Dead Space Extraction Hands-On
We touch down on the USG Ishimura for a look at the prequel to Dead Space.
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Dead Space Extraction has a lot to live up to and a lot of preconceived notions to overcome, not just as a prequel to GameSpot's Best of 2008 award winner for Best Atmosphere and Best Sound Design, but also as an on-rails shooter. In terms of the former, Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood Shores) has gone to great lengths to ensure that Dead Space Extraction is one of the more visually intricate games on the Wii, coming as close as possible to the level of detail present in its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 predecessor. "There's a lot of new content--new weapons, new environments, new enemies, and new bosses," says Wright Bagwell, lead designer on the game. "But of course, we wanted to reuse some stuff. You're going to be in some of the same locations, so we took some of the Dead Space assets--environments and characters--and brought them over to the Wii. I think we got them to look really close." And as with the game's predecessor, sound is an equally important facet of the Extraction experience. "A lot of the time, sound is the last thing that gets polished," he adds. "We're trying really hard to make sure Extraction hits the bar that the original Dead Space hit."
As for the latter, on-rails shooters almost always carry several negative associations, the foremost usually being their penchant for overall brevity. Fortunately, length (or lack thereof) shouldn't be a cause for concern in Extraction. "Depending on how good you are, we've seen discrepancies in how long it takes people to get through the game," says Bagwell. "But our goal is to make Extraction as long as the original Dead Space." On a certain level, that proposed length represents the kind of effort that Visceral Games is putting into Extraction and how the company has seemingly managed to seamlessly join Dead Space's characteristics with those of an on-rails shooter.
In other words, important mechanics from the original Dead Space are on display in Extraction in some form or another. For example, when you come to a branching path, the floor guide from the original Dead Space (which told you where to go) shows up and indicates available routes, but perhaps even more prominent is the way that weapons and accompanying equipment work. In Extraction, much like in its predecessor, each weapon has primary and alternate fire modes that you can use by simply twisting the Wii Remote (the onscreen reticle indicates when alternate fire is engaged), but both types of fire work toward the goal of severing the limbs of gruesome necromorphs, ultimately putting them down.
We had a chance to use one of the new weapons, called the arch welder, and its alternate fire mode. This particular contraption shoots out electricity that can bounce from one enemy to another as long as they're standing in close proximity. Similarly, its alternate fire shoots out a massive ball of electricity that not only leaps from one necromorph to the next, but also creates splash damage when it hits the wall or floor. This proves useful in rooms where the necromorphs seemingly come out by the dozens. The flamethrower is also useful in these situations, but if you don't have either of these weapons, using stasis (which slows enemies down) in conjunction with something like the standard rivet gun still gives you the upper hand.
Every weapon in Extraction can also be upgraded and mapped to the directions on the Wii Remote's D pad, and considering that you can hold only four weapons at once, the same holds true if you come across a new weapon and want to replace one currently in your inventory. Likewise, given that there is no onscreen character model to display HUD items, you can monitor your health, ammo, and upgrade levels for weapons by pressing the minus button on the Wii Remote. These screens don't look quit as snazzy as those in the original Dead Space at the moment, but they're straightforward and easy to navigate, and more importantly, they appear only when you absolutely need to look at them.
Another interesting aspect of the combat in Extraction, and something else that's different from Dead Space, is the addition of the glow worm, which functions like a glow stick. When in a dark room, you can shake the Wii Remote to light up the glow worm and illuminate the immediate area. This will help you spot any necromorphs waiting to pounce on your face, and like a glow stick, the light that emanates from it grows darker and darker over a short span of time. "It changes up the combat because it almost makes it impossible to shoot enemies that are far away," Bagwell explains. "You can hear them, but you can't see them until they get up really close." Indeed, frantic doesn't even begin to describe the scenario in which two or three necromorphs lurch toward you while the light from the glow worm fades, and though it's easy enough to get it going again, that's not the first thing that springs to mind; the profound sense of panic can be delightfully overwhelming.
The motion-sensing capabilities of the Wii Remote also come into play during puzzle segments. During the demo, we came across an elevator with a broken circuit board that needed to be repaired. At this point, the game switches to a puzzle screen in which you essentially have to carefully and steadily trace a circuit line from one end to the other, but naturally, there are obstacles in the way--if you hit them, then you start back at the previous point. "What we've done is taken the idea from a game like Operation--a game where you have to use a steady hand," says Bagwell. "What you have to do is trace a line along a circuit board to rewire this broken elevator, but the idea is that anything red is electrified and will shock you." And if your hands aren't so rock steady? "One of the things we're working on is getting the sensitivity of this just right, because of course, some people have shaky hands," he explains. "The way we're going to address this is by customizing the Wii Remote in the puzzle mode. We're also going to make it is that so when you touch those obstacles, they short out, so you can go on if you've failed."
All of this happens under the premise that you're a part of a crew that arrives at the USG Ishimura just as the ship undergoes quarantine due to an unknown infection, and the adventure continues up to the point at which Isaac and his group arrives. In fact, part of the demo shows your shuttle being fired on by the Ishimura's asteroid cannons, given that its crew treats any visitors from the colony as hostile, but they eventually make it aboard. As we progressed through the demo, the crew split up at various points and rejoined at others, and it's interesting to note that when other members of the crew are around, they'll not only chat it up to help move the story along, but they'll also help take down necromorphs. But the ability to play with a buddy in co-op at any moment certainly beats that perk. At any rate, it already feels as if Visceral has captured much of what made Dead Space a blast to play, and we're eager to see if it can maintain that throughout the entire game. We'll have more on Dead Space Extraction before the game's release in the fall.