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Dead Space Extraction Review

Back in early 2009 when Dead Space: Extraction was first announced I and many others were more than a little….confused. The original Dead Space, the gory 18 rated 3rd person survival horror shooter that Extraction ties into, was released on what are generally considered the “hardcore” gaming machines: PC, Xbox360 and PS3. So what console was Extraction exclusive to? The Wii, home to Mario, mini games and family friendly fun. A widely popular console for sure, but also a console that a fair number of the Dead Space fan base probably didn’t own. Like most games that sound like they were forged by meddling publishing executives getting high on feedback from focus groups, it was a total flop at retail. Thus Extraction passed many a Dead Space fan by, gradually fading from collective memory never to be heard from again. Or so I thought at least.

But now (that being 2011), as part of a new marketing strategy that wasn’t developed in some executive’s mystical fantasy land, EA has decided to release a spruced up “HD” version of Extraction on the PSN as well as bundle it with the PS3’s Limited Edition of Dead Space 2. A port made possible by the relatively new Playstation Move peripheral, which handily bears a striking resemblance to the Wii’s Wiimote. But why no Xbox360/XBLA release? No official word on that, but I would guess that a Kinect based version would have just been more effort than it was worth.

Now that Extraction’s back on the radar AND on a console that a much greater amount of the fan base actually owns AND going to be expanded on in the first wave of Dead Space 2 DLC, it’s probably a good time to give it another look. So first things first, for all intents and purposes Extraction is an arcade game. More specifically, an on-the-rails shooter. Oh wait sorry, EA were pretty adamant that it should be referred to as a “Guided First Person Experience” you go that? Okay so, Extraction is set just prior to the original Dead Space and chronicles the events of the initial necromorph (space zombies) outbreak at the ill-fated Aegis 4 mining outpost. You primarily play the role of security officer Nathan McNeil, although you occasionally change over to other characters for a little while, giving you nice alternate perspectives on some of the game’s events.

While all that stuff’s pretty standard fair, Extraction does have at least one thing you probably wouldn’t expect from a game like this: a fully implemented and quite complex narrative. Which is a little weird considering, as a general rule, developers don’t usually put the narrative of an on-the-rail sho…….Guided First Person Experience at the top of their “to do” list. In fact it’s usually one step up from the bottom, only just above “voice acting that doesn’t sound awful” So trying to make one that actually has storyline as a central concept is a pretty bold move all things considered. That’s not to say it’s going to blow you away with grandiose storytelling, but it’s most certainly a very big step in the right direction for a nearly dead genre that could really do with a kick start.

You’re going to see a lot of the same places as you did in the original Dead Space, and while they don’t look nearly as good as they did back then, they’re still more than good enough enough to invoke a pleasant feeling of nostalgia in returning players. But more importantly, Extraction’s temporal framing places you before Isaac (Dead Space’s protagonist) arrived on the scene. This means you’ll get to experience the quite graphic breakdown of society caused by the Red Marker and necromorphs as it happens, rather than just hearing about it second hand via recordings like Isaac did. It’s also a (guided first person) experience that’s assisted by some frequent and fairly well written banter, a lot of which expands quite significantly on the politics of the Dead Space universe and the ecology of the necromorphs and markers. All together this stretches the story mode’s length to a highly respectable 10-12 hours. It really helps Extraction stand out as a proper part of the Dead Space mythos rather than just another cheap tie in project (there’s plenty of those already).

Unfortunately these extensive “narrative moments” don’t mesh very well with the actual combat; usually your ever expanding entourage of characters will simply walk “behind” the camera when the bullets start flying, only to pop out again when the coast is clear so that they can have a nice long chat about how scary it all was. It’s a rather jarring transition and leads to a slightly uncomfortable stop/start divide between combat and narrative that damages a lot of the immersion that the documentary style camera work helps build up.

Not that it matters much, the voice acting alone is enough to shatter you suspension of disbelief without any help. I guess it’s not quite House of the Dead bad, but it travels quite far into distinctly B-Movie territory when lines that should carry some pretty heavy emotional baggage are delivered in a hilariously wooden manner and characters manage to show an alarming lack of concern about all the god-awful stuff going on around them. While I do understand that in the distant future not all space fairing folk are white middle class Americans, the large number of supporting characters speaking in out of place (and sometimes rather goofy) accents doesn’t really help matters either.

Despite this, the developers were obviously pretty proud of all the chatter, as they made it totally unskippable. I guess that’s not particularly unusual, and in most games that aren’t RPGs it’s not really a problem. But then again most games aren’t a guided experience that gives you no control over where you character looks or moves to, often resulting in windows of opportunity to pick up ammo and collectables that last mere fractions of a second. So imagine you’ve just missed one of those split second chances to pick up a one-time-only audio log, weapon upgrade or something like that. You now have two choices if you want to go back and get that thing:

1) Restart the chapter and sit through all that crummy voice acting all over again (something that could potentially take close to an hour) just to get another easily missable chance at picking up the item in question.
2) Spend about 5 minutes deliberately trying to die, and then hope you didn’t just pass a respawn checkpoint. Again, just to get another easily missable opportunity.

So basically if you’re an achievement hunter, completionist, or just someone who wants to read all the logs that help expand the Dead Space lore (i.e. most of the people who would play this game in the first place) then Extraction is going to give you a really rough time. It also has a pretty big impact on reparability, as you’re unlikely to be in too much of a hurry to sit through all that talking again anytime soon, even if some of it is quite interesting the first time round.

All that’s really left once story’s done and dusted is a challenge mode that offers some straight up score attack light gun shooting sans-narrative, something that’s more in line with more generic first person guided experiences like Time Crisis or House of the Dead. It’s relatively satisfying for a short while at least, despite it only having OFFLINE leader boards, something you’d only experience these days if you were either trapped in some kind of pre-internet time warp….. or playing on a Wii game.

Speaking of the Wii, it’s obvious they’ve definitely upped the resolution to something that’s more suitable for HD TVs, but there’s still no mistaking Extraction for anything other than a port. For one thing, the poly count on a lot of objects is abysmally low, which is really noticeable on a lot of stuff you’re going to see close-up like helmets and tools. Worse still, characters (along with most props) seem to lack even the most basic approximation of a shadow, which may have been just about acceptable on the Wii but stands out like a sore thumb on “HD” consoles. Sadly the graphics aren’t the only thing that carried over from the Wii version; the “hard” in the “hard difficulty mode” seems to refer to how difficult it is to deplete your health bar. In other words, it’s dead easy. I can only assume this was to conform to the more casual gameplay environment found on the Nintendo console, but it’s still rather perplexing design choice when Extraction is supposedly aimed at those who played a pretty hardcore PS3/Xbox/PC game.

The integration with the PS Move isn’t quite up to standard either, something that’s evident early on when the on-screen prompt tells you that you need to point the Move controller towards the Playstation Eye camera during calibration. This would be a perfectly effective methodology for calibration in the unlikely event your PS Eye camera is somehow located in the centre of your TV screen (protip: that’s where you should be aiming for it to work). Once it’s properly calibrated you get the perfect 1:1 movement you’d expect from the PS Move, but every now and then there’s a glitch that will start offsetting your crosshair to weird angles that forces you to awkwardly recalibrate on the fly. Far more worrisome however are the other glitches that instead just totally lock the game up! They’re not game breakingly frequent, but it’s kinda ridiculous that they happen at all when the game isn’t exactly pushing the limits of the hardware.

But at least there’s one key element of the Dead Space experience that didn’t quite get lost in translation: the violence. It’s got nothing on Dead Space 1 & 2’s carnival of evisceration, but limbs still fly off, bodies explode in fountains of gore and mutilated corpses litter every hall. Immature? Yes. Entertaining? Also yes. But unless you’re quite squeamish, don’t expect Extraction to be giving you any nightmares. Much like the main Dead Space games a lot of the “horror” element relies heavily on surprising you with sudden jump scares rather that disturbing you psychologically, so it’s relatively easy to shrug it off once the brief initial shock wares off.

These sorts of similarities combined with the way Extraction expands on a lot the Dead Space lore is why I’d say it still makes a really good “companion” to the other games in the franchise, but also why it kinda flounders as an independent product. I know I’ve listed more than a fair amount of flaws in this review, but none of them major enough for me to try and steer people away from it. Shooting zombies is still fun and shooting limbs off of zombies using lasers is even more fun. It’s just that those minor flaws are so supremely……..frustrating. Frustrating because without them Extraction could have really been something special, a fully realised instalment of the Dead Space story that would have been just as desirable to newcomers as any of the core titles. But as it stands, I think it’s a fairly average game that’s best suited to people who are already well invested in the franchise and are just looking for another Dead Space (Guided First Person) Experience to tide them over till the next title/DLC hits.

The Good

  • Prioritises narrative in a genre that normally ignores it.
  • Camera work is very immersive.
  • Significantly longer than most First Person Guided Experiences.
  • A good expansion to the Dead Space mythos.

The Bad

  • Low difficulty.
  • Poor graphics.
  • Fairly serious glitches.
  • Unskippable dialog.

Recommended similar games
Time Crisis: Razing Storm (PS3/Arcade)
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles (Wii)
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii)
House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return (Wii)