The original Dead Space revolved around the exploits of engineer Isaac Clarke on the doomed ship USG Ishimura, and Extraction showcases the events that leading up to that frightful encounter. The game follows a group of colonists of Aegis VII trying to survive the onslaught of reanimated corpses that have began appearing soon after the mysterious Red Marker landmark is removed, a clear signal to the growing numbers of devout Unitologists, a faith built around the objects. But just how did such a massive vessel come under attack from mutants, and what of the fate of its crew and passengers? Developer Visceral Games looks to answer many of these questions with the deep and thoroughly engrossing prequel, Dead Space Extraction for the Nintendo Wii.
Exaction eschews the original game’s third-person perspective entirely, instead option for what some have called a ‘guided adventure’. While the gameplay is indeed on-the-rails and guided, the game’s cinematic camera does an outstanding job of keeping the action visceral and exciting. But rather than have the gameplay limited by this forced-perspective, it thrives, distilling the original’s most exciting parts – blasting alien mutants – into a guided, extremely cinematic experience that works incredibly well on the Wii. In fact, I’ll go so far to call this an inspired act, as the result is a completely original creation that plays to the strengths of the console, rather than suffer for its weaknesses.
In true horror-film fashion, Dead Space Extraction slowly introduces us to characters that will soon form a band of survivors aboard the Ishimura, each seemingly crafted for maximum B-movie potential storytelling satisfaction. The detective investigating a recent attack by hallucinating crew members, the brooding girlfriend of a deceased miner, the returning solider with connections, or the executive with secrets all his own. In this wicked world of Dead Space, nobody is safe, and the game plays this role with a masochistic glee. Your narrative vantage will often shift between different characters, which not only allows you to experience the story from multiple perspectives, but opens up the possibility that anyone is expendable.
The gameplay makes great use of the Wii remote’s reticule and motion-control features, with the Wii remote itself used for aiming, firing, item collection, and (limited) movement. Weapon reloading and melee attacks are handled by shaking the Nunchuk, and weapons can be individually assigned to the Nunchuk’s analog stick. This is probably the most fluid control set-up I’ve ever seen for a rail-shooter. The game also borrows from Gears of War 2‘s intuitive weapon-reload feature, meaning you can best time your reloads by watching the special onscreen indicator and clicking at the right time.
The game will often restore ‘full’ control to the player, albeit temporarily, at certain safe-spots to better collect items and weapon upgrades. Another neat is the use of glow-worms, which light up darker areas after being shaken to life via the Wii remote, adding another layer of interactivity missing from most rail shooters. Having to re-shake your depleted glow-worm back to life while battling an army of nasty things can be a harrowing experience, which is probably just what the developer had in mind.
There’s no shortage of pure firepower to fend off the mutants, and Dead Space enthusiasts will love to know that many of their favorite weaponry return for the prequel, including the plasma cutter, flame thrower, and even an improved ripper (which now uses motion-sensing to gauge the proximity of the gnashing blade attack…very cool). Your stock weapon is the rivet gun, which has unlimited ammo but is slow on the attack. But tilting the Wii remote on its side opens up an alt-attack, which charges up your rivet and can be used to impale both items and enemies. Switching weapons on the fly can result in some unusual carnage combos, and when you factor in stasis moments, there’s more possibility for strategic (and fulfilling) monster dismemberment than most games could ever handle.
Telekinesis movements and stasis attacks also return, sending out small bursts that will temporarily slowdown enemies, allowing you to surgically dismember them at leisure, or simply put them at bay while you take care of others. The stasis powers also work to help your character evade certain environmental elements, but these are tied to specific moments and essentially telegraphed in advance, such as slowing down spinning blades or flailing electrical wires.
Some of the original’s more frustrating elements, such as manning guns to shoot down incoming asteroids, actually benefit greatly from the Wii’s reticule pointer. Accessing computers is now handled via a Metroid Prime-style connection system, which means connecting electrical circuits together without getting zapped in the process.
Dead Space: Extraction is easily one of the best looking, most visually accomplished games ever released on the Wii. The original Dead Space was quite the looker, and it’s remarkable how the developers were able to replicate the feel and texture of that world on less-powerful hardware. From detailed character models and backdrops, the game just looks amazing, effortlessly replicating the look and aesthetic of the original game on the Wii’s relatively less-powerful hardware and never apologizing for the occasional slowdown or blurry texture. More than one friend walked in during my extensive playtime and asked why I was playing the original Dead Space again, before realizing I was holding a Wii Zapper in my hands. It’s (nearly) that good.
The sound is equally good, with surprisingly strong and mature voiceover work from the entire cast, even if the dialog itself can be somewhat derivative. The soundtrack is pure chaos, reflecting the aural wreckage of noise and atmospheric fuzz that helped make the original game so chilling, with appropriate tempo fluctuations that match what’s happening onscreen. Found mission logs play directly through the Wii remote’s tinny speaker during gameplay, a nice touch, even if the speech is often too garbled to make out clearly.
But it’s the detail paid to the game’s various human characters’ movements and actions that really deserves special mention as they’re so integral to helping establish the claustrophobic, B-movie look and feel of the whole package. The animators were able to capture nearly every subtle and crucial element into the virtual performances of the cast, from every-changing facial expressions to what may be the most accurate emotional responses ever seen from videogame character models.
Speaking of options, that’s another area where Dead Space: Extraction excels. While completing the story mode will take upwards of 8-10 hours, there’s considerable replay value scattered throughout the game’s levels, including mission logs (both text and spoken), weapon upgrades, and more. The game even includes a Dead Space comic book, only with full narration and storyboarded artwork. There’s also the addition of co-op gameplay via the inclusion of a second reticule and life meter, although games in the Dead Space universe seem to work better when experienced solo.
From the superbly accomplished campaign, multiplayer options, unlockable content, and surprisingly diverse gameplay Dead Space: Extraction is not only a worthy addition to the franchise, its one of the best games yet released for the Wii. Don’t let the idea that a rail-shooter isn’t capable of competing with a traditional experience cause you to skip this one, because you’d be missing out on one of the most satisfying interactive horror games ever created. Fans of the original game owe it to themselves to experience this one for themselves, as this is an authentic Dead Space experience from head to toe, and one that completely reinvents the genre – and our perceptions of it – in the process.
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