The Dead Space franchise is probably my favorite new one of the past year. I awarded the original game five out of five stars in our old scoring system, praising it for its attention to detail, brutal gameplay and the limits it pushed the survival horror genre to. Visceral Games had crafted a dark and futuristic universe that needed to be expanded upon, because the story of Isaac Clarke was just a portion of what occurred on the flagship mining cruiser, the Ishimura. How did the Necromorph disease get there? What was it like for those who sent out the distress signal that Isaac and his team responded to in the first place, as they tried to escape a horrible death for as long as possible? Dead Space: Extraction sets out to answer those questions, but does so from not just a different character perspective, but also a different viewpoint.
Extraction is, as EA puts it, a “guided first-person experience.” While many people scoffed at the notion, and claimed that EA was just dressing up the term on-rails shooter so that the opinion of this Wii prequel would be higher, those who have now played through Extraction will have to admit that EA was not full of it, and the game is much, much more than your standard on-rails shooter. The first-person perspective, the focus on action and atmosphere and the constant dialogue from your characters makes this game much more Aliens than Alien, but it’s still Dead Space in every way.
Developer: Visceral Games
Sep. 29, 2009
In order to make this feel like it belonged in the Dead Space universe, Visceral needed to accomplish a few goals. First, they needed to nail the atmosphere. The original took its cues from games like Resident Evil 4, Doom 3 and the Metroid Prime series to create a sci-fi world where you would feel isolated, helpless, and very, very scared, and these feelings permeated the entire experience. With ammunition at a premium, every battle with the Necromorphs was a struggle as you tried to dismember their limbs and push on through the halls of the Ishimura. Visually, the game was stunning, with attention to detail in things like shadows and lighting that helped you scare yourself when the game wasn’t busy doing it for you. The audio was also fantastic, and helped to keep the mood thick with tension that you couldn’t get over even when the coast appeared clear.
While Extraction is not as much of a horror game as Dead Space, it still managed to meet the expectations for atmosphere–enemies attack you in large numbers from all directions,‚ you need to keep an eye on your ammunition, and, despite the stop and go nature of an on-rails title, there are plenty of surprises thrown your way thanks to the developer’s control over the action. The sound is also excellent, with text logs and reloading effects coming through the Wii Remote speaker and plenty of bumps and thuds in the dark to keep you on edge. I’m also happy to report that this game is a visual stunner–there was not a single moment in my entire playtime of Extraction where I wished the game was on more powerful hardware, because Visceral Games did a fantastic job recreating the visuals. Remember–this is a game that places place in the same exact areas as the original Dead Space, so the fact that Visceral was able recreate those areas and environments without forcing the player to think negatively about them in a negative sense is a huge achievement. Seeing the same rooms also helps shed some light on how certain areas ended up covered completely in the bodies of the dead, or destroyed by blasts and so forth. For those who have played the original, it’s a very nice, subtle bit of fan service and story expansion.
Besides that, Visceral also would need a compelling narrative; while the characters themselves fall into horror movie stereotypes–the calm, collected leader figure, the veteran soldier, the helpless girl, the shady, self-important guy that won’t reveal his past–the story itself is right up there with the action as far as being compelling goes. You’ll keep playing Extraction to learn what happened to the Ishimura and its crew, as well as those people from the colony you’re in control of,‚ not just because blowing the limbs off of mindless creatures is exhilarating. (though that has its merits as well!)
The game is broken up into 10 chapters, and you’ll control a slew of different characters throughout depending on what needs to be done and who has been separated from who. To keep you on your toes, many characters you travel with or are controlling are killed off without warning as part of the story–you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, which helps build the tension. You’ve got loads of Dead Space standbys at your disposal, like the Plasma Cutter, the Flame Thrower, the Ripper–which by the way, works much more effectively in Extraction than in the original thanks to pushing and pulling on the Wii Remote to aim the spinning blades–as well as a few new weapons, like the Rivet Gun. The Rivet Gun is used for its tool purposes–you’ll seal off barricades by riveting them into place–but also as your basic “pistol” type weapon that does not run out of ammo but is clearly weaker than your other options. Secondary fire modes are enabled by twisting the Wii Remote, and the only motion you’ll deal with is intuitive: to enable the flashlight-esque Glow Worm, you’ll shake the Wii Remote–this will often need to be done while in dark hallways in the middle of battles, so keep an eye on it and feel that tension build–and in order to throw a Necromorph off of you as it tries to devour your face.
You have recharging stasis shots that come in handy for environmental puzzles as well as slowing down faster enemies or dangerous ones in your peripheral vision. You’re able to grab ammunition, weapons, health, audio and text logs from afar using Kinesis; you can also grab projectiles from enemies and explosive canisters that can be fired off with the B button. You can do all of this in single-player, or pair up with a buddy anytime with drop-in co-op–on the harder difficulty levels, some people may find co-op a necessity just so you can fire twice as often and at different targets. Even on Normal, the second half of the game is challenging. You’ll most likely live through it, probably without dying even, but it will get hairy on occasion. Given the game has four difficulty levels, you’ll be able to test for yourself just how good you are at Extraction. It’s a good thing too, because the game may run a little short. It’s long for an on-rails title, clocking in at 7-8 hours, but still short as far as a shooter goes.
Besides the difficulty modes, there are a few more extras that will help you get your money’s worth out of the title though. You’re graded on each level you complete, and you unlock additional health and weapon upgrades by achieving higher scores. Challenge modes unlock as you complete the story; the title is not misleading, as you face wave after wave of Necromorphs as they try to tear you limb from limb in order to make you like them. You can also check out some Dead Space comics in motion comic form, which is a neat extra, especially for those that are very much into the Dead Space universe and all of the non-game content.
Blast Factor: Dead Space: Extraction had a lot to live up to in order to be a worthy entry in the Dead Space series, but it succeeded in many huge ways while only failing in minor, negligible forms. It has more depth than any on-rails title you’ve ever played, a great and engaging story, and many reasons to come back; namely, more difficulties, the Challenge modes, and the motion comics. I hope this is the start of a companion series for the Wii used to flesh out details of the Dead Space universe, but even if it is not, this game stands up on its own as a great Wii title and one of the system’s better releases in 2009.
Dead Space: Extraction is available exclusively on the Nintendo Wii, and retails for $49.99. A copy of this game was given to us by the publisher for review purposes.
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