It's fitting that the first true "survival horror" game for the PlayStation 2 was developed by a team made up of some of the original creators of Resident Evil, the series that made this subgenre of adventure gaming so popular in the first place. Make no mistake, Extermination is no Resident Evil, but, as its title might suggest, it at least offers a slight bit more in the way of action.
In a story reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing, Jaleco's Carrier, and Capcom's Resident Evil, you act as Dennis Riley, a member of a special forces unit deployed to investigate mysterious happenings on a secret military base in the South Pole. The mysterious happenings--not surprisingly--involve a viral outbreak that's caused the base's inhabitants to mutate into hideous monsters. Not only are these creatures violent and dangerous, but their virus is also contagious, and if you're bitten by one of them, you have to quickly find a cure before tentacles and bio-organic weapons start sprouting out of your back.
Extermination's gameplay is much like that of Resident Evil in theme, but there are a number of key differences--some are improvements, while others are not. The game's controls are more similar to those of Silent Hill and Onimusha, meaning that you can move your character in a certain direction without having to swivel him around first. Like in Silent Hill and Capcom's break-from-the-norm Resident Evil Code: Veronica, the environments are polygonal and viewed from a floating camera, rather than rendered backgrounds seen from static camera shots.
The combat is where the game diverges from the Resident Evil formula the most. In this game, you can shift your view to a first-person perspective to target your enemies, and once you have the scope, you can shoot them from a distance. Aiming is a big part of the combat in Extermination, since all the monsters have a weak spot that you can shoot to dispatch them much faster, and the auto-targeting doesn't necessarily lock your sights on to your foes. You can also modify your machine gun with an assortment of different targeting aides (laser sight, scope, night vision) and secondary weapons (shotgun, flamethrower, and grenade launcher), which you can fire using the second attack button. The combat is easily the most impressive and most original aspect of Extermination. It's not as simple as that of other survival-horror games, and it urges you to think about what you're doing instead of simply aiming in the right direction and hoping for the best. It's pretty fun, although hitting flying enemies can sometimes be overly difficult. Another nice touch is the game's use of items such as climbing spikes and a zipline harness to access different areas. It's not incredibly different from other games, but it does add some variety to Extermination.
Instead of Resident Evil's typewriter ribbons, you use a mobile battery to power the machine that saves your progress, as well as some other devices in the game. You charge the battery in designated areas, and there are similar stations where you refill your gun's ammunition and give yourself antiviral medicine. There are several sections within the game where these spots are few and far between, which will lead you to backtrack often or push forward in hopes that one is right around the corner. Either way, it can be a drag, since a game should ideally reward your skill, rather than how conservative or daring you can be with your ammunition, health, or battery charge.
Extermination's graphics aren't exceptional, but they get the job done with an occasional flourish. The indoor scenes look similar to those of many other games we've seen before, but the outdoor environments are much more varied than many predecessors, and feature a near excellent snowstorm effect. Water effects are used often in the game, and the few that don't outright copy the SFX in the film The Abyss look great. The human characters appear a little wooden in their design and animation, though the monsters become more striking the farther you progress in the game. The music in Extermination sounds like the score of a terse political thriller and works well that way. The sound effects are also very appropriate, from the squish of a step through a raw, pulsing mess of mutation to the turn of a doorknob. The main drawback in the game's sound is the voice acting, which is better than that of many similar games but still often awkward.
Extermination has a number of rough spots. It starts off so slowly that it seems like it's never going to pick up, it suffers from several long, frustrating stretches, and its first boss fight goes on far longer than it should. The game has its positive moments as well, but it never quite comes together in as compelling a fashion as others of its class. It's far from being poor and is certainly entertaining at times--it just lacks the originality and extra level of polish needed to provide a truly memorable gaming experience. Die-hard survival-horror fans will feel like that the ground Extermination walks (maverick hero, biohazard, monsters, conspiracy, and backtracking) is too familiar to get too excited about, while others will enjoy it for what it is--a light snack to help fill the time between now and the release of Resident Evil Code: Veronica X and Silent Hill 2.