Based on one of the most memorable horror games in recent memory, Dead Space: Extraction has some big shoes to fill. Can an on-rails shooter, with all its attendant limitations, ever hope to replicate the original's arresting experience? There's only one way to find out.
Before the USG Ishimura got lousy with Necromorphs, there was the tragedy at Aegis VII. Dead Space: Extraction explores the events that compromised the second most famous infected starship in history, telling a harried tale of survival and desperation. You come away from the first stage knowing that the stakes are high-that the size of a character's role in the story isn't necessarily correlative with their chances of survival. And generally, you care if these people live or die.
With a couple of exceptions, you follow a cast of four through the entirety of the grim story. Nathan McNeill, a cop charged with investigating the break out of violence on Aegis VII when containment still felt like a reasonable measure, is the selfless and heroic protagonist. Lexine Murdoch, meanwhile, is the love interest, and the proxy for your fear. Gabriel Weller and Warren Eckhardt comprise the supporting cast. Weller, a hardnosed security officer, is good for gruff one-liners, while the arrogant, entitled Eckhardt is there to absorb your less kind sentiments.
Overall, the cast is more believable than most games', but not enough to really drive home the terror. Not to mention that you're usually too heavily armed to feel helpless and vulnerable. Still, the game is paced in a way that keeps you engaged throughout. When the plot is moving with purpose at a million miles an hour, you won't mind the occasional bit of schlock whizzing by.
With 10 chapters clocking in at around 30 to 40 minutes each, the core of Dead Space: Extraction is pretty lean. That said, there's very little fat in the experience, which is always a good thing for an on-rails shooter, and doubly so for one with as much exposition as Extraction. Every moment feels purposeful, and every sequence lasts about as long as it needs to. Given that you're spending the majority of the game hauling butt trying to get someplace else, usually with unspeakable horrors at your heels, you tend not to dawdle too long.
It's a familiar formula, though Extraction does an admirable job of mixing it up. Power-ups are everywhere, and it won't be long before you get in the habit of spamming the telekinesis button as soon as the smoke settles in order to scoop up everything in sight. Usually it's just ammo or health, but you'll often pick up more substantial treasures, like expository audio logs or weapon upgrades. There are also fleeting moments of freedom from the fixed path during which you can go on free-look shopping sprees. They never last long enough, though. Branching paths can lead to cool moments you might have missed during your first run through a stage. Fans of the original Dead Space, finally, will definitely appreciate the ways that Extraction recasts the original's zero-gravity sequences. They're great, evoking the same tenuous, isolated feeling as their predecessors.
Once you blast through the game, you have some no-frills challenge maps to get through. Think: stripped down versions of the game's set-pieces, with more monsters. The game also supports drop-in co-op play, which works just as you'd expect, with your guest utilizing the same weapon loadout as you.
Dead Space: Extraction is a slim package overall. It's great fun while it lasts, but it's over before you know it.
Extraction's level of fidelity to its source material is remarkable, which perhaps goes to show that what's most memorable about big-name games doesn't necessarily depend on cutting edge tech and complicated set-ups. Simply put, combat in Extraction feels distinctly "Dead Space," movement limitations be damned.
It's all about strategic mutilation, utilizing a familiar arsenal comprised mostly of commandeered mining equipment, including the line gun, the plasma cutter, the flame thrower, and the arc welder. Your default weapon is the rivet gun, which is puny compared to the heavy hitters, but still powerful enough to knock most Necromorphs' limbs off in one shot. Every weapon has an alternate fire, and you have enemy-slowing stasis charges at your disposal for when things get hairy, as well as a telekinesis beam that lets you catch-and-hurl projectiles.
If you played the original Dead Space, it all feels distinctly familiar. If you haven't, well, prepare yourself to enjoy one of the most refreshing takes on shooter combat in recent times. Used to aiming for the head? You better lose that habit real fast.
Dead Space: Extraction is one of the best looking Wii games around, effortlessly recalling the look of its predecessor on the system's comparatively lightweight hardware. Just like the original Dead Space, the presentation an integral part of the experience. Pick up an audio log, and its sound will play back on the Wiimote's speaker-a cool, convincing effect. The character models ride the happy medium between stylized and naturalistic, feeling enough like real people without freaking you out. The music, at times faint but frequently jarring, does the job brilliantly. Extraction's presentation is top notch.
Dead Space: Extraction is certainly worth experiencing, though with its slim feature set, it's a hard sell at the 50 dollar price-tag unless you're a fully-devoted Unitologist. For most, a rental will suffice. Either way, prepare yourself for great ride.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.