Dead Space: Extraction is easily one of the ballsiest moves that Visceral Games (formerly EA Red Shores) could have possibly pulled. Not only is it a prequel to a game with one of the bleakest outlooks ever, it’s a prequel on Nintendo’s underpowered Wii. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, they even went so far as to make the game part of a completely different genre than its predecessor, making the jump from third-person action adventure to guided first-person shooter.
What’s a guided first-person shooter you ask? Well, let’s call a spade a spade: It’s a rail shooter, plain and simple. Visceral has added some enhancements to the gameplay to give it a little bit of spice outside of traditional genre fare such as branching paths, a rather hefty weapons loadout, and Dead Space’s extra abilities (Psychokinesis and Stasis), but it still plays like virtually every other rail shooter out there.
Fans of the genre will find it an absolute blast. Your character’s arsenal is comprised of up to four weapons from a pool of ten, each with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation. There are very few throwaway weapons here, and even weapons I found unwieldy in the original Dead Space like the saw blade launching Ripper have their use and place. A surprising movie is the necessity of the character to pick up ammunition along the way (except for the infinitely-supplied Rivet Gun), which requires you to use Psychokinesis to grab ammo packs scattered around the world, which becomes a frantic exercise in mashing the Wiimote’s A button as you’re pulled along the predetermined path.
As far as the story goes, another cigar goes to Visceral in thinking outside the box. Taking place before the events on the Ishimura, Dead Space has you playing as no less than four different characters, oftentimes protecting other group members from the Necromorph menace. It feels very different from last year’s game by replacing the lonely desolation of the mute Isaac Clarke with your own entourage of chatty characters, who grow on you over the course of the game. There are very few surprises (after all, the original game started with virtually no survivors on the Ishimura), but when they do happen, they offer up some genuine shocks. When you pretty much know how the game is going to end before you’ve even played it, the story becomes more about the journey than the destination, and Dead Space: Extraction is an entertaining, substantial journey all right.
The main question one has to ask, though, is how it matches up to the original in scares. To be honest, that’s a difficult question to answer. As impressive as the graphics are (it’s easily the best looking title on the Wii), and as much as all of the elements seem to be in place, I simply didn’t find Dead Space: Extraction to be as frightening as its forebear. The pacing is executed brilliantly at times, alternating between unbearably slow creeps to all-out sprints for your life, but this sort of manipulation lacks the player reaction that builds up genuine fear. Plus, the mechanics of a rail shooter call for all of the enemies to appear in your cone of vision, which cuts down on the sense of being surrounded by a multitude of foes. It’s probably the scariest rail shooter I’ve ever played, but the genre isn’t exactly known for offering up genuine frights.
Once you finish the surprisingly meaty campaign (I clocked about 8 hours, which is positively epic for a rail shooter), there are still several challenge maps to play through. Forgoing story for simply tossing waves of Necromorphs in your direction, these kill-or-be-killed blast fests add some welcome bulk to the package, as well as a pick-up-and-play element that the story heavy stages lack. As an additional bonus, completing stages in the game unlock the six-issue Dead Space “motion comic” that preceded last year’s original. I’ve watched them already multiple times on Xbox Live, but for those who haven’t, the writing by Antony Johnston and art by Ben Templesmith is top notch and well worth a watch.
As I stated before in my review for House of the Dead: Overkill, those of you who don’t like light-gun style shooters won’t have their opinion changed by Dead Space: Extraction. For those who love the genre, however, this game is a must-play.