I'm no great fan of light gun shooters, but I have to admit that Dead Space: Extraction, the Wii-exclusive follow-up to last year's Dead Space, held my attention from start to finish.
All of the action in the game takes place on rails, which is to say the player has no control over character movement or camera. We simply watch events unfold and move our targeting reticule around the screen to shoot stuff that appears in our field of vision.
I normally feel uncomfortably restricted by this particular play mechanic-and there were indeed moments of frustration in Extraction-but EA has used the natural cinematic feel of light gun gaming to its advantage, delivering a gripping, movie-like story from a first-person perspective.
The narrative reveals what happened in the days and hours onboard the starship Ishimura and the planet it orbited just before the arrival of Isaac Clark and the rest of the repair crew whose travails we witnessed in the original Dead Space.
From the very first mission, in which-SPOILER ALERT-our player character goes on an insane, murderous rampage and is eventually killed by soldiers, it is clear that no one is safe, and that many plot conventions have been tossed to the wind.
As the game unfolds, players take control of several characters and learn more about the strange and fascinating history and culture of the futuristic universe in which they live. I appreciated, for example, that our characters' provenances aren't restricted to U.S. states. Our main hero is clearly American, but we also get to play as a South African soldier and an Indian scientist. An Irish woman plays a significant role as well, and there are references to other characters who hail from locations outside of America. Such diverse multiculturalism is rarely seen in games.
Equally interesting is the deeper glimpse we're provided into the franchise's nefarious Unitologists: cultists who are obsessed with alien artifacts dubbed "markers" (some players have compared them to Scientologists.) One of these markers was found on the surface of the planet the Ishimura orbits, and it leads to adverse physical and psychological effects in just about everyone who comes near it-including many of the people whose boots the player inhabits.
Consequently, our heroes' goal is simple and believable: Get the heck out of Dodge, and as expediently as possible.
The good news is that our protagonists rarely face shortages of guns and ammunition. We have essentially the same store of imaginative weapons as last time out, including the line gun, which dishes out energy blasts in wide, precise arcs, and the ripper, a circular saw blade that makes good on the franchise's promise to allow players to engage in what EA calls "strategic dismemberment."
Other returning features include the ability to slow down the movements of certain objects and aliens, gravity boots that let us leap through zero-G environments, and the ability to use telekinesis to grab objects-health, ammunition, weapons, upgrades, audio and text logs-and bring them to us.
But this is where Extraction makes one of its few fumbles. Players need to have extraordinarily quick reflexes to capture many of the objects that zip past in the camera's periphery. Without the ability to swivel the camera manually or go back, countless objects simply pass us by.
My other beef is a bit less fair. I miss the lush, cinematic graphics of Extraction's high-definition predecessor. I still think of it as one of the most visually memorable games of the current generation, and the blocky characters and muddy textures of this Wii-only prequel-though impressive for Nintendo's low-power console-pale in comparison.
But not enough to make me want to stop playing. Thanks to its dark and moody ambience, believably human protagonists, and growing extraterrestrial mythology, Dead Space is quickly becoming the video game equivalent of Aliens.
I rarely find myself hoping for sequel announcements, but I do dream of a third game in this great new space horror franchise. I'm hooked, and I'd love to get a deeper glimpse into Dead Space's fascinating, terrifying universe.
Dead Space: Extraction
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