As far as this reviewer is concerned, few games in this hardware generation were as fun and memorable as EA's Dead Space. The combination of intense action, frightening atmosphere, light RPG elements, and fantastic universe all came together to create a gaming experience like few that I have ever experienced. Therefore, it was with great excitement and just a touch of trepidation that I took on the assignment to review this rail shooter Wii prequel.
Rather than shoehorn the original title or a new game on the ill-equipped Wii hardware, Extraction is built from the ground up to take advantage of all of the Wii's strengths while sidestepping many of its weaknesses. As I stated above, this go around is a rail shooter, which means that you have little control over your character's movements. Most of your game has you solely concerned with aiming your weapons with the Wii pointer. This decision could have resulted in a shallow disaster, but instead became a fantastic addition to the quickly growing Dead Space canon.
Extraction takes place in the few days before the events of the original title. While you ran headfirst into the ship which was overrun by the terrifying necromorph the first time, here you'll see how the colony was originally overrun, how the infection spread to the ship, and generally experience first hand how the brown stuff hit the fan in the first place. While you'll play most of the game from the eyes of security officer Nathan MacNeill, some of the game's ten chapters will have you experiencing the action from the perspective of some other unique characters.
One area where this instalment trumps the original is in its cinematic presentation. Since the game unfolds at an entirely scripted pace, this has allowed the developers to put together a much tighter storyline that unfolds like some of the best Hollywood blockbusters. Actually, playing this game is like picking up an interactive season of Dead Space: The Series. Each chapter takes around 40 minutes to complete, and is jam packed with equal levels of dialogue, quiet moments, slow burning terror, and in your face action. Playing through this game for the first time will have you on the edge of your seat, but obviously won't hold up quite as well upon repeated playthroughs. However, you may just find yourself revisiting the game every now and then just like you would a favourite horror movie. It's funny, if the full motion video games of the mid nineties were this tightly made, maybe we'd have seen a lot more success come from those types of games.
Despite aiming with the Wii-mote pointer like so many other Wii-shooters, Extraction is not your average rail shooter with a Dead Space skin. Like the original, aiming for the head is a key to a quick death. The necromorphs must be dismembered before they're down for the count, and blowing off limb after limb is still a grisly thrill. There's many ways to accomplish this, and it all starts with the arsenal. Many favourites from the original make a triumphant return, including the flame thrower, the plasma cutter, and the ripper (a gun that hovers a floating saw blade that cuts off limbs at will). There are also a few new additions like a fairly useless pistol, an arc welder that shoots lightning and a sort-of grenade launcher. If you run out of ammo, you have a pea-shooter rivet gun that never runs out of ammo. Every gun also has a secondary fire mode, which is activated by simply twisting the remote on its side. There's also an active reload mechanic much like the one found in Gears of War which has you pressing the button again to reload quicker.
You have a few other tricks in your bag beyond your arsenal. Kinesis and stasis both make a return for this go around. Kinesis essentially allows you grab faraway items like ammo, text logs, audio logs (which are heard by holding the wii-mote speaker to your ear), and weapons upgrades. Since you don't have control of the camera, quick reflexes are required to make sure you're able to grab the items before your character looks elsewhere. It won't be long before you're spamming the kinesis button over and over in between action scenes, which creates a bit of a immersion sucking moment when your party members are talking to you and don't notice that you're flinging your kinesis all over the place. A few quick moments that allow you to look around the environments are always used to grab items too. Stasis slows your enemies down to a crawl, which is essential for some of the flying or quicker necromorphs.
The controls for the game are simply a revelation. Arm waggling is mercifully kept to a minimum, and is only used when an enemy grabs you or to shake a glow stick in the game's darker areas. Aiming with the Wii-mote is a total snap, and all your functions are always at your finger tips. There are also some soldering sections that are not unlike the old board game; operation. Whenever you need to hack doors or consoles, there's a mini game where you must trace your pointer through an obstacle course. It sounds easy, but the game will sometimes throw incoming enemies while you're hacking, and you must move between shooting and tracing in some of the game's more intense moments. You can also do melee attacks by waving the nunchuck.
Probably the best feature of the game is the addition of two player drop-in, drop-out co-op. Playing through the game with two players is great fun, and almost always makes sense in context since you're rarely alone in the game. Bear in mind though, working together is a must, since the game doesn't provide more ammo (which is already tight). The other issue that pops up is that since the aiming reticules are so large, having two of them moving around the screen can obscure quite a bit.
So I've been raving about the game for a few paragraphs now, but it's not entirely perfect. Aside from the aforementioned lack of true replay value, there are a few other flaws that keep the game from perfection. The game is very short, clocking in around six hours. While the atmosphere is fantastic, this prequel is simply not as scary as it's bigger brother. Also, sometimes the camera gets shaky and moves too quickly to pick up items or accurately aim. Finally, there's some boss battles that are far more frustrating than fun, especially on the higher difficulties.
Once you finish the campaign, there's a few unlockables that are worth checking out. The first is a challenge mode that has you blasting away necromorphs from several of the game's faster paced set pieces, trying to beat a high score. However, the lack of online leaderboards makes this mode more of a novelty than something you're going to spend too much time with. The other unlockable is a six issue motion comic that was originally released as a promo for the first game and is still available for free online. Still, the comic ties into the storyline very well, and definitely worth a watch for its great writing and interesting artwork.
While the Wii has a reputation for being underpowered in the graphics department, Dead Space Extraction looks great with the proper expectations. Sure, it doesn't blow the mind with the HD graphics of its predecessor, but what's on display is very impressive none the less. Character faces give off genuine emotion, and both friend and for are gorgeously animated. The environments are also nicely varied, with good texture work and a good amount of background activity. Finally, the particle effects and devastating damage of some of the weapons are simply marvellous to behold. This one is definitely on the top of the Wii heap in terms of graphical presentation.
Audio has also received the same level of TLC as the rest of the game. The voice acting is uniformly fantastic, and is backed up by some great writing. Ironically, this game is better acted and written, with a better storyline than pretty much every video game movie to hit cineplexes to date. Weapons all sound great, and it's a true acoustic treat when you enter a vacuum and everything becomes muffled.
Dead Space Extraction is the action packed "Aliens" to the original's slower paced and cerebral "Alien". Both titles are gaming experiences not to be missed. There may not be a ton to do once you beat the short campaign, but what a ride it is while it lasts. Whether you rent it or buy it, Extraction is a must play for any mature Wii gamer.