’s another craft on the colony they can take up to the Ishimura. With no other options the four of you head into the vents below the colony, hoping to cross to where said shuttle is decked.
The story in Extraction is incredibly well executed, you’ll find yourself switching characters between chapters at varying points throughout the game showing you the events of the story from different perspectives, and the story itself has a great deal of substance to it and all of the characters have their own likable qualities backed up by some rather impressive scripting, which admittedly does feel ‘eighties horror film’ at points, but as a whole is generally really well written. There’s no denying that Extraction boasts a very compelling tale and the twists throughout are vastly better than those in the original Dead Space, offering players a surprisingly gripping story that will keep you on edge from start to finish. But what I think is the single best element in Extraction’s story is the way it doesn’t alienate anyone. Gamers who haven’t played the original Dead Space or looked into any of the backstory get a compelling and generally easy to grasp story of survival as they follow the struggle of four people against near unimaginable odds, facing down hordes of monsters as they watch everyone around them die or succumb to the infection, where as fans of the Dead Space universe get to see the events that brought the colony and the Ishimura to ruin, setting the events of the original Dead Space into motion. The game ties into the movie and comics perfectly in terms of the backstory to the original game, and in some ways Extraction gives you a whole new appreciation for the original title, going back and playing again once you saw firsthand what happened during the carnage that left the place in ruin. Furthermore don’t think Extraction’s plot is predictable either, if you’ve played the first Dead Space you know full well that characters whom are important to the plot are just as liable to die as anyone else, but don’t assume you already know the outcome of the tale.
Oh my god a giant rock!
Moving on to the visual side of things, you may remember earlier how I mentioned the game looks great and it undeniably does, at times Extraction is really only separated from the original game by the HD quality, Extraction truly is one of the best realistic looking Wii titles to date. The environments and enemies look superb, as does the majority of the game although the characters do appear sort of blocky when it comes to their faces, regardless of generally good facial animation they suffer from heads that look like they’d be used to teach kids about 3D shapes in a Maths lesson. Putting aside blocky heads the general design of Extraction is impressive, the art direction is as strong as ever in the series but unfortunately there’s less variety in the foes you encounter, which is a shame but makes sense from a gameplay standpoint. Speaking of gameplay as you would expect from a rail-shooter Extraction uses a first-person camera to show you the world through your character’s view point, however unlike most games within the genre Extraction offers a rather unique take on this mechanic offering a rather realistically styled camera that bobs and rocks to your character’s movements, and when in motion there’s no denying it’s incredibly realistic and immersive, and it adds to the atmosphere a lot. Despite the visual promise of the game it does suffer the occasional frame rate drops and at times the holographic circles that tell you whether doors or open or locked will remain in mid-air when doors do open, which is odd given that the doors only open after loading is done, but these do little to detract from the game thankfully.
In terms of the audio work Extraction is impressive, the music in the game isn’t going to really leave a mark on you… well apart from one particular song about a twinkling star those of you whom followed the original trailers for Dead Space will be familiar with, but as a whole the soundtrack is certainly atmospheric if nothing else and it heightens the tension throughout the game, but it’s forgettable all the same. Voice acting is top-notch with the variety of colourful characters all brought to life by equally unique voice actors and as a whole the acting is spot-on, making the characters all the more real and adding to the storyline. However I do have to question whether Visceral Games went out looking for the voice actors with the most unusual accents they could find considering Extraction’s cast of character host quite possibly the largest variation of nationalities and downright odd sounding voices I’ve seen in a game, although that adds to the charm of the title… sort of.
In general terms of Presentation Extraction is a great and this mostly lies in the way the presentation ties together. The brilliant camera work immerses you into the role of you character in a way I’ve not seen any other rail-shooter even get close to achieving, and the actual progression through the environments and interactions with other characters is amazingly realistic. As you move throughout the Ishimura facing down Necromorphs and interacting with you’ll find yourself more immersed in Extraction than you will in the majority of games, and there’s no denying that the whole experience is scarily real at times, it’s just astounding how Visceral Games have taken the traditional game-controlled camera of the genre and used it to make such an immersive game, and quite frankly I wouldn’t think it possible if I hadn’t played the game myself. However the immersiveness of the title is somewhat impacted by the glowing OPEN and LOCKED signs on the doors, and the ridiculously large cursor used to show where you’re aiming. Seriously Dead Space Extraction boasts the largest pointer in any Rail-Shooter I’ve ever seen, and the reasoning for it is simply beyond me. In terms of horror though one can debate where Extraction stands. Up until now I’ve pretty much avoided touching upon it, but the horror in Extraction is nothing like the original. Dead Space focused on impressive use of its visuals and audio to create a very terrifying atmosphere and environment, and then followed with jump scares to try and take advantage of it. Extraction on the other hand emphasizing on *bleep*ing with your head, through messed up and downright revolting scenes (Not necessarily gory either) and through use of illusions, once again falling back to the game’s visuals and audio. I suppose the best comparison between the two is that Dead Space is the Aliens of the genre where as Extraction is Event Horizon, they’re similar in many aspects but the whole execution is vastly different.
The glow in the dark spines are totally in fashion.
Moving onto the gameplay Extraction is a rail-shooter at its heart and as such it can be very easily summarized as “Point and Shoot”. Your character’s movements are controlled entirely by the game save for a few branching paths you choose between throughout stages so all you have to focus on is keeping Necromorphs from ripping your character’s head off. Needless to say once you get into the game you quickly realize that Extraction’s emphasis on utilizing an on-rails stance to generate atmosphere comes at the cost of fluid gameplay. The realistic camera may well be immersive, but it also makes aiming at your foes difficult (Which may well be why the cursor is so big) and this in turn leads to unnecessary frustration throughout. Just when you’re about to launch the killing blow towards a Necromorph or pick up a crucial item, suddenly the camera swings around and you find yourself wasting ammo in thin air, and by the end of the game you’ll have experienced this so much you’ll probably start to worry your own vision will randomly spasm out of control. Putting that aside for now Extraction draws a lot of inspiration from the original Dead Space when it comes to the core mechanics. The first of which is the return of ‘telekinesis’ which you can use by pointing the remote and pressing the A button, letting you pull objects towards you such as crates or explosive barrels and fire them away as projectiles. There are a few sequences throughout the game which will involve using it to clear objects out of you path and the like, and you’ll also need it to pick up items in the game. On the armory side of things, you can only carry four weapons at a time although one of them is the arbitrary ‘Rivet Gun’ needed for certain sequences throughout levels, thus meaning only three of them can be changed for other weapons. You come across weapons throughout stages and collect them using telekinesis but if you already have full weapon slots you’ll have to swap the new weapon for an existing tool, or scrap it and you often won’t see the same weapon again, at least for a few chapters. The actual use of the weapons themselves is definitely improved over the original game, alternative fire modes make a return and can be tilized by turning the remote 90 degrees and the alt-fire modes themselves are also much more useful, meaning you'll find yourself using both aspects of a weapon as opposed to a single firing stance you probably leaned towareds in Dead Space. Extraction also fixes the issue of an imbalance regarding the sue of the weapons, with the majority of weapons all having some degree of use throughout stages although there’s still an evident difference in strength between them you can at least play through the game with any of them and still enjoy it. Speaking of power you’ll also be able to upgrade your weapons occasionally, although you’ll have to actually pick up the ‘level-ups’ removing the otherwise inventive store mechanic of the original game. Stasis also makes a return, been used to slow the otherwise speedy Necromorphs down and during certain parts of the game to slow environmental hazards like fans and the like down so you can proceed. Zero Gravity also returns in a few sections of the game, letting you select points to jump to in the area in order to navigate.
The shooting in Extraction follows the same principle as the original game, you go for appendages as opposed to headshots although for some reason the Necromorphs in this title appear to all be on caffeine and they hop about like a stoned rabbit, making it quite difficult to actually hit them with any weapon that doesn’t cover a large range. You’ll also find that Extraction enjoys pitting lots of enemies at you in a very short period, and given the speed of your foes you’ll often find yourself spamming stasis if you want to survive. Boss battles also make a return, although they’re incredibly repetitive and immensely dull, and quite frankly I could have fallen asleep against most of them if it wasn’t of their really disturbing designs. Seriously the final boss of the game is some sort of crab with a giant *bleep* for a head. The interaction with your enemies ultimately isn’t that different to the standard rail-shooter approach, although the game does offer some unique twists such as giving you puzzles to interact with but the term ‘puzzle’ does them a little too much justice. The whole of Extraction takes place over 10 stages, all of which last between around thrity and sixty minutes, so there's fair bit of length to Extraction considering most games in the genre last around 2 hours at most. Unfortunately the game still only clocks in at around 6 or 7 hours by the end of it, and unfortunately there isn't a great deal of replay incentive. You're graded on each mission out of 5 stars but there's no unlockable bonus for beating your previous record, and the additional Challenge Mode merely features you against 'waves' of Necromorphs as you battle to survive in varying locales from the game, and whilst certainly fun it feels rather pointless without another person to compete against. Speaking of which Extraction also offers drop-in and drop-out co-op, letting a second player come in at any point during the game and leave when they feel like it, which is definitely a large improvement over the standard in other Wii rail-shooters which often don’t give you that freedom, and it adds some level of replay value to the title as well making the Challenge Moe a blast to play for a while.
A typical day at the office; people, people working, people sat down and a giant blue cursor in the middle of the air.
Ultimately the core approach in Extraction is the same as any other light-gun game, but the higher emphasis on its atmosphere and story set it apart, although in many ways this isn’t a good thing. Light-Gun games are intended to be fast paced shooters centered on mindless fun, the actual interaction with the world they take place in has never really been important. Extraction explore the genre in a unique way, making use of the varying elements in it to create an amazingly immersive title, but at times you can’t help but thing that Extraction fits the term ‘interactive movie’ perfectly. You can never help but thin that the gameplay takes backseat to the presentation, and whilst there's no denying this does offer a varying unique and immersive game, people who actually enjoy the game for the gameplay as opposed to the story, atmosphere and presentation will probably find it quite tedious to play.
If you look past the lack of ‘game’ to Extraction you’re left with an interesting title that offers you a unique spin on the light-gun genre and will probably maintain your interest thanks to the impressive presentational values, but the slow pacing, lack of replay incentive and the general ‘movie’ feel of Extraction will probably leave you with a ‘once is enough’ feeling after you’ve completed it. For a cheap price Extraction is worth a spin, but in no shape or form should you consider buying Extraction for anything above £15, unless you have some fetish for shooting undead mutations in their unmentionables.
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