Every time I think I’m out of the Ishimura, they pull me back in.
The upshot of having perpetual short-term memory loss is that you live in a constant state of surprise. Being a Wii owner, on the other hand, can feel like the exact opposite experience. You remember all too well the endless ho-hum-itude and mediocrity that gets released over and over again. At this point, nothing surprises us Wii owners. Nothing, that is, except a good shooter.
[image1]Dead Space was last year’s big, beautiful shocker on the 360 and PS3. That alone should have prepared me for how big a surprise Dead Space: Extraction would be. But having been continually disappointed by many other promising Wii releases, I was fully prepared to be disappointed yet again. I’ve grown used to treating my Wii like a seven-foot basketball player who can barely walk without tripping over his own two feet—let alone sink a free throw to save its life—so when a fantastic game like Extraction takes to the court, I’m utterly flabbergasted.
Dead Space: Extraction is the prequel to Dead Space, detailing what took place on Aegis VII and the Ishimura prior to Isaac Clarke’s lonely journey. Fans of the first game will immediately recognize many of the locations, characters, creatures, weapons, and storyline. However, like a quick dose of short-term memory loss, Extraction does a great job of making familiar things seem fresh and new again. For example, the levels progress in the reverse order of how they originally appeared in Dead Space. It’s a simple change that makes perfect sense in terms of the story and gives its environment a richer history. While Extraction will still make sense to those who haven’t played Dead Space, it’s unquestionably tailored to those who have.
Since the camera movement is scripted—with a few exceptions—Extraction is a cinematic experience from beginning to end. Rather than just pointing your eyes toward endless swarms of bad guys, the camera is used to build tension and drama through constant movement and framing. As a result, you feel what’s happening much more than you see it. Game designers on all platforms could learn much by paying close attention to Visceral’s camera work.
Unlike its predecessor, Extraction rarely leaves you on your own. Since this is a tale of a small handful of survivors racing to escape the doomed mining operation on Aegis VII, you’re almost always moving your way through levels with multiple NPCs in tow. Characters speak and interact frequently with surprisingly good voice-work and impressive facial animations. You never lose track of where you are, whom you’re with, or what’s at stake.
[image2]You’ll spend most of the game as police officer Nate McNeil, but you’ll also get the chance to play as a few other characters at various points. The different perspectives weave together a tense, interpersonal survival tale. The story alone was enough to keep me going, and I grew to care about these characters as much as I would those in any great science-fiction television production.
Shooting mechanics don’t offer much out of the ordinary for a rails shooter. Simply point and shoot. But the combination of Dead Space’s limb-centric targeting and a well-designed means of item collection makes for varied and gripping action. As we all learned in the prior Dead Space, necromorphs are weak in the knees—and elbows and necks. It’s just different enough from the norm to keep shooting consistently interesting. Items are also well placed in varying degrees of accessibility, adding an additional layer to the challenge. A brief lapse in attention, and you might miss your only shot at acquiring an important weapon upgrade.
The weapon selection is identical to Dead Space, but the use of the Wii remote and Nunchuk makes everything feel fresh. Limited to having only four weapons, you frequently have to decide which weapons to hold onto and which to ditch. No locker or storage unit this time around. Weapon selection is handled deftly by the analog stick—a la Trauma Center—and secondary fire is enabled by twisting the Wii remote on the z-axis.
Few other games I’ve played on the Wii have so purposefully and intuitively put the controller’s many possibilities to such good use. Even the built-in mic finds a purpose as both a warning signal and as a voice recording playback device. Waggle is used sparingly and appropriately, and since it is a rail shooter, there are no cumbersome camera controls to fumble with. Nothing feels awkwardly shoehorned into the controller, and nothing feels gratuitous.
[image3]While the campaign is fairly short—five to six hours total—there are multiple difficulty levels to unlock as well as a challenge mode. The challenge mode doesn’t change any of the locales, but it does noticeably kick up the intensity. And even though there aren’t any surprises on subsequent replays, the addition of flawlessly integrated drop-in/drop-out co-op gives the title some legs.
As if all of this weren’t enough, the graphics and audio tech behind this game are phenomenal. While it’s no match for its HD counterpart, it’s absolutely jaw dropping compared to other Wii games. Lighting, weapon effects, character animations, and sound design all push the system well beyond what’s expected from the platform. If for no other reason, this game is worth checking out just to see what the console is capable of.
What Dead Space: Extraction lacks in depth it makes up for in story, atmosphere, and tension. Extraction plays to the Wii’s strengths and brings top-shelf action and suspense to a console that’s been sorely lacking in good shooting experiences. Sure, it’s a short trip through the campaign, but not a second is wasted. A longer story would drag, so it’s good that Visceral quits while they’re ahead and leaves you craving more.
For fans of Dead Space who also own a Wii, Dead Space: Extraction is an absolute must. For everyone else, Extraction is a highlight of the Wii’s exceptionally small 'M'-rated library. The upshot of having perpetual short-term memory loss is that you live in a constant state of surprise. Wait, did I already say that?