On-rail shooters are dead; long live on-rail shooters!
I’m not going to lie and say that Extraction is anything but an on-rails, light-gun shooter, but I will tell you that it’s an extremely good one. Developer Visceral has been reluctant to call it that, preferring the phrase "guided first-person experience," but such taxonomic subtleties are meaningless the second you start playing the game. There is more camera shake than Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, but less than Darkside Chronicles, and it’s more engaging and cinematic than House of the Dead: Overkill, but for all its bells and whistles, Dead Space: Extraction is an on-rails, light-gun shooter. The thing is, it’s such an excellent game that I don’t care. It would seem that the "light-gun" genre is here to stay on Wii, but as long as developers keep the bar exactly this high, I have no qualms about it.
Players need not necessarily play the original Dead Space to understand the story of Extraction, as the latter is a prequel, but it certainly helps. I would almost go so far as saying that Extraction was made with Dead Space fans in mind. Homages to the previous title are sprinkled liberally throughout—the opening mission takes place where the original game ended, for instance, its narrative imparting new weight on the final tense moments of the 2008 sequel. From there, the storyline moves along more or less as it was destined to, according to the numerous pieces of meta-fiction surrounding the games: the mining colony of Aegis VII discovers an alien artifact that causes the colony’s personnel to go violently insane. On top of that, the removal of the "Marker" unleashes a horrific alien infestation on the colony, which quickly spreads to the orbiting "planetcracker" mining vessel, the USG Ishimura. Your character is a police detective on Aegis VII called in to investigate a rash of murders and suicides. Along with an ever-shrinking group of survivors, you will explore both areas in an attempt to stay alive and find answers.
The game is paced much like a horror movie with action overtones. A few terrifying reveals are connected by lots of corridor shooting. Once you find your way to the Ishimura, veterans of the original game will find many familiar areas lovingly recreated, and several new places as well. The script is uplifted by the dedicated voice actors, who take their jobs seriously and add much-needed weight to an otherwise cliché script. The action does, however, pull you in fairly early, and you will eventually succumb to the same sense of paranoia that has overtaken the other survivors. And I mean you as the player, not you as the playable character. That is an impressive feat for any horror game, much less one that marches you forward.
As for the gameplay, Visceral has done a respectable job of giving the player lots of combat options, as well as preserving what made combat in the original Dead Space so interesting. Most weapons work best when aimed at the limbs and joints, as strategically dismembering your opponents provides the key to victory. An impressive range of weapons are available, most from the original game, and almost all have very distinct uses. Turning the Wii Remote on its side (gangsta style) activates the gun’s alternate fire mode. Sometimes the change is subtle, as in the Plasma Cutter (changing the orientation of the beam from horizontal to vertical), but other times, it’s an entirely different weapon. In the case of the Line Gun, alternate fire mode switches from a wide horizontal beam to spitting out timed mines. The Pulse Rifle toggles between being an AK-47 and a shotgun. Despite the robust selection of weaponry, players will quickly realize which weapons are useful and which ones are best left at home, as you can only carry four weapons at a time. I can attest to the infinite usefulness of the Plasma Cutter, while the Arc Wielder just takes up inventory space.
Kinesis and Stasis have made valiant returns as well. By pressing A, the player sends out an energy pulse that acts as a magnet, grabbing pickups from any distance and certain environmental objects, which can then be hurled forward with B. Although opportunities for this kind of warfare are rare, they do conserve ammo. Often, because the game is on rails, you must be quick with the A button to grab rare weapon upgrades or crew logs. Stasis is a concentrated time-slowing ability. Pressing C while aiming at a particular enemy causes its movements to slow considerably, giving you time to chop it apart at your leisure or focus on more immediate threats. Stasis recharges naturally over time and is crucial for fighting off waves of bloodthirsty Necromorphs. Finally, shaking the Nunchuk activates a melee attack. It is almost useless in combat (you’ll waggle anyway to break free of enemy grapples) but contextually important, especially late in the game.
The occasional hacking mini-game would feel tacked on if not for how it is handled. There will be times where you are asked to basically hotwire a locked door or computer console. It is a task akin to the soldering mini-games in Metroid Prime 3, but with minor electrical hazards. You will not groan with boredom while completing these tasks, because you’ll be simultaneous fighting off hordes of oncoming beasties. This is tense not only because you’re doing two things at once, but also because you have limited ammo. This sequence imparts a wonderful feeling of dread, though it’s used a bit too often and eventually loses its punch. Notably, a second player can pop in at any time with a second Wii Remote. The second player does not use the Nunchuk, and both players share health and ammunition. Do not play co-op with a trigger happy Dead Space newbie—you have been warned.
Graphically, the game is top-tier and reminded me at every turn of the original Dead Space, which is still a very impressive-looking game. Sure, the occasional muddy texture mars the presentation, but character and enemy models are spot-on, and environments have been meticulously crafted to match the look and feel of the original game. The sewers of the Ishimura are particularly cool, featuring real-time lighting and water reflections on the walls. As I said, the voice acting is of high quality, and I’m happy to say that the sound effects are taken straight out of the original game. In all, Dead Space: Extraction suffers no prominent graphical or audio handicaps—high praise for Visceral, who should be giving classes to other developers on how to make a technologically impressive Wii game. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: the Wii is capable of a lot more than many developers realize, and art direction will make up for any relative hardware constraints.
A few glitches are worth noting. There are a few times where textures either don’t load or load way too late: I noticed more than one enemy crawl out of a wall instead of a vent, for instance. Ammo sharing doesn’t always work in co-op, either. Plenty of spare ammo is available, but the second player is unable to reload his gun sometimes, forcing him to switch to another gun. The biggest bug I found occurred when my character simply turned around to look at a wall (instead of moving forward), got stuck, and forced me to restart the level. I haven’t experienced this since, though, so hopefully it’s an isolated incident.
Also of note: the Dead Space comics (illustrated by Ben Templesmith) have been digitized here and play like movies, with spoken dialogue and interesting camera effects, kind of like the PSP’s Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel. The comic book is important to the series mythos, as it is technically the "first" prequel among the franchise’s back-stories. Extraction takes place during and immediately following the events of Dead Space: Downfall. The game also offers a challenge mode with remixed maps, basically asking you to slay monsters for as long as you can before dying. It’s fun, but not as much as the main game.
Dead Space: Extraction is a great game despite its few technical faults. It will appeal mostly to those who enjoyed the original Dead Space, but that should not stop those unfamiliar with the franchise from trying it, too. This is a well-honed, impressive light gun game with high production values and a lot of atmosphere. And I think Gabe hit the nail on the head when he said that using Stasis on enemies and then amputating all their limbs is just plain fun.