Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Most gamers tend to look down their bespectacled noses at rail shooters. Once confined to the dark passages of video arcades, rail shooters usually involved firing plastic light guns at arcade screens until you ran out of lives (and quarters). As arcades started to disappear from local malls, rail shooters such as the House of the Dead series found a new home on the Wii, which offered simple controls and the low-res graphics that helped the genre to thrive in previous years. Joining Sega’s popular monster shooter is Dead Space: Extraction, the prequel adventure to the 2008 PC/PS3/Xbox 360 gorefest Dead Space.
A mysterious alien artifact has been uncovered on mining colony Aegis 7. Technician Sam Caldwell is sent into the mine to fix a problem after the artifact, known later as the Marker, is moved. He soon discovers that his fellow workers have started to develop dangerous, homicidal behavior. Some time later, detective Nathan McNeil is sent to Aegis 7 to investigate. He enters the mine with some security officers and has to fight his way through waves of horribly mutated creatures as they search for survivors and for a way off the colony.
You play as several characters as Extraction‘s story progresses, but the bulk of your time is spent as McNeil. Controls are simple to use and easy to learn; point and shoot with the Wiimote, change weapons with the nunchuk. The game moves you along at a brisk pace. Weapon powerups, ammunition and other objects of interest are spread throughout the environments; you can pick them up by using the Wiimote to fire a light-grabber tool at the items before they disappear behind you, so you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings. The story takes you through the mining colony, then to the now-derelict spaceship Ishimura, where the action in Dead Space takes place.
Combat in Extraction, as in its more detailed cousin, involves a tactic known as strategic dismemberment. The creatures in Extraction, called necromorphs, can only be killed by shooting off their limbs, so you have to aim carefully and make your shots count. The default pistol has unlimited ammo, but only holds up to seven slugs at a time, forcing you to constantly reload (a Gears of War-style active reload mechanic helps you to speed up the process). You have three other weapon slots, which can be used for various high-tech energy weapons, projectile weapons and the ever-reliable flamethrower. Dead necromorphs frequently drop health powerups, which have to be snagged by the grabber tool. Battles are fairly simple to survive for the first half of the game’s 10 chapters, but the difficulty ramps up quickly once the first boss is encountered and you switch characters.
The rail shooter would appear to be the perfect genre for hardcore shooters on the Wii, as evidenced by Extraction. The system frees you from the need to guide your character around the environment, which allows the game to move at a break-neck pace. You could easily play the entire story in one long sitting (about eight hours or so), and the combination of the solid plot, the interesting characters and the very spooky atmosphere encourage you to do so; I was only foiled by the three-hour life of my Wiimote’s rechargeable battery. But the pace can also be a vexing problem; you really have to stay alert at all times or you’ll miss important pickups as you progress through the scenes. And there are other problems: the glow stick that you use to light up darkened areas can only be activated in certain places, hint messages tell you to target the “yellow cartilage” of various enemies without showing you what the cartilage looks like, and a strange graphics glitch made an already dark display practically indecipherable in many areas.
The knock against the Wii has always been that there are very few available games that cater to the hardcore gamer. Dead Space: Extraction is one of the few shooters that takes the platform’s hardware and uses it to its advantage, featuring intuitive controls, decent graphics, an exhilarating story that rarely lets you take a breath, and a creepy vibe that dares you to play the game with the lights off. Xbox and PC gamers are out of luck, but PS3 owners who buy the upcoming Dead Space 2 will find a Move-enabled HD version of Extraction in the box. But if you’re looking for a solid, adult-oriented shooter for the Wii, you won’t find too many better than this.