Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Dead Space: Extraction

Post-Launch Review
Dead Space: Extraction
Developer: Visceral Games
Released: September 2009

Extraction is a prequel to the first Dead Space, exploring the events that led to the Ishimura calling for help. It's a first-person rail shooter – a bit of a departure from the main games. When a team of archeologists discovers an alien marker during a mining operation, the colony starts to break down into madness and violence and monsters. A small crew of survivors tries to make their way off the planet to safety.

Sorry about the lack of screenshots - since it's on the Wii I couldn't easily grab pics.

At Launch
The critics liked Extraction. Its review scores averaged to just over 80%. Some criticized its short length and ending, but most were impressed with the quality of the adaptation of the franchise to a rail shooter.

Post Launch
The Wii version received no updates, but a PS3 version was released in 2011 with graphical upgrades. However, it doesn't contain the bonus materials in the original version.

The Good
Dead Space
This game fits very well into the Dead Space universe. All the weapons, tech, and even sound effects are present, and the stuff that wouldn't translate directly is adapted to a form that will fit the rail shooter. For example, the kinesis module simply allows you to click on items in the environment to grab them (ammo, weapons, upgrades, etc). The stasis module holds three shots and recharges slowly, making it a strategic weapon to slow down the toughest enemy or to give you a breather in a big fight. Some of the weapons have also seen some changes – for example, the pulse rifle gets yet another alt-fire mode that creates a circle of bullets.

There are a couple of weaknesses – the low resolution creates rough edges and some of the textures look pretty bad up close – but Extraction is one of the best-looking games on the Wii. Since it's a rail shooter with a tightly controlled camera, the developers didn't have to pour resources into things you might not see, because they knew exactly what you'd see. Freeing up resources like this means higher-quality models and textures than most Wii games.

Chapter One
This game messes with your head right from the outset. You're part of a team extracting the first game's marker from the dig site, and something weird starts to happen. Engineers start attacking you, killing themselves, and talking nonsense. You're forced to defend yourself with makeshift weapons. Things get crazier and crazier as you start to see things, right up till the end when you're taken down by... a security team. Before dying, you can hear them asking each other why you'd take out your own crew like that, noting that you're not even armed. WHAT?!
Turns out it's just a prologue, but a very very good one. Instead of the game being like “there are crazy people”, you actually get a sense of what they're experiencing, and it's much more effective than pop-up scares. Fantastic first level.

Camera = Personality
The rail shooter's controlled camera sometimes feels restrictive when you're trying to grab a pickup before you miss it and can't go back, but it also manages to add some personality to your character. When you see the marker for the first time, you keep looking back to it, showing your character's fascination without ever having to state it out loud. You can see your character's caution as he checks all points of entry and attack angles. When you start to go nuts, you're spinning around all over the place, panicked. It makes you feel the disorientation the character is feeling. The camera is really well done.

Alt Fire
When I looked at the controls, I thought that turning the Wiimote sideways to alt-fire was really weird. And for most weapons, it kind of is. Then I got my hands on a plasma cutter – the series' signature weapon – and it made perfect sense. You know how you can fire a horizontal or vertical beam? Well, default is horizontal, and alt-fire is vertical: you physically turn your hand to change your weapon orientation. It's a nice touch, although it works best with the plasma cutter.

Perspective Shifts
You play a total of four characters through the game. Cleverly, you usually get to see a reflection of your face at the beginning of each chapter, so you know who you are before you say a word.

As you play through the campaign, you unlock plenty of stuff.
You can find weapon upgrades, as well as personnel logs, as you play through the game, but you have to be quick or you'll miss them (I managed probably 90% of the upgrades on my first playthrough though, so it's not that tough).
Your performance earns you a star rating out of five on each level, and as you accumulate stars you earn rig upgrades (health and stasis boosts).
As you clear areas, you also unlock them for use in challenge mode, a fast-paced arcade-style ten-wave challenge for the highest score. It's a fun way to extend the game if you want some classic arcade action.
Finally, you also unlock the six chapters of a motion comic which functions as a prequel to the game (which is a prequel to the first Dead Space). It fills in the story of all the events that would make a terrible rail shooter due to the lack of shooting. It's not really well done – the voice acting is off and the quality of the art varies wildly – but it's a neat little expansion to the story.

The Neutral
Tedious Gameplay
Since this is a rail shooter, you don't get the freedom of exploration in the main Dead Space games. Removing movement and camera controls from the player mean that all that's left to do is point and shoot (and grab power-ups), so this game starts feeling repetitive far more quickly than ones that give you more control. However, if you only play a couple of levels at a time, it's great fun, and gets really intense during some of the bigger fights.
Actually, minor spoiler, the last fight in the game isn't a big boss battle – it's a standoff against waves and waves of necromorphs. I much preferred blasting through dozens of monsters to fighting another boss – it made my carefully chosen and fully upgraded arsenal feel really powerful, but still allowed plenty of tension because of sheer numbers.

The Bad
Sewer Boss
There's a large, multi-tentacled boss at the end of a segment in the Ishimura's sewers, and it is maddening. The main problem is that the hitboxes don't seem to be aligned with the models. There are vulnerable points at the ends of the tentacles, and you have to shoot them to prevent the tentacles from attacking you. Trouble is, if you shoot at the weak points, nothing happens. I found that I had to shoot a little below the orange points, but it took me a while to figure this out, meaning I died several times. Furthermore, once you get rid of all the tentacles, the creature whips another weak point around in the water, and you have to hit it a few times to kill the thing – except it moves around so fast that all I could do was steady my aim and just hold down the trigger with an automatic weapon.

The Verdict: Play it.
The campaign is short, clocking in at only 5 hours for me (or roughly 30 minutes per stage), and it gets tedious if you play long sessions, but it's a lot of fun. It's a solid rail shooter with plenty of action and tension, which is surprisingly well balanced with dialogue and slower bits with your small band of survivors. It looks surprisingly great for the Wii, and fills in some blanks in the Dead Space chronology. Plus, you should be able to find it cheap – I found my copy for only $15.

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