Sony has done a good job of keeping its survival-horror knockoff out of the public eye since the game was announced shortly before E3 last year. Sony quietly confirmed that the game was due for a US release but hasn't officially started any campaigns or announced any firm details. The completed Japanese version recently hit store shelves in Japan, and we were able to pick up an import copy to see what's in store for the US version.
Extermination tells the story of Dennis Riley, a member of an elite US Special Forces commando team sent to investigate a disturbance at Fort Stewart, a secret US military base situated at the South Pole. The game starts with a prerendered CG sequence showing Riley's unit flying to Fort Stewart in a thick and menacing snowstorm. Inside the large cargo plane the troops talk about the situation, and a scene shows Riley speaking at length with team member Roger Grigman. Unfortunately, all the dialogue is in Japanese, so we were unable to decipher exactly what the two were discussing. The cargo plane carrying the Special Forces team never makes it to the base--an engine fire causes the plane to crash into the snowy ground of the South Pole.
The game actually starts as Riley awakens from the trauma of parachuting from the crippled plane. He's stranded outside of Fort Stewart and isn't sure exactly how to make his way in. Thankfully Grigman radios him and tells him that he's found a way--as long as Riley can make it to where Grigman is. It's in this small areawhere Riley landed that you learn the basic controls of the game. Extermination plays completely differently from other games in the survival-horror genre and breaks the classic Resident Evil control mold. In Extermination, instead of slowly lumbering forward and rotating in place, you will bolt in any direction you press on the analog stick. You will have a great deal of interaction with your environment; for instance, Riley will have to climb over crates and obstacles and even jump certain chasms. These action-based elements give the game a quicker pace and really make the game more comparable to games like Dino Crisis 2 or Onimusha.
Riley carries a customizable SPR4 machine gun. The gun has four customizable ports on it, and new parts can be found and added to the ports. These parts can give different functionality to the weapon, such as giving it a laser targeting scope or a grenade launcher. Extermination features a similar targeting scheme to the one used in most survival-horror games. If you hold down the R1 button, Riley will go into a standard attack stance. In this stance you can hit the triangle button to fire your weapon, and you can rotate left and right and slowly move forward and back using the analog stick. This weapon stance can also be used with a first-person view. Holding down the R2 button will enable the first-person attack stance. In this stance you use the same controls as you do in the standard stance, except that you look using the right analog stick. Additionally, in this stance you can activate some of your machine gun's add-on parts, such as a flashlight or a rifle scope, by hitting the square button. The game also lets you use a secondary attack at any time. At the beginning of the game Riley is armed with a wicked-looking knife. You can use this attack at any time by hitting the square button to strike low enemies and the circle button to strike enemies at mid-height. Additionally the knife can be used to cut locks off of certain doors. It's likely that Riley will find new secondary weapons as he progresses through the complex.
The game has regional zones, and you can perform specific actions while in each zone, such as climbing crates, shimmying across ledges, and jumping. You perform each action by hitting the action button while in a specific region. Unfortunately, the regions aren't marked, so you're left to figure out exactly where you can or cannot jump by simply running around in circles pounding on the action button. Additionally, as all the actions are performed through only one button, sometimes areas can get a bit confusing, especially when there are two action regions extremely close to each other.
Extermination breaks away somewhat from the typical gameplay style of survival-horror games. Instead of conserving ammo and health packets and shooting only a few enemies, Riley has to take on hordes of odd-looking biogenetical monsters. As such, the game seems to give you plenty of health packs and ammo pickups to help you out. However, you do have a limited amount of antimutational antidote. Certain monsters will infect you with a biomutational virus that will slowly start to take over your skin and turn you into a monster yourself. To remedy this you'll have to find a medical station and insert an unused antidote cartridge into a special unit that will heal you. This twist on the standard zombie-vs.-mercenary routine helps set Extermination apart from other games in the genre.
The graphics in the import version look fairly nice. The CG sequences are well done and do a good job of getting the emotion of a sequence across. Unfortunately, the faces are a bit unrealistic, and some of the speaking animations aren't that impressive. The in-game graphics are nice enough but really don't set any new standards. Some of the lighting effects could use a bit of work, and some of the textures stick out. Still, the game animates very smoothly and doesn't suffer from fog or pop-up. The game has very good sound and uses an interactive soundtrack to help pump up the adrenaline in appropriate scenarios. In most cases the soundtrack consists of a smooth techno beat with a slightly foreboding edge, but when the action gets hectic, the beat seamlessly speeds up into a fast techno beat with a hard, suspenseful edge. The sound effects are nice but can get a bit repetitive at times.
From what we've played of the import version, Extermination looks like it could be a welcome departure from the slow and stale gameplay of traditional survival-horror games. With plenty of new twists on the genre, along with the PS2's graphical muscle, Extermination has plenty of potential when it comes stateside. Hopefully we'll hear more about the localized version of the game as we get closer to its July release date.