Few genres are saddled with as many conventions as survival horror. You'll almost always find a single, solitary protagonist on a quest through creepy environments, gathering clues about some terrible disaster from the recent past while simultaneously attempting to get the heck out of there. In many ways, Dead Space adhered to these genre conventions with great loyalty, though it proved to be one of the best survival horror games in recent memory by combining its own gameplay twists (strategic dismemberment and zero-gravity puzzles) with a breathtaking sense of atmosphere. As the series makes its way onto the Wii with the upcoming prequel Dead Space Extraction, you'll find a Dead Space that appears ready to maintain those elements that made the first game unique while distancing itself from the constraints of the survival horror genre in a few key ways.
The biggest difference between Extraction and the original Dead Space is that Extraction trades in the over-the-shoulder perspective and player-controlled movement of the first game in favor of an on-rails, first-person shooter format. In layman's terms, this means nearly all your movements are scripted by the game, taking you along a predetermined camera route with occasional moments of freedom granted by branching paths and opportunities to pan the camera around however you like.
What this does--at least in our experience--is focus even more attention on the combat in order to make Extraction a much more action-heavy game. Thankfully, the precision targeting of the Wii Remote means you have the added tools to take on the increased action. When using a gun like the plasma cutter, it's much easier to pinpoint the limbs of a necromorph (Dead Space's grotesque alien enemies) to quickly kill it via strategic dismemberment. Then there's the ripper, whose alternate fire lets you guide a spinning radial saw blade around the room by simply waving the remote around. It's also easier to use kinesis to pick up severed enemy body parts from floors often littered with them, like the exploder's yellow sac, which can be thrown about the room like a giant, glowing grenade.
In addition to upping the deliberately slow pace of a typical survival horror game, Extraction is a much less solitary experience. Fans of the original will remember how that game's protagonist, Isaac Clarke, didn't exactly collect a lot of friends throughout his journey in the USG Ishimura. Most survivors he ran into wound up being far too tormented or insane to offer him much of a hand.
It was quite the opposite case in our most recent demo of Extraction. This chapter of the game had the player playing as the head of the Ishimura hydroponics lab, sending a distress signal from the lab before being forced out by a swarm of necromorphs. This protagonist soon discovers a survivor whom she brings to a medical lab, prompting a fairly lengthy conversation between the two on the state of the ship and what has happened to it. This girl then tags along with you for quite a ways, providing a companion for you as you explore the ship's creepy, darkened hallways. That is, right up until the boss fight at the end of our demo when our only "companion" suddenly became the desire to not get killed by a giant, charging alien monster called the brute.
Besides letting you discover and interact with the ship's survivors in a more meaningful way, Extraction adds the ability for a second player to instantly drop into the action for some co-op. It's a painless procedure that adds a second targeting reticle onto the screen so that two players can work together to fend off the infestation of necromorphs. To keep things from getting too easy, the difficulty is instantly rebalanced to account for the added player. It takes a little suspension of disbelief to not wonder why two players share the same exact perspective, but we had plenty of fun just the same. For anyone who played the first game alone with the lights off for maximum horror, shouting at a friend to shoot better definitely adds an interesting twist.
Another new twist unique to Extraction--albeit one that exists outside of the main game--is the addition of a bonus feature called Challenge mode. After you beat each chapter, a certain location from that part of the game is unlocked for you to return to and fight off enemies in an arcade-style quest for points. It's basically a quest to stay alive against a flood of necromorphs where the longer you make it, the more points you snag. We didn't get to see it in action, so we'll wait to see how well the game's intense atmosphere is preserved when you see points totals pop up above dead enemies.
Indeed, the atmosphere of the original Dead Space has been very well maintained in Extraction's main game. There are some added effects this time around, like the fact that the protagonist from our demo was suffering from extreme dementia, which caused the screen to flash at random points and bizarre walls of text written in some sort of alien language to appear. You know, as if the constant threat of having an alien rend you limb from limb weren't enough. That threat will get much more real as we get closer to Dead Space Extraction's September 29 release date.