Version tested: Wii
Say what you like about the Wii, but if on-rails shooting is your idea of gaming bliss, there's no better platform for getting your RSI-inducing kicks. Having been pleasantly surprised by the reboot that the likes of Resident Evil and SEGA's over-the-top House of the Dead have experienced, the idea of one based on Dead Space made a whole lot of sense. Full of gruesome, mutated creatures, and grim, menacing environments, it lends itself perfectly to the shooting gallery scene.
Set about three weeks before the events of last year's survival-horror shooter epic Dead Space, which came out on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, Extraction broadly shares the same chilling environments, meaty weapon selection and cast of spindly Necromorph enemies, but ups the interest value no end by crafting an intriguing new storyline that sheds new light on how the USG Ishimura mining ship became overrun with this mutated menace.
Kicking off planetside with the discovery of the infamous Marker relic, it takes all of about five minutes before mass hysteria sets in. Apparently beset by violent hallucinations brought on by being in proximity to this deified relic, most of the 1000 inhabitants in the mining facility try and kill each other for no apparent reason.
Somehow, the main protagonists in Extraction manage to remain unaffected by this inexplicable madness, and so the game focuses on the trials of four characters as they try to figure out a means of escape. By switching between Nathan McNeil, Gabe Weller and Lexine Murdoch (among others), the game's tense and absorbing narrative criss-crosses in a satisfying fashion as you explore the increasingly treacherous innards of the Ishimura in an attempt to locate an escape shuttle.
Gameplay is straightforward, yet it's a refined familiarity, borrowing numerous elements from the original Dead Space in abundance while wrapping them around the well-worn demands of a typical on-rails shooter. As you'd expect, the action is viewed entirely from a first-person perspective, while movement is taken care of automatically, leaving you to focus almost entirely on the firefighting aspect - an area Dead Space: Extraction wastes no time in getting straight to.
No sooner does The Marker appear, and people start losing their heads - literally. Armed with body part-separating weaponry from the word go, you can target limbs in exactly the same way as was possible in the original, and soon the environment is awash with bloody chunks.
Controls are standard on-rail fare, albeit with a few game-specific tweaks, such as the ability to use telekinesis to grab and/or throw items in the vicinity. For the most part, you simply aim the reticule and hit B to shoot at the screen with the Wii remote, while the nunchuk stick takes care of weapon-swapping, with reload and stasis control mapped to Z and C respectively. Motion controls are kept to a minimum - you need an occasional shake of the Wii remote to throw off enemies who get too close, but otherwise the most you end up having to do is swish the nunchuk to perform a slash attack, or shake the remote when you need to activate your light stick in the dark.
Elsewhere, alternate fire is possible by turning the Wii remote on its side, allowing you to, for example, shoot vertical beams of death with the Line Gun, rather than its default horizontal alignment. In terms of pure combat alone, Visceral Games has done a fine job replicating all the key elements that made the original's so frantic and exciting. As a result, the game feels less like a cheap spin-off downgraded to the Wii and more of an essential companion release that fans of the original will be delighted by.
Getting the feel of the combat right is one of the game's triumphs, and in this area it's no less than exceptional, with no end of heart-in-the-mouth moments as you fight off wave upon wave of determined and deadly Necromorphs, targeting the limbs to stop them in their tracks. At first, shooting their legs from under them might seem like the answer - that is, until you realise that they'll simply crawl towards you and whip you in the face with their tail instead.
When several enemies are in play, often the best course of action is to fire a stasis beam at one or more of them to slow them down, allowing you precious seconds to dispatch something else busily trying to chow down on your face. For the most part, enemies are the exact same ones you faced in the original, including the lovely ones with the exploding puss bags on the end of their arms.
Also faithful is the weapon loadout system. With space for four weapons (one of which, the Rivet Gun, is mandatory), you have to decide en-route what to swap out and what to keep. You might prefer the range and single-shot reliability of the Plasma Cutter, or go for the up-close multi-enemy takedown approach of the Flamethrower or the lightning bolt-spewing Arc Welder.
As with all on-rails shooters, there are plenty of blink-and-miss-it collectibles, and everything from ammo to weapons, health and ship logs are available if you're vigilant and accurate enough with your telekinesis ability to grab them as you pass by. Every now and then, you're afforded a small window of opportunity to look around with the Wii remote and snatch any items stored in lockers, and so on, but for the most part the game makes you work hard for your booty.
One area that definitely benefits from the on-rails nature of Extraction is the overall pacing. Sometimes you creep along agonisingly, other times it feels like the enemy onslaught is never going to end. There are few occasions where you don't come away feeling like your scraped through by the skin of your teeth, and even on the game's lowest 'Normal' difficulty, there's a definite sense of achievement when you get through.
Replayability is always one of the most attractive aspects of on-rails shooters, and Extraction certainly scores highly in this regard. With a couple of branching pathways in every level, hard-to-reach logs and improved gradings to go for, there's a decent incentive to go back and see what you missed. Another important facet to mention is the game's excellent drop-in-drop-out co-op play, which should make the tense slog all the more enjoyable for many.
In addition to an exciting story mode is the game's score-based challenge mode, which unlocks gradually as you play through the main event. Set in the game's main environments, you face 10 waves of Necromorphs, with the idea to clear them as quickly and accurately as possible without being grappled with or taking too much damage. Even after you've had your fill of the main story mode, it's an exciting diversion which serves as an excellent accompaniment.
On top of that, the game also unlocks six 'comics', complete with voice-overs to shed even more light on the Dead Space fiction. Certainly, if you found the narrative an appealing part of the original game, then you'll be very impressed with the amount of effort Visceral Games and Eurocom has gone to in order to make you care about the characters and events.
But as well as crafting an engrossing and relentlessly exciting videogame, Dead Space: Extraction also scores extremely highly in the technical department, ekeing an impressive amount out of the generally under-utilised Wii hardware. Few would have expected Nintendo's console to be able to do the richly detailed environments of Dead Space justice, but it does so with aplomb. Likewise, the Necromorph character models are faithfully replicated throughout, the boss segments are every bit as overwhelming, and the human avatars are excellent. With some creditable voice-acting and lip-synching present in the game's many cut-scenes, there's no question that it succeeds in its goal to be as cinematic as possible.
After showering Dead Space: Extraction with so much unreserved acclaim, it's gratifying not to have to report too many niggles along the way. Admittedly it's not the longest game in the world, clocking in at about six hours for the entire main campaign, but it's worth discounting that on the basis of a decent amount of replayability. It's also slightly irksome to have to play each chapter without the ability to save your progress - particularly if you're stuck on the tricky boss encounters - but thankfully the chapters are generally short and sweet enough that you won't mind starting again if need be.
Luckily for a game with such unapologetic cinematic pretensions, Dead Space: Extraction does a fine job of weaving an engaging sci-fi narrative into a slick action game. Far from being a stripped-down side-show to the main event, Extraction provides yet another reminder of how brainlessly entertaining the on-rails shooter can be when it's done properly. With brilliant core combat and an array of heart-pounding set pieces, this provides ample proof that the Wii can service the hardcore when it wants.
8 / 10