Saturday, 8 May 2010

Dead Space: Extraction

Dead Space was amazing on 360, PS3 and PC, a survival horror dripping with atmosphere and striking a tremendous balance between action and long periods of tense loneliness. The idea of a prequel, telling the events surrounding the fate of the Ishimura (alongside those of the Downfall anime movie), was always going to be an exciting proposition.
    When Visceral announced that prequel was to be a light gun game, almost everyone scoffed at the idea. Light gun games are traditionally silly affairs that have no feeling of atmosphere or story, and its new platform - Nintendo’s family-friendly Wii console - just seemed like such an odd direction for this young series to take.
    When Extraction loads up for the first time however, these negative thoughts begin to drift away. The visuals are beautifully moody, with stunning animation, realistic head-bobbing in the first person viewpoint and some intense lighting effects, throwing the player into a believable scenario that goes a long way to building the tension for what is to come.
    The story begins almost as a prologue, as you play Sam Caldwell, part of the team sent in to remove a ‘marker’ from the planet Aegis VII. After the extraction starts to go awry, Sam and his team are forced to defend themselves against a monstrous horde of creatures and this sets the tone for how the game will play - acting as a very interesting tutorial too. The conclusion to the opening prologue also highlights the incredible storytelling on show in Extraction, something that has to be played to be believed.
    The action then moves to a second character, Nathan McNeill, along with his old friend Weller as they investigate the strange goings on around the Aegis VII colony. This is where the story really kicks off, with creatures popping up left and right, survivors coming and going and increasingly worrying visions creeping in as Nathan attempts to survive the massacre and make sense of what is happening to the colony - and the Ishimura.
    The Ishimura is where the majority of the game plays out, in instantly recognisable areas from the original Dead Space along with many new environments unique to Extraction.
    On the surface this is a straight forward light gun game - you shoot the enemies on screen to progress - but thirty minutes in and you soon realise that the small additions of exploration points (where the player is given a moment of free viewing, to pick up whatever weapons and ammo are lying around), a huge arsenal of upgradeable weapons, melee attacks and, unusually for a Wii game, clever use of remote-based mini-games all add up to create an incredibly engaging experience. Add an intense storyline into the mix and Extraction becomes one of the most thought-provoking shooters available, something no light gun game has ever achieved before.
     It isn’t all sunshine and lollipops though, as the enemy design suffers from the same problems the original game had, recycling the same few creatures throughout the entire game. You will find yourself more tense during the quiet exploration rather than the frantic battles with the Necromorph creatures, where it is easy to switch off and automatically fire at the appropriate spots before moving on.
    Some of the story points are a little stiff too, with some hammy voice acting that does not reflect the quality of the animation on-screen. Though the majority of the story scenes are fantastic (Lexine is a tremendously realistic character), especially those few that involve playing as a character other than McNeill.
    The shooting itself can be problematic sometimes, with the remote not always being completely accurate and the constant head movement can often lead to shots going astray and either missing that vital kill shot or, in many cases, missing grabbing that text/voice log.
    These logs are what ultimately renders Extraction’s faults irrelevant, telling more of the back-story of the Ishimura’s fate, how the marker extraction came about in the first place and the consequences of finding it. A game like this never really comes with a story and yet this one sucks you in right from the immensely clever opening, all the way to the ending you may never see coming.
    This may be a simple light gun game at heart, it may have its bugs, control issues and the odd poor scene, but with such entertaining gameplay and an incredibly tight story with very memorable moments, Visceral’s ‘silly affair’ with the world’s most family-friendly console might well belie one of the cleverest games of the past decade.


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