You turn a corner, nothing but darkness. You move along slowly, with your breath held, not making a sound. A loud ‘clang’ rings out - you turn, aim your gun and find that it was only a loose metal cover hitting the floor. With a sigh of relief you lower your gun and start to head back on your way, only to come face to face with a vile creature hell-bent on cutting you into a hundred little pieces and devouring your flesh. Welcome to Dead Space: Extraction for the Wii.
The game is set just before the events of the original Dead Space, which was released on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC back in 2008, and clears up what exactly happened on Aegis VII and the mining ship Ishimura. Over the course of the game you will take control of various characters but for the most part you will follow P-SEC detective Nathan McNeil, the Ishimura’s chief of security Sgt. Gabriel Weller, Lexine Murdoch and Warren Eckhardt a high ranking official with the Aegis VII mining corporation. The game opens with the discovery of what seems to be a genuine marker, a sort of religious symbol for a fringe cult known as Unitology. Soon after the find it is decided that the marker is to be moved into the colony directly. But things soon start to go wrong as many colonists begin acting strangely and even violently. After a few weeks the colony is overrun with reports of homicides and suicides, including a mass suicide of Unitologists in the central plaza. The colony is soon deemed unsafe and your group decide that they should seek refuge on the orbiting ‘planet cracker’ Ishimura. While on route to the shuttles you will run into strange creatures called necromorphs, which seem to be the twisted and disfigured bodies of the dead, come back to life with a strong appetite for the living, and in typical science-horror fashion the Ishimura is also overrun by the creatures. Our four companions must make their way through the bowls of the massive ship in the hopes of finding a way out of this real life nightmare. The story for the most part is very well executed. Science-fiction buffs will love the intricate details, the techno-babble strewn throughout the game and the religious conflict sub-plot, while less sci-fi oriented players will still appreciate the horror-in-space theme and simple 'creatures are bad, shoot them' motif. One minor gripe is that the plot twist near the end of the game is predictable and can be seen coming from a mile away.
Dead Space: Extraction controls like most games in the on-rails shooter genre; you aren’t given control over your characters or the camera’s movement except in special situations, such as choosing a path or entering ‘free look’ mode. You point the reticule with the Wii remote and squeeze the ‘B’ trigger to unload rounds into rampaging enemies. The control stick on the Nunchuck switches between your available weapons, the ‘Z’ trigger is your kinesis ability that is used to grab items strewn about or grab an object to hurl it an enemy, a quick shake of the Nunchuck performs a melee attack, and twisting the Wii remote sideways puts your weapon in alt-fire mode, usually with stronger and more explosive results. The game also uses the Wii Zapper in an intelligent way, which is hard to do for a simple plastic shell. You have the option of placing the Wii remote in the Zapper but keeping the Nunchuck in your left hand. This makes it feel like you are actually holding a weapon and leaves you free to perform melee attacks without having to shake the entire Zapper.
The basic gameplay is often broken up with small puzzle sections that will ask you to either solder connections on a broken terminal so that it can be accessed, or to rivet a door or panel closed so as to keep the hungry mobs from getting to your party. In certain places the game will ask you to choose a path. Some roads will lead to secret areas with health and ammo, and others will take you straight to some angry necromorphs. Some areas also do not have any gravity and will force you to carefully place your Zero G. jumps while avoiding floating debris and, of course, enemies. There is even a level where you take control of your shuttle’s turret and blast through asteroids and missiles. Unfortunately this is only present in one level and doesn’t make a return for the rest of the game. The biggest thing holding the gameplay back is that since the developers set out to make a very cinematic experience, you are in control for a very small portion of the game. You will constantly switch between ‘action’ and ‘story’ mode, which is by no means a bad thing, but gamers looking for a gameplay oriented shooter should look elsewhere.
Apart from the single player campaign, the game also offers a two player co-op mode, where you and a friend take on the main story together. This mode is completely drop in, meaning that even if player 1 is half-way through a level, a second player can jump in at any time and help you mow down the endless swarms. There is also a challenge mode where you take on wave after wave of enemies and try to earn a high score. It’s just unfortunate that these high scores are locked to the Wii console, as Dead Space: Extraction features no online features whatsoever. Both these modes however are very well implemented and fun to play. There's nothing better than being scared with a friend as you turn one last dark corner together, and the challenge mode can help improve your shooting skills and make you better at ‘strategically dismembering’ the enemies.
On the surface Dead Space: Extraction seems like any other on-rails shooter. However, developer Visceral Games went to great lengths to make the gameplay unique and even coined the phrase ‘Guided First Person Experience’. What this means is that the game is very cinematic, cut scenes and the in-game action are very well interwoven and you can barely tell when the game goes from ‘story’ to ‘action’ modes. That being said, Extraction is very story focused, with character building and relationships playing an integral part to the experience. Another selling point is the ‘horror’ aspect, which this game hits perfectly. Combining classic horror staples such as eerie sounds, loud screeches when an enemy makes its presence known, creatures jumping out of vents and other small areas, and the classic endless dark tunnel with modern innovations such as the slow mental degradation of your character which will make him hear voices and see things that aren’t really there. It all makes Dead Space: Extraction easily one of the scariest games out there, and not to mention disturbing, from the scenes of people taking their own lives while laughing hysterically to the very ‘Saw’ style ending. This game will have you thinking about it long after you’ve turned off the Wii and are cowering under the blankets.
The graphics are simply stunning, from the high amount of details that went into creating the Aegis VII colony, the Ishimura and its interiors, to the well designed character models. This kind of visual fidelity is simply not seen on the Wii. The interiors of the Ishimura all manage to differentiate themselves from one another so that you never feel like you’ve been in the same place twice. From the grimy water treatment tunnels to the large, modern and clean (till you spray blood and guts all over the place) command section. The outer space levels are also surprisingly beautiful. I distinctly remember gasping out loud when stepping outside onto the Ishimura’s deck and seeing the dark void of space contrasting against the ship’s hull, debris floating about. If I had to compare Dead Space’s visuals to any other game on the Wii, the only one that comes to mind is the opening scene from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption aboard the Federation command ship.
The music and sounds lend themselves to the atmosphere superbly. While walking down a long stretch you will hear nothing, save for your own footsteps, then suddenly as a necromorph jumps out at you from seemingly nowhere, a loud shriek and a haunting and unnerving soundtrack accentuate the severity of the situation and just add to your already tense state. The voice acting is also among the best I have ever heard. Characters speak in real tones, the dialogue is genuine and never ‘cheesy’, and you will quickly see the personalities of your companions coming out not only through their actions but in the way they speak and answer to you as different situations arise, from the always frightened and distraught Lexine, to the calm and cool Sgt. Weller. It just all comes together so well - the graphics and sound design play off the atmosphere perfectly, the characters make the situations feel genuine and for a game with very little ‘real’ gameplay, you will never be taken out of the context and will always be glued to the television set. Fantastic.
The main campaign will last you about 5 hours and features 10 levels. However, a modest ranking system, four difficulty modes (normal, hard, expert and impossible) and two player co-op offer up some variety and will guarantee that you will come back to the story mode at least once more. Challenge mode also offers up a modest challenge; however it’s disappointing that for other than getting high scores there's no real point in spending a lot of time with it. One of the coolest extras that Dead Space: Extraction offers is the Dead Space comic book series, all superbly voiced and animated (think in the style of Watchmen: Motion Comic). Volumes from the comic book are unlocked as you progress through the single player campaign and will fill you in as to what is happening in and around the colony as the panic sets in.
Dead Space: Extraction is an oddity. Stellar production values, tight and responsive controls, 2 player co-op, a solid story and a terrifying atmosphere. These are things that aren’t seen on the Wii every day and it’s a shame, because this proves that cinematic and original games can be a blast to play and still deliver on all presentation aspects. More developers should take after Visceral Games and look outside the box, re-invent a genre and put the effort into their products, because Dead Space: Extraction is not just a great Wii game, but simply a great game.