Enough to make me want to join the Church of Unitology!
EA’s Dead Space wound up being one of the better surprises of 2008. Featuring a surprising amount of polish to compliment its own spin on survival/horror conventions, Dead Space easily outclassed even the yet-to-be-released Resident Evil 5. It borrowed heavily from Capcom's legendary franchise, sure, but it also brought the term "strategic dismemberment" into the gaming lexicon and featured, bar none, one of the most intuitive HUDs (or lack thereof) I've ever seen. While I thought Dead Space was an undeniably awesome experience, I can't say I was excited when its prequel, Dead Space: Extraction was announced. A light gun shooter on Wii? Really, guys?
Thankfully my hasty generalization was completely without merit, because, once again, Visceral Games has delivered a wholly unique and wonderfully engaging experience. Read on my friends, read on...
It's all falling apart here. I can't believe what's happening…
Though it takes place before the events of Dead Space, Extraction picks up in almost the same place its sequel ended; the space port of the planet Aegis VII. The "marker," a relic secretly sought out by the cult-like Church of Unitology, has recently been excavated. In a manner not unlike Event Horizon, the marker turns out to be a device that makes most everyone who comes near it go crazy. And by "crazy," I mean people commit suicide before rearranging their cellular structures to reemerge as bloodthirsty Necromorphs. A handful of unaffected survivors band together, annihilate Necromorph hoards, and eventually leave the planet and stumble onto the USG Ishimura, planet cracker extraordinaire, and setting for most of Dead Space.
Unlike Dead Space, where you took the reins of a single, silent protagonist, Extraction has you jumping behind the eyes of a few different characters. While the general narrative consists of only two persistent goals, protect the Lexine and try to not get killed, the plot outline isn't half bad, and it does well to set up the events of its sequel. Stumbling through the Ishimura again wasn't exactly an anticipated feature (I've had real life nightmares about getting stuck in there), but I was taken aback by how familiar its environments felt. Walking through tram stations and knowing what's going to unfold in a few short hours is horrifying, and the fidelity at which everything from the Medical Bay to the Atrium has been recreated on the Wii hardware is quite impressive.
While the plot checks off most sci-fi/horror clichés at a fairly rapid rate, Dead Space's alternative methods of storytelling also make a return. Text logs, audio logs, and a few video logs compliment the in game narrative quite well. Actually, I was quite surprised at the amount of narrative in Extraction. Far from your typical mindless light gun shooter, Extraction features a significant amount of in-game cut scenes, and all of them beautifully rendered to boot. You'll get a lot more mileage out of the plot if you've played through the original Dead Space, but what's here does quite well to hold your attention and motivate you to press on through the dreadful locals.
My Dead Space
And despite its status as a rail shooter, Extraction actually doesn't feel all that dissimilar from its 3rd person peer. The weapon selection is nearly identical, with the Force Gun, Contact Beam, Plasma Cutter, Ripper, Arc Welder, Flame Thrower and Line Gun joining the infinite-ammo Rivet Gun, P-Sec Pistol, and Pulse Rifle. Secondary fire is gleefully intact, albeit initiated in a somewhat awkward manner by turn the Wiimote 90 degrees. And, as with Dead Space, aiming for the head isn't the way to fell most foes. You'll have to shoot directly at arms, tails, legs, and other giant glowing parts if you want to survive your way through Extraction. In short, strategic dismemberment still functions quite well, and it's still a refreshing changeup from the typical general standards of "always aim for the head." One difference that sets Extraction aside is it’s timed reloads. Essentially like Gears of War's active reloads, hitting the reload button, and then hitting it again to match its timing, results in a faster reload. The difference is only a second or two and, while that may sound a bit inconsequential, it's quite a godsend when you're being mobbed by a Pregnant and three Lurkers.
A few of Dead Space's more unique facets also survived the transition. Stasis, the ability to make any moving object, be it swinging fan blades or impending Necromorphs, temporarily go into slow motion makes a quiet return, but the real star of the show is your Kinesis ability. Essentially functioning as an elongated hand, Kinesis allows you to reach out and grab ammo, weapon upgrades, or item boxes as your character proceeds through the game. Most pickups are only on screen for a painfully short amount of time, so being able to spot them and spam Kinesis quickly becomes a necessary skill. Kinesis also once again doubles as a Gravity Gun, of sorts, allowing you to "stop" incoming enemy projectiles and fire them right back at your opposition (and makes for a handful of accidental, I-can't-believe-I-just-did-that sequences).
A majority of the gameplay is, as you might expect, shooting the crap out of everything that comes your way. Narrative breaks are complimented by a few (maddening) steady-hand hacking minigames and the occasional ability to look around to collect some loot, but most of your time in Extraction is spent blowing body parts off the undead hoard. The challenge progression is on par, even if the three bosses are a little too obvious in their means of disposal, but Extraction does quite well with both quality and quantity of your Necromorph opposition. The variety of weapons, along with the myriad of different loads outs, helps breathe life into a genre that typically consists of little more than going Rambo with a machine gun.
The only drawback is its genre inheritance; Extraction, for all its fun, is a light gun shooter - a “guided experience" that, through its framed lens, lacks any sense of exploration. Going back through the levels to take an alternate path, or trying to complete the checklist of pickups serves as another reason to play through a level again, but the five to seven hours you'll get out of Extraction's ten chapters might bookend your experience with the game. The shooting gallery challenge mode, additional difficulty levels, drop in/ drop out second player (which is quite fun despite not making any contextual sense), and bonus series of voiced comic stills try their best to get you to keep the disc in your Wii, but Extraction remains a considerably brief experience. It's not exactly a knock against the game, Extraction is paced wonderfully and, by the end, you're ready for it to be over, but some might have a little bit of trouble throwing down full price for such a short game.
While Extraction is bound to considerably less impressive hardware, the visuals don't suffer as much as one might think. Extraction, quite frankly, knocked my socks off with its presentation. The environments look awesome, and the consistent lack of light and darker color pallet do wonders for Wii's lack of poly pushing power; it wouldn't be out of line to say Extraction is one of the best looking games yet for the system. The audio package is equally impressive; the high pitched, shrieking violins are a tad cliché, but they serve the purpose in adding tension and dread to an already high-strung atmosphere, and small touches, like the random, creepy whispering in the background and the lack of sound in the vacuum of space, do well to build a foreboding sense of ensuing evil.