As I grow older, I find myself among a thinning number of people who remember the days of real arcade halls. Diversions Game Room was my old proving grounds in the era of Saturday soccer games and 2pm milkshakes. 5 dollars was enough for my brother and myself to browse the forest of arcade rigs while our father got reacquainted with the Terminator pin-ball machine in the corner. While my brother rose in rank on many fighting games (I watched him beat Dennis Rodman one time), I took to the light-gun series and never looked back. Time Crisis, House of the Dead, Police Trainer, if there was a gun attached to it, I beat it. I haven’t been back in years, wistfully daydreaming about those on-rails shooters and the fun I had. After observing the current video game trends, I believed it was time to hang-up my zapper peripheral and “grow up”.
Somewhere between creeping through the bloodstained corridors of the Ishimura and lopping off enemy appendages with the plasma cutter, my inner child awoke, as if on Christmas morning, to find Dead Space: Extraction to be, quite possibly, one of the finest on-rails shooters that has ever been made.
It is difficult to pick a certain spot to praise most about Extraction, as almost every aspect is deserving of acclaim, so I will begin with broader strokes: serving as a prequel to the original title, Extraction shows us the beginnings of the terror brought upon by the mysterious marker on Aegis VII. Rather than narrating the grim fate that inevitably awaits a single main character, Visceral chose to put death on steroids and tell the tale of several members desperately trying to survive the massacre at the mining colony. While the original Dead Space was on the PS3 and 360, the designers at Visceral rose to challenge the growing clamor that the Wii is far too difficult to both design and innovate for. Not only does Extraction maintain the look and feel of its next-gen predecessor, it elaborates by expanding the story behind several key characters in the Dead Space Universe and deepens the mystery behind the not-so-subtle religion of Unitology and their precious Marker.
While the on-rails shooters of old were short in play time and shallow in narrative, Extraction breaks free from the common stereotypes and delivers an impressive 8-9 hour adventure over the course of 10 chapters, brimming with tons of dialogue and decent character development. In more ways than one, Visceral seemed to lean more toward the story-telling aspect in this game rather than horror. That is not to say Extraction isn’t frightening, it’s just apparent that the developers had other things on their mind than just trying to chill my blood. They were out to tell a story of loss, survival, desperation, and finally, death. What I found most compelling about Extraction was not just a growing desire to see how Nate McNeil was going to die; it was how committed he was to saving the lives of those around him. By the time the credits rolled, I was actually remorseful that Isaac was not able to get there in time to lend a hand. While they were so close to surviving the decimation, in reality, they were very far away.
The controls remained very tight and responisve throughout the story, recognizing even the smallest twist of my wrist as a notion to try out my weapon’s alternate fire. Over the course of twenty weapons, however, I found that rarely used the alt-fire function on many of them, opting instead to stick to either the Rivet gun given to you at the beginning or switch over to the morbidly satisfying plasma cutter. I enjoyed the breadth of weaponry available to me this time around (20 weapons total by the end), but at times I found it frustrating that not all of them were readily available to me. It may have been an oversight of mine, but I don’t think I ever came across the Force gun again after I replaced it, and I really liked that weapon. That aside, the designers smartly provided ample opportunities to change my tactics, and I greatly appreciated the variety.
Once I finished the story mode, I didn’t feel completely satisfied; I was either not ready to put it down, or I wanted something more. My prayers were instantly answered while perusing the bonus materials section, where Visceral has provided the Dead Space animated shorts that flesh out more details about the story so far, and some of the very important characters we have yet to fully understand. There is also the challenge section of the game in which you are tasked to rank up as many points as possible in a certain setting. While the challenges aren’t much more than “shoot everything that moves and don’t get hurt”, it was a different kind of thrill than what the story provides.
There are some games that exist as a fan-service to the hardcore enthusiasts of the franchise, and there are some that are just well-done, but Extraction exists in a world between the two. Visceral Games set out to create something unique, yet familiar; cherished, yet bold. While it is not as frightening as the original Dead Space, Extraction is noteworthy because it is a different animal of the same species. To mesh a fading genre with the intensity of modern day horror and fill it with a twisting and turning narrative about religion and science fiction, I’d say the designers over at Visceral were trying to create another Lost franchise, but instead created something even more amazing. Dead Space: Extraction is not only a worthy prequel to a great story, but it is also a great reminder that with enough work, even the most exhausted video game genres can still surprise you.
See you in the next level,