Launching new properties is always a risk, but EA did it admirably with last fall's release of Dead Space. As a new survival horror franchise, it took players out into the depths of space to combine isolation with a series of gruesome sci-fi monsters. Now, instead of a sequel, EA has taken another risk by releasing a completely new prequel game on the Wii, Dead Space: Extraction. After playing through the adventure, we can safely say it's a risk that has paid off.
Attempting to do a direct port of Dead Space to the Wii likely wouldn't have worked because the system simply doesn't have the horsepower of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. In the hands of capable developers, however, it can put out some impressive visuals, and the team at Visceral managed just that, primarily by controlling the player's movement.
Although Dead Space: Extraction is played from the typical first-person shooter perspective, it's not a run-and-gun style. Rather, the game moves you forward through the adventure on a guided path; all your movements are on rails. The gameplay comes in with the shooting. Using the Wiimote as a lightgun, you need to blast away at the bad guys as they pop up on-screen. It's an intriguing combination of style because it's not a straight mimicry of traditional light gun shooters. Instead of high-speed enemy spamming, Dead Space: Extraction feels downright deliberate about what it throws at you.
The methodical pacing is due in no small part to the storytelling. The primary method of exposition is via conversations with other characters as you and your team progress through the game. At times, the scene is chaotic and disorderly as you fight for your life. Other times, everything is eerily silent as you listen to someone relate a story and peer into the darkness looking for something you can use … or shoot.
One interesting mechanic used by the game is that of a moving perspective. You don't always play the same character, and the transition can actually be a bit jarring, but not in a bad way. When it happens, it's just another part of the story.
Plot-wise, the game is set roughly between the prequel comics and the events of "Dead Space: Downfall." It tells the story of the immediate aftermath of the Necromorph invasion on Aegis VII and its spread to the space cruiser Ishimura. Veterans of the original game will be familiar with the story elements, but it's not a rehash. The characters in Dead Space: Extraction are all new, even if the locations are not. Players new to the series aren't left out either, as the game does a good job of revealing what you need to know as things move forward.
The majority of your gameplay is going to be shooting at stuff on the screen. This could be anything from mutant Necromorphs to simple item containers. Any item you want to pick up can be grabbed with telekinesis. Grabbing something is done just like shooting; it just uses a different button. Every weapon in the game has a secondary fire mode, which can be activated by turning the Wiimote 90 degrees to the side and firing "gangsta" style.
Because you cannot control your movement and, with limited exception, you do not have the ability to look around freely, about half of the challenge comes from being an accurate shot, and the other half is simply being quick on the draw. There are many instances in which you'll see an on-screen item that you want to grab, but your character turns his head so quickly that it is off-screen (and therefore inaccessible) as soon as you go for it. This is easily the game's biggest weakness and the one thing we really wish it had: free look.
Despite being on rails, Dead Space: Extraction gives you the chance to do a little bit of exploring by providing you with alternate paths. At certain points in the game, you can choose a direction, which adds a bit to the replay value when going through the main game. Paths also appear to switch up when going through challenge mode, which is a bonus.
In addition to your gun, the game also uses the Nunchuk as a basic melee. Shake it like a baby rattle to cut up nearby opponents. Similarly, you can shake the Wiimote to activate a glowstick and brighten up the immediate area — something you'll want to use in dark passages. Aside from shooting and shaking, the Wiimote (it's a versatile tool in this universe) doubles as a soldering iron. When you find a computer console with a broken circuit, you can use the Wiimote to reconnect the broken traces and reactivate the console.
Unlike other light gun shooters, head shots and body shots don't count for much in Dead Space: Extraction. In fact, they're usually a waste of ammo. In this area, the game borrows from the original Dead Space in that it requires you to perform targeted dismemberment in order to kill a Necromorph. In short, if you want to kill something, you need to shoot off its arms and its legs. Gruesome, yes, but what were you expecting? This is a horror game.
While the core game can be gotten through somewhat quickly, Dead Space: Extraction offers quite a bit of replay value via unlockable difficulty levels and the aforementioned challenge mode. Players can also unlock the complete set of animated Dead Space comics as a bonus item. These comics detail the events leading up to the first part of Dead Space: Extraction.
Once you get past the slower pace of the game, Dead Space: Extraction provides a slick extension of the Dead Space universe. It's not quite a traditional light gun shooter, but it's also not a first-person shooter. It's a hybrid that is well suited for this form of interactive storytelling, and it nicely balances action and exposition. If horror films aren't your thing, then you'll want to take a pass here, but if you enjoyed Dead Space or if you're looking for something to darken up the tone of your Wii collection, then Dead Space: Extraction should be on your list. It just might make you wonder what really does go bump in the night.Score: 8.2/10
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