Dead Space: Extraction Review
When EA unleashed Dead Space on an unsuspecting gaming public late last year, it took some flack for what some considered certain cliché sensibilities. This was despite garnering generally enthusiastic reviews across the board. Yet, for whatever reason, its release bred some nitpicking over, say, design lifted straight out of Resident Evil 4, or how much the aesthetic ripped off Aliens—this of course ignoring the fact that all successful media is inevitably and perpetually imitated after being proven a runaway smash. I never bought into that—as a huge survival horror fan, I feverishly devoured every trailer I could find before the game’s release, salivating over what I imagined could be the start of an extremely promising new franchise for the genre. Needless to say, Isaac’s horrific experiences on the Ishimura did not disappoint.
So it was only natural that I was elated, if a little confused, when Extraction was announced, even as a Wii exclusive. And like everyone else, I wondered how exactly the series would fare as what by all accounts sounded like an atmospheric light gun shooter. “Guided first-person experience”? What the hell did that mean, exactly? The coined phrase just sounded like PR-speak.
I was wrong; Visceral and Eurocom hardly just shoehorned the series into the body of an arcade shooter. That would relegate Extraction’s depth to the level of Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, or to get really critical, the laughable import-only cash-in Silent Hill: The Arcade. No, Extraction is one hundred percent Dead Space, just re-imagined as an interactive horror film—and a damn fun one at that.
But given its design parameters, Extraction approaches the series from a very different perspective. Whereas Dead Space let the horror unfold through audio/visual logs and an unyielding sense of suspense and dread (with Isaac’s silent protagonist role adding little to the story progression), Extraction revels in its commitment to narrative and dialogue, evident from the very first moments of the game. First playing as a member of a team of engineers ordered to unearth the marker from the colony on Aegis VII, it takes a good fifteen minutes of carefully scripted action before the fecal matter hits the fan. This doesn’t happen infrequently—there’s plenty of brutal necromorph evisceration to be had, but a good deal of the eight to nine hour story mode is actually taken up by the surprisingly well-written script. And rather than setting your own pace to get to your next destination, you’re caught behind the camera, being pushed forward with the unfolding story, whether you like it or not.
If this were a standard light gun shooter, a horrible plot would be expected, as they’re typically shallow games by nature. But by virtue of its narrative depth alone, Extraction defies these conventions. At the same time, true (visible) branching paths, the FPS-like ability to swap out the game’s selection of old and new weapons (not to mention the ability to upgrade them) and, finally, being able to catch your breath and reload your guns before entering the next room also speak to a more fully-fleshed out gameplay experience. Only you’re not in control of the game’s direction. Call it a play on the game’s title, since you’ve lost the ability to manually control your viewpoint of the action.
This unorthodox approach actually reminds me of Killer 7, which was lambasted on release for its ‘on-rails’ gameplay. And while Extraction’s narrative, stylistic and mechanic fundamentals are comparative light years from Suda 51’s socio-political psychosis trip, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that had Extraction been a “guided third person experience” it would play drastically different than how it does now. But that isn’t what the dev team wanted, it seems. What they were after was a more purely cinematic Dead Space experience, and luckily delivered it, though sometimes at the cost of the original’s high scare quotient.
Dead Space excelled at never giving you much hint as to where or when Isaac’s next encounter might be. More often than not, you would hear the piercing screams and shrieks of your enemies before you ever saw them, and if you were compelled to run, you might very well stumble on to more of them, heightening your sense of fear and immediate panic. With the choreographed action left to the taut direction, Extraction trades most of the original’s moments of suspense and terror for frantic shooting sessions, especially on the game’s harder difficulty levels. The game is just a series of giant tracking shots, essentially, which puts the emphasis on action during the shooting segments and exposition the rest of the time (though you’re granted limited, timed camera control when stopped at certain moments). EA put it best themselves in an ad for the game: “Experience the panic before the terror begins”.
But just because there’s an emphasis on freaking out over swarms of necromorphs, that's no reason to think this is any less of a Dead Space title than the original. All the components are present, accounted for, and very well adapted for the Wii. Stasis and telekinesis are used (and used often) to great effect, and the nunchuk is used for a melee swing. You can twist the Wiimote slightly to the left to switch to alternate fire mode on your weapons, and then there’s the Ripper, which utilizes moving the Wiimote forward and backward to determine a blade’s distance from its target, a very cool use of motion control. Audio logs that play through the Wiimote’s speakers and shaking the controller to recharge a light in pitch black areas also add to the game’s immersive atmosphere. And of course there are the necromorphs themselves—expect to see a lot of the familiar designs from Dead Space as well as some new ones.
Furthermore, Extraction is a technical powerhouse that benefits from top notch production values, a spot-on visual and aural aesthetic and solid gameplay. The necromorphs are large, well animated and numerous, and the framerate never so much as stutters. Strategic dismemberment has by no means been toned down, either. In fact, all around the game is beautifully done, and all more impressively so on the Wii’s relatively underpowered hardware. Just wait till you see the characters’ facial expressions. Capcom might be touting Monster Hunter Tri has the “most beautiful game on the Wii” but one look at Extraction and you might question that claim.
Overall, Extraction’s classic horror film vibe serves it well. Although the game follows a core cast of survivors, others may join up, and the group will splinter or get separated from each other, either voluntarily or forcibly, from time to time. You can feel the mounting stress, panic and sometimes even the apparent breakdown of sanity within these people as the game progresses, and you actually get a sense of their characters because of it (this is in no small part due to the excellent voice acting). At the same time, some people are picked off while others may survive, but thanks to its multiple narrators, it’s never clear who may or may not make it out alive in the end. And without getting into spoiler territory, Extraction has some surprises and narrative implications of a broader story arch that may be explored in future games, even while it’s exploring the origins of Ishimura’s downfall. Whether you’re going it alone or playing co-op, this one’s a must play.