When word broke that EA was planning on bringing their massively popular Dead Space franchise over to the Wii, you could hear the collective groans of the game’s fans worldwide. Someone had decided that Dead Space was a decidedly high-definition gaming experience. News came that Visceral was turning their third-person survival horror title into an on-rails shooter, and nails started pounding into the coffin. Then screenshots and gameplay footage came out, and people started taking notice. Could Visceral really make a compelling rail shooter? Was it possible that the Dead Space franchise would continue to thrive on the casual console? After playing through Dead Space: Extraction, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”
Typically, rail shooters don’t have strong narratives. One need only look to several other titles on the Wii such as House of the Dead or Ghost Squad to see that story isn’t the genre’s strongpoint. In a welcome change of pace, Dead Space: Extraction’s story is probably its strongest feature. The game takes place prior to the original Dead Space, and opens on Aegis VII, where the infamous Marker has just been discovered. The game uses a split narrative taking you from the mines of Aegis to the familiar corridors of USG Ishimura, with the player spending time in the shoes of four different characters. None of them is given a distinct advantage over the other, but being able to watch the Ishimura tragedy unfold through multiple sets of eyes over the course of the six or so hours it will take you to play through the campaign gives new insight to the mysterious events many people only saw the repercussions of as Issac Clarke. While there are surprisingly few scares, which is odd considering that Visceral had even more control of how the world reacted around you because of the forced perspective, there are some really great action sequences, particularly later in the game. They may not have packed each hall with Resident Evil “dog jumping through the window” moments, but the frantic pacing of the last act more than makes up for the lack of sheer terror. There are double-crosses, unexpected turns, and the dialogue is delightfully uncringeworthy, for the most part, and while I won’t go so far as to say Extraction’s story is as good as Dead Space’s, it’s definitely one of the more memorable stories in gaming this year.
When it comes to innovative gameplay, the last place you expect to find it is in a rail shooter. Extraction shares the unique features of the original Dead Space, and puts them to good use. Most notable is the dual-functioning weaponry. Each gun fires by tapping B, and reloads by hitting Z. Extraction also uses active reloads, and getting good at them is vital the farther you progress into the game. Like its predecessor, every weapon in Extraction has an alternate firing mode activated by simply turning the Wii remote sideways. The stable of guns remains nearly identical, with the only new additions being the rivet gun, which acts as your defacto weapon, and never runs out of ammo, and the P-Sec pistol, which has a shotgun alt-fire. Each of the weapons has four upgrades, which are scattered across the game’s levels, meaning you can’t choose which weapons you want to improve. There are no workbenches, just bright blue power nodes already assigned to specific guns. The weapons themselves are also scattered about the game, but you can only ever have four at a time. I found myself relying on the rivet gun and flamethrower most of the time, but the line cutter was still one of the most important weapons near the conclusion. If you happen across a fifth gun while you’re making your way through the game, you’ll have to choose a weapon to drop. Thankfully, if you continually find the power nodes for any weapon, no matter when you pick it up it will be leveled up. On the Normal setting, ammo only begins to run out near the end, but higher difficulties force you to conserve as much ammo as possible, and you’ll find yourself relying on the rivet gun even more. No matter which character you’re playing as, you’ll have a basic melee attack available. Shaking the nunchuck unleashes a combo of slashes delivered by the futuristic equivalent of a pickaxe. You’ll end up using it mostly for clearing Necromorphic obstacles out of your way, as its value in combat is limited.
Kinesis and stasis are also valuable tools this time around. Kinesis is not only used to move objects around in the environment, but it can also be used as a method of attack. Several enemies hurl projectiles at you, which can be grabbed with a press of the A button, and launched back at them by hitting B. You’ll also be using kinesis to grab upgrades, ammo, text logs, audio logs, and other items scattered across the game. Stasis is mapped to the C button, and recharges when not in use. For newcomers, figuring out which enemies to tag with stasis on a crowded screen is important, but more experienced shooter fans should rely on this ability rather infrequently. You will need to use stasis to solve “puzzles” once in a great while, but neither power is as important in Extraction as it was in the original Dead Space. Several times throughout the game, you’ll be able to look around from a standstill position to grab important items. Visceral claimed this game was more of a “guided first-person experience” than it was a rail shooter, but being able to pan around your surroundings for three seconds every fifteen minutes hardly feels like an off the rail moment.
Playing with a friend is as easy as having them turn on a Wii remote whenever they feel like it. The drop in, drop out co-op is a nice feature, and works well within the confines of the game. It’s also easier to earn a better ranking on a level when working with a partner. Extraction grades you on a five-star scale, and earning more stars allows you to upgrade your RIG (ie – health), and better performances unlock additional extra content like Dead Space motion comics, and more levels for challenge mode. Challenge mode places you on any one of the game’s stages, and sends wave after wave of Necromorphs after you. It’s nothing more than a frag-fest where you try to obtain the highest score, but without online leader boards, you’ll hardly ever find yourself trudging through those maps without a friend. The only problem I encountered when playing with someone else was how much space each aiming reticule took up on screen. Since many of the enemies funnel in from one or two spots in any given section, having two cursors fighting for position and kills made it a bit hard to see. It didn’t ruin the experience, but it can be a bit annoying when one monster makes it through the firefight because you couldn’t see it.
Visceral really brought their “A” game in developing this game for the Wii. While the graphics aren’t on par with what we saw on more powerful consoles this generation, Extraction is definitely one of the best looking games on the Wii to date. There’s still an issue with textures being extremely muddy when viewed up close, but character models, animations, and surprisingly enough, the weapon effects, all look really good. Facial animations in particular are excellent, and could have been quite terrible considering how much time you spend talking to other people face to face. But Visceral did a phenomenal job by not letting the game take you out of the moment during some well-acted character moments. I’m not saying you should expect the same attention to detail in the minutiae like its high-def cousin, but other developers should take note that graphics of this caliber are quite capable on Nintendo’s console, and shouldn’t be using the system’s lack of processing power as an excuse for weaker visual presentations. Much was made of the score for the original Dead Space, and the prequel shares the same care for the soundtrack. Moody, sparse, and able to hit all the right notes during heightened action sequences, the score for Extraction keeps you engaged through even the dullest moments of corridor crawling.
To say that Dead Space: Extraction marks a new era in rail shooters isn’t all that untrue. The developers took a huge chance by placing their game in a genre rife with games that did nothing but wash, rinse, repeat for years, but by creating an incredibly compelling narrative, coupled with some new strides in gameplay, Visceral Games set a new bar for the rail shooter. Not only did they prove that rail shooters could be more than generic shoot ‘em ups, they also showed that they were a developer to be reckoned with. I’ll never doubt Visceral’s abilities again, and I’m really looking forward to their next game. Dead Space: Extraction is another step in the right direction for the Wii, and EA, and you’d do well to pick this game up.