Reviewed: September 26, 2009
Released: September 29, 2009
Most of the time we expect the best games for a system to come from the same company that designed the hardware, as has been proven time and time again by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, but the best Wii game of 2009 is not coming from Nintendo; rather EA and their in-house studio, Visceral Games. Dead Space Extraction is not only the biggest surprise of the year, for me, it is my personal favorite game on the entire system to date.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the game is firmly rooted in one of my favorite next-gen titles. I loved Dead Space on the 360 – even the memories still send chills down my spine. It was one of the scariest and most inventive titles and the closest thing to perfection I played in 2008. Now, a year later we get a new story; a prequel to fill us in on some of the gaps and events we could only imagine took place before Isaac Clarke stepped onboard the USG Ishimura last year. Sure, we had prelude material like the DVD, "Dead Space Downfall", and the motion comic, which has been generously provided as an unlockable bonus on this game, but never before have we been allowed to play and experience those events, and the Wii allows us to do so unlike any other game on any other system.
Extraction plays out much like a typical light gun game but lest you think this is just another “House of the Dead Space Extraction” knockoff rest assured you have never seen or experienced a game like this, especially on the Wii. Your family-friendly system gets a new M-rated title added to its library and it earns that rating with loads of gore, plenty of salty language, and enough thrills and chills to delight and terrify horror buffs of all ages.
Extraction starts with the finding of the “Marker”, an ancient artifact that unleashes untold evil upon the inhabitants of Aegis VII. Before your eyes, people are slowly turning into zombie-like creatures and attacking anything in sight, including you. You and your team must make your way to a shuttle and escape the planet, seeking refuge in the orbiting planet cracker ship, the USG Ishimura. But the evil has already reached the Ishimura and its crew has already been converted into all sorts of hideous mutated creatures. If you’ve played the first game then you know what to expect, at least in the way of weapons and enemies.
Extraction doesn’t require that you play the original game, but it sure is a lot better if you have. You’ll be exploring familiar locations, rooms, and parts of the ship that you will fondly remember, and others not so much. I certainly remember the decompressed part of the ship that required me to wear my space suit, but in this game you actually see the event that breaches the hull. I remembered the spherical zero-g room, the gun turret, the medical lab, and the tram station. But for every location you might remember there are just as many that are new, like the sewer system and water treatment facility.
Extraction plays out on rails, but only in the sense that you don’t have to move around with the analog stick. Instead, the game decides where you go and where you look with a few exceptions of free-look opportunities in some key rooms. Personally, I would have enjoyed a free-look moment in every room if for no other reason than to pick up ammo and items. So you find yourself exploring the surface of the planet and the Ishimura using a shaky cam view that bobs when you walk and bobs even more when you run. Your view will swing around to look down side corridors or peer up into the pipe and beams on the ceiling – anywhere the “director” wants you to look. Obviously, this leads to several “gotcha” moments, which are no less scary, even when you start to suspect them.
Controls are as slick as the slime these mutants leave behind when you splatter them on the wall. You play with a combination of remote and nunchuk. Since this is a light gun game there is built-in support for the Wii Zapper, but I found the game worked even better with one of those Nyko pistols and just holding the nunchuk. Having both mounted in the same piece of plastic was awkward and unduly heavy after awhile. Plus, having the remote mounted in the pistol made the alternate fire mode work much better. Dismemberment is the primary method of dispatching these vile beasts. Blow off a leg, blast and arm, splatter a head, and you might just slow them down. Do all of the above and you might survive till the next creature attacks from the darkness.
The game also supports drop-in/drop-out cooperative play. When player two jumps in it’s not so much as a second character but more like your primary character is now dual-wielding. You have two targeting cursors on the screen and you share the same weapon load out and health. But unlike most co-op experiences that simply add some monsters to compensate for the extra player, Extraction also adds some true “co-op moments” to the game design.
The first are in the numerous hack sequences where you must solder circuit boards to unlock a door or hack a computer or control panel. These require you to trace a path with the remote from node to node avoiding any dangerous spots. When the circuit is complete you push a button to do whatever it is you need done, but when you play with two people each person must alternate turns completing each section of the circuit path. And you are usually doing this while under attack so the other person is trying to keep the monsters off you while the other is soldering. The same goes for using your rivet gun to fuse metal panels to doors and grates to create emergency barriers.
The rivet gun is your primary weapon and cannot be switched out, but you also have three additional slots that can be the home to the arc gun, plasma rifle, line gun, flamethrower, and many other favorites from the original game. Each weapon has a secondary fire function access by twisting your wrist 90-degrees to the side (gangsta style). The cursor will change to indicate the new mode and possible fire spread.
Stasis is back and just as important but you no longer have to seek out those refill canisters. Instead, you have three stasis charges that refill over time, giving you about 10 seconds of frozen mutant – just enough time to dismember the beastie before he thaws out. It’s also handy for freezing and slowing down environmental objects like live electrical wires or spinning fan rotors.
And last but certainly not least is the telekinesis tool that allows you to access panels and switches as well as pick-up items to add to your inventory or fling back at monsters. Anything that can be picked up is lit and often color-coded so it stands out from the background. All you need to do is point at it and press Z to suck it up. The real challenge is seeing and grabbing during the fleeting moments of the automated camera movement. All too often you’ll spot that purple weapon power-up and be praying for the camera to pan back so you can grab it. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. Grabbing items…the good ones…is often much more difficult than killing the monsters.
Controls are intuitive and quite ingenious. It’s certainly best if you play with some sort of gun adapter in which case the B button fires and the Z button activates the telekinesis. You shake the gun/remote if you want to light up a glow stick (if you have one) that acts like a temporary flashlight. You shake the nunchuk to reload and if you can time the second shake within the reload area you get an instant reload (kind of like Gears of War). If you point the gun off screen and shake the nunchuk you do a melee attack, great for slicing through barriers or shaking off a mutant that has gotten too close.
Ammo is plentiful if you are skilled at reacting and grabbing everything in sight, and the ammo is magically matched to the weapons you currently have and use most frequently. If you use the flamethrower a lot expect the dead mutants to leave behind fuel canisters. Unlike the original game, there are no stores or kiosks to purchase items, and you can only swap out guns when you find a new one, which can lead to at least one major problem. About halfway through the game you are going through the sewers and ultimately arrive at a tentacle boss. It is quite possible to get to this encounter with a set of weapons that make it impossible to complete. I know because I had to restart and replay that entire level making sure I kept a projectile weapon for the end.
Extraction takes place over 10 chapters, which is rather short by action-adventure game standards but just right for an interactive light gun game. Clocking it at just around 8 hours, you can easily plow through this in a single sitting, especially if you have multiple people and are switching off players. The game is equally as fun to watch, as it is to play. After each chapter you unlock the next along with bonuses like chapters of the full motion comic you can watch from the bonus menu. And then you have the Challenges, 10 events, each about 15 minutes, that push the story aside and have you honing your weapons skills in one or two-player co-op. You are also ranked up to five stars based on a combination of factors ranging from accuracy to hacking skills, and number of pick-ups to fast-reloads.
I’ve come to expect a certain level of sub-par graphics with the Wii so I was totally blown away with the outstanding visuals of Extraction. Sure, it’s a far cry from the 360, but it's impressive as hell for the Wii with fantastic level design and character models, creepy lighting, and all sorts of ghostly supernatural effects that play mind games with the character and the player. There were plenty of F.E.A.R. moments.
The HUD is gone unless you summon it with a button press and your target reticle indicates your weapon, ammo, and fire mode. Floating holo-displays play back video logs while audio logs play through the speaker in your remote. Fortunately, nothing too important is said in the voice memos since it can be hard to shoot accurately while holding the “gun” up to your ear. You also hear the click…click of an empty chamber and the reload sound coming from the remote speaker.
The rest of the audio experience is true terror to the ears with amazing 3D spatial surround, especially for a Dolby Pro Logic II mix. Dripping water, the hiss of a steam pipe, the guttural roar of some demented creature, the disembodied voice of some poltergeist, all played out on my home theater like I was in this haunted ship. Effects like environmental reverb and that hollow sound you get when wearing a space helmet work tremendously. Throw in some of the best voice acting I’ve heard on any Wii title to date and you have a killer sound offering – one of the best if not the best.
I can’t recommend this game strongly enough. The Wii normally doesn’t get games for adults, especially ones that are this fantastic. The story is awesome, even if you never played the first game, but it’s even better if you have since so many of the locations and events intertwine. You know you’ve come full circle with the prequel when the final words of this game are trying to warn off the repair ship that begins the first game.
This is Dead Space built from the ground up for the Wii and only the Wii could offer this much of an immersive and thrilling experience. Whether you are playing alone or have a line of friends waiting to grab that second remote and share the ride, Dead Space Extraction is the definitive survival horror, FPS, light gun game of the year and the best Wii game I have ever played.