If there's one thing that Dead Space proved, it's that you don't need to reinvent a genre to be successful. It was a game that took plenty of the best, tried-and-true elements of survival horror, mixed in a few novel features of its own, and topped it off with an intensely chilling atmosphere that stands as one of the best in recent memory. In fact, what might be an even bigger risk for the team at EA Redwood Shores is taking everything that made Dead Space great and applying it to the Wii hardware for the upcoming Dead Space Extraction. This prequel was first announced back in February, though we recently had our first look at the game in the form of a brief gameplay demo at a recent EA press event.
The most striking difference between Extraction and the original Dead Space is the change in control schemes. You'll no longer control your protagonist from the tight, over-the-shoulder perspective that Resident Evil 4 made popular. Instead, Extraction takes on the form of a guided first-person shooter. In other words, it's a game whose roots you can trace back to the light-gun shooters of old such as The House of the Dead and Time Crisis. Modern trappings have been added to the mix, though: The locator trail that guided you to objectives in Dead Space returns, but now with branching paths that you can choose between, and occasional cinematic moments give you an onscreen indicator to let you know that you can move the camera all around you to pick up on optional details.
Although player movement is much more scripted and deliberate, the core action looks like it should maintain a lot of what made Dead Space so appealing. That means you'll be using a similar variety of engineering tools to dismember enemies rather than stocking up on military weaponry to overwhelm your targets with gunfire. Weapons such as the plasma cutter, ripper, line gun, and flamethrower all make their return, with other new weapons to be introduced down the road. The demo that we saw included a few of the same necromorphs contained in the original game, mostly the slasher, whose arms double as giant blades. But no matter the enemy, strategic dismemberment is still very much a key factor in Extraction. The same can be said for stasis and kinesis, the latter of which is used to pick up objects like ammo since you're set on a fixed path.
One of the nice advantages of using a Wii Remote to aim is that each gun's alternate fire--a key feature of every weapon in Dead Space--can be engaged simply by twisting the remote to the side and shooting. Remember pressing two buttons to swap between the horizontal and vertical fire on the plasma cutter when slicing off a necromorph's limbs in the original game? It's quite a bit easier now with a simple turn of the wrist. Other uses for the Wii Remote's motion-sensing functionality come into effect when you're pinned by a monster; in this case, you'll want to shake the remote and Nunchuk as quickly as you can to get them off. When entering a dark room, you can use what's called a "glow worm" by giving the remote a few quick shakes to lighten things up with a bright green glow. Another new feature is the timed reload, which lets you reload faster--a la Gears of War--if you nail the timing on a quickly filling meter. If you fail, it'll take longer to reload.
One of Dead Space's most remarkable features was the complete absence of a heads-up display. All health and ammo indicators were integrated into the character model and guns in a very subtle way. Given that you can't see your character or your gun in Extraction, there's now a more traditional HUD to give you the basic information that you need to manage things. But in keeping with the first game's minimalism, you can hit the minus button on the Wii Remote to hide it and keep the screen blank, only choosing to pull it up when you want to see it. The graphics are already some of the best that the Wii has to offer, so hiding any onscreen distractions is probably a good idea.
This particular demo was just a quick look at the fourth chapter of the game, which sees you clearing a path for a small group of bewildered survivors through the necromorph-infested hallways of the USG Ishimura to an elevator that's almost assured to take them to another floor swarming with alien zombies. We weren't able to play, but while producer Steve Papoutsis manned the controls we asked him a few questions about co-op. Yes, Extraction will support two-player co-op. It's a low-barrier setup that lets the second player simply turn on his or her remote, hit start, and jump right into the first player's game. No need to start a new game when that second player joins or quits. And rather than dividing the screen, you'll simply see a second reticle there.
The demo was rather quick, but Dead Space: Extraction has us cautiously optimistic. The big question left to be seen is how the game controls. Will you still feel engrossed in the experience when nearly all of your movement is handled by the game? We should have a better feel for that question in the coming months when we get to try the game for ourselves. Extraction is slated for a fall 2009 release.