An on-rails Dead Space doesn't sound good, but it is executed with the utmost skill and panache. Fresh and exciting.
+Tense, terrifying story
+Great visuals and fluid animation
+Sound design is outstanding
+Addictive and easy-to-learn gameplay mechanics
+Lots of extras, like video-comics and extra challenges
-Not as scary as the first Dead Space
-The controls can get confusing at times
-The voice acting is a mixed bag
Dead Space was a game that revolutionized the survival horror genre when it was released about a year ago. With its detailed environments, tense atmosphere and gruesome strategic dismemberment, it is an experience like no other. Dead Space: Extraction goes in a completely different direction when it comes to gameplay but it is still the good old Dead Space formula. Fast-paced action, great visuals and more dismemberment thrust you back into the claustrophobic expanses of space, where necromorphs wait to prey on your flesh.
Extraction is a prequel to the first Dead Space and takes a closer look at the events that preceded the Ishimura incident. After planetcrackers (people who harvest mineral found deep in cosmic entities) on Aegis VII excavate the fabled Marker, things start to go awry. Paranoia sets in, followed with insanity and blood-lust. Before you know it, people are killing each other seemingly at random, as if they were possessed. This beckons the coming of the necromorphs, vicious alien lifeforms that infect human corpses and transform them into grotesque shells of their former selves. This Marker acts like a trigger to the internal mechanisms of the necromorphs, causing them to turn feral. They start invading the planetcracker crew and it soon turns into a complete bloodbath. After a difficult struggle with the deadly creatures, four people decide to team up and manage to escape to the USG Ishimura, to seek help. However, they have no idea what awaits them.
The game adds another fascinating layer of background story to the Dead Space universe, and makes many of the events of the first game more understandable. The characters you interact with are well-written, and it is easy to feel sorry for them. You share their experiences, not just play through the story nonchalantly. The pacing is brilliant and the missions aren't "go here, do that, then go here, then do that" in form. Each scenario is different and you never feel as if what you are doing is pointless or tedious.
This is partly due to the layout of the game. The story is separated into missions, which you can tackle in order and then play through again at your leisure. Not only that, but it is also an on-rails shooter, meaning you have next to no choice in where to go. You are occasionally given the choice of going in one of two directions, but this doesn't happen often. Ultimately, this factor makes the game not nearly as scary as its predecessor, seeing as everything worth seeing, every enemy and item, is thrust in your face, instead of you actually having to choose to progress despite the horrors around the next corner. Of course, this is a side-effect of being an on-rails shooter, but other than the lack of chills, Extraction manages to pull off the transition from third-person shooter to on-rails shooter admirably.
The strategic dismemberment of the original is still intact, and just as gruesome. The necromorphs are as resilient as ever, and only yield once you have severed their limbs and turned them into chunks of decayed flesh. You have all the weapons from the original, plus a new rivet gun which has unlimited ammo. Using the rivet gun throughout is tempting but it becomes futile when you progress further in the game, when the enemies become progressively tougher and faster. That's where the other weapons come to play. These weapons have only limited ammo, but are more useful in most situations than the rivet gun. You can only bear a maximum of four weapons at once and you will find them littered about each stage. You also have stasis and telekinesis, though these functions are slightly different this time around. Telekinesis is now like Indie's whip, making you able to grab onto anything that is not alive or bolted to the ground. Ammo, weapons and other trinkets and items will and can only be picked up this way, so expect to use telekinesis a lot. Stasis is as useful, slowing down your enemies to a crawl, except you can now use it up to three times in a row before waiting for the energy to replenish over time. So most of the gameplay elements of the first game are present, though executed in slightly different ways. However, it works well and is a joy to play.
However, the controls can seem jumbled and occasionally confusing in the heat of the moment. You play the game with a nunchuk and wii remote, though you can play it co-op or with a zapper. I have only tried the first control layout and I'll be going with that. You switch weapons with the joystick on the nunchuk, use stasis with c, shoot with b and reload with a. Since the joystick is almost always used for movement in other games, you might accidentally stumble on the stick and switch weapons. Also, since these four buttons (well, three buttons and stick) are pretty much the only buttons you'll be using, accidentally pressing the wrong one in the heat of battle is pretty easy. However, this is a minor issue and doesn't affect the gameplay much.
As in the first game, you will find a number of logs, both written and audio, littered around each stage which adds more to the story and overall atmosphere of the game. There are also upgrades to your weapons hidden in a few select places, which become permanent once acquired. The audio logs are especially interesting, as when they are played it plays directly out of your Wii remote. This adds an interesting twist to the audio logs and makes you feel as if you are there, listening to it.
Dead Space: Extraction is no slouch in other aspects of sound either. The sound effects are genuinely chilling. Necromorphs crawl through the vents and scream in agony. Thuds can be heard from the walls, ceiling and floor, pipes burst and doors slide open with a low rumble. These sounds are genuinely unsettling and are done very well. Also, each time you reload, a sound emanates from the Wii remote, which is a nice addition. The music is also fantastic, using the high-strung sounds of a violin to create unsurmounable levels of tension and excitement. There isn't much else then that, but nothing else is really needed. So, all in all, most of the sound in Extraction is superb.
The same, however, cannot be said about the voice acting. Some of the voice acting is really well done, and sounds great. Some characters, however, aren't voiced very well and sound awkward at times. It is another minor complaint, but the contrast is glaring sometimes.
Nothing bad can be said about the graphics and overall look of the game. I'm not one to say "This game looks great...for the Wii". I'll simply say this: the game looks fantastic, and there is really nothing at all to complain about. The game can't compare to the first Dead Space but that doesn't change the fact that the game is astounding in the looks department. Animation is fluid as well and there are no problems with the frame-rate. All this makes Extraction a sight to see.
Even after the rather short story, which takes about 10 hours to complete if you soak it all in, there is a lot you can do. You can play through the missions again on different difficulty modes (four are available, from normal to impossible). While playing through the game, you will unlock video-comics as you progress, which are very interesting and fun to watch. They add more insight to the origin of the Marker and the mystery of Unitology (an in-game religion). There are also a number of challenge maps, where you fight against waves after waves of necromorphs, racking up points for dismemberment, kills and other stuff. You can try for the high score, and even though there are no online leader boards, the challenges are so fun that you will want to try them all just for fun.
Dead Space: Extraction does almost everything right and it is truly entertaining to play. It may not be as much of a scare as the first game or as endearing, but it is fun in all the right places and that is what matters. If you liked Dead Space, this game is for you.
Final score: 8,7/10