Monday, March 29, 2010

Dead Space: Extraction (video game)

Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developers: Visceral Games
Genres: Survival Horror, Rail Shooter
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: September 29th, 2009

The general franchise that's sprung up around the first Dead Space is quite interesting, I think. Part of it is because several video game properties that look to franchise outside games do it wrong - I'm looking directly at you Halo - and part of it is because they run the gamut of media but the quality is generally consistent. Several of the projects have their flaws, but most all of them are interesting and at the least decent. It's a franchise done right; the core experience stands alone and will tell a complete narrative without relying on side stories, but those side stories may expand on things the main narrative never saw fit to detail. So many franchises sprung from video games seem to miss the basic rule of giving all the information necessary within the story.

Of all the expansions on the events of the first game announced, however, this game was the one I found the most puzzling. The prequel aspect is fine. But a rail shooter on the Wii? Not only is a rail shooter not exactly something you picture fitting in with the brand of horror the original Dead Space excelled at, but the Wii has been notorious not only for having third party titles sell abysmally but for it's much tamer graphic capabilities. A game on a next generation system optimized for HD getting a direct prequel on a system with the horsepower of a last generation system that simply can't sell third party games sounds like a recipe for disaster (which, saleswise, the game was a complete disaster). But pre-release impressions and actually playing the game are often in stark contrast, so does the game sit as a good addition to the franchise?

The answer is yes, but make no mistake, the game has flaws.

Plotwise the game takes place from the direct extraction of the marker - the artifact that causes the destruction wrought in the first game - right up to the opening moments of the original Dead Space. You start on the colony that the trouble began on and end it trying to escape the Ishimura. In this sense, the game presents a unique perspective from the other media. The comics and animated film that expanded on the fall of the colony and Ishimura all focused on one or the other, never giving a truly complete picture of the chaos that brought down the settlement. This is rectified in this prequel, as you witness the first moments of colony madness, fight to escape the colony as it tears itself apart, find yourself in the midst of the Ishimura's downfall and then must fight your way off.

The "chapter" structure is carried from the original Dead Space, but this time it's used to unique effect. The game switches things up sometimes, having you take the perspective of different characters during different chapters. This brings a sense of the unpredictable in a way the original Dead Space couldn't; no one is safe in the course of this games events. A character you control one chapter may very well be dead by the end of it, switching your perspective to someone else. The first time through, you don't know who is going to survive because while there is a core group of characters, there's no one "main character" you take the role of all the way through. It's an admirable trick and most of the time it's used it works; in some cases you know a character is dead and in others the fate of a character is a question mark.

But while the story isn't a problem, the graphics are to a degree. The locals are at times more varied than in Dead Space and in color, but on the same token the visual downgrade on things is evident. One look at several familiar enemies and you can tell the difference; they don't look anywhere near are clear or grotesque as they did in the original. It's something I expected - again, a Wii prequel to an HD game isn't an idea that screams "brilliant" - but it was still disappointing to note. Going simply by Wii games, the game looks good; just not Dead Space good.

The sound works well enough, with good music direction kicking in at the right moments. Like the original game, however, the music is minimalistic and/or unable to really stick out. Voice acting is pretty good as well, though there is still some iffy voice acting on the audio logs. Speaking of which, the presentation of the audio logs in this game leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. When you pick up one of the audio versions - text and video appear as well, but the video type is rarely seen - the sound comes out of the Wiimotes built in speaker. It's hard as hell to hear to the point where you need to lift the Wiimote to your ear just to understand what's being said. But this is a rail shooter; taking your remote off the screen for even a moment can spell disaster. To top it off, as far as I could tell there was no way to review previously collected logs, meaning if something happened to make you miss what was said or you need to hear it again, you're out of luck. It's all an odd choice on the developers part that could have been done without; sure, many of the logs in the game are recycled from Dead Space, but it's kind of hard to tell that when you can't hear what's going on.

The controls that are there are pretty tight. Obviously you're not going to worry about moving - this is a rail shooter, after all - so what's left is pretty much aiming and shooting. In this regard, the games responsive; I didn't have any troubles I can think of aiming at specific places, which is key in a game where you kill enemies by shooting their limbs off. The alt fire function each weapon had in Dead Space returns, cleverly activated by turning the Wiimote to the side. Some are noticably different this go around - the Pulse Rifle doesn't do it's 360 shot here - and sadly some of them are relatively useless, but they are there. The only iffy thing I can think of is the short periods you're allowed to look around your surroundings. The nunchuck stick is used for weapon selection, so you're left to look around by pointing at the edge of the screen of the desired direction. It feels awkward, especially if it's necessary right in the heat of combat.

One thing the game definitely has going against is is length. The game is just way too short. There are a paltry ten chapters to the game; that's three less than the main Dead Space game, but in that game you did things at your own pace and explored the entire ship. Considering the constantly moving nature of Extraction, it isn't exactly all that long before the game wraps; perhaps an afternoons worth of gameplay before your socked with the end of the ride.

When you get to that end, it's surprising. The last level is basically a gauntlet against waves of the beasties you've been fighting for most of the game before the game pretty much just abruptly ends. There is no end boss - hell, there are maybe three bosses total throughout the game - and you barely even see much of the ship before you're blasting off it. It feels like there should have been more content here, especially for a rail shooter.

On a positive note, however, it must be said that what you see of the ship is definitely recognizable. When you get to the Ishimura, places you've been too in the main game will race by your eyes. There's no doubt that it's the ship from the game - albeit not as pretty - and I was pleased to see the layout stick so close to the original games. This may seem like a stupid thing to single out, but some of the franchises non-game expansions have had some glitches in regards to scenery and such, so seeing the attention giving to matching things up here is worth noting, as it helps the games story feel like a seamless prequel to the main Dead Space game.

Also, an added bonus is on the disc in the form of the "motion comic" version of the original Dead Space prequel comic. Complete with voice acting and everything. It's not necessary - hell, if you have an X-Box 360 you can pick up all six segments for free there - but still, it's a nice little bonus that gives you another piece of the franchises media on top of the game itself. Plus, it details events alluded to in the games opening levels, such as the mass suicide that preceeded the all out chaos. It's not necessary viewing, but it's still worth watching.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

Dead Space: Extraction feels like a good prequel story to Dead Space and there's enjoyment to be had, but the game definitely has it's flaws. I have to say that I personally think the choice to take the story and make it a rail shooter for the Wii was a mistake; they didn't need to use the same design as the original if they wanted variety, but the overt linearity of the game ensures the game has little replay value beyond just wanting to experience the story again. Still, it holds very true to the game and is a worthy addition to the expanding franchise. Whether it's worth a buy depends largely on the person, but I think it's worth a rental at the very, very least.