"A Wrighteous Wretrospective" is an ongoing series where we look back at games from the past and analyze where they came from, how well they've held up since release, and what the future holds for the game and its ongoing legacy. Today, we'll be taking a look at...
Worst bloody career move of my life.
When EA first announced the Dead Space franchise, it was mentioned alongside an initiative for the company that would see them begin to focus on establishing new intellectual properties with some regularity, rather than focusing on annual installments in their best-sellers. The sci-fi horror franchise was a relatively new one for EA, and marked one of their first creative endeavors on the then-new generation of consoles. The game garnered some attention for the violence and gore portrayed in its trailers and the gameplay focus on "strategic dismemberment", where the necrotic enemies in the game were relatively unaffected by traditional attacks and could only be stopped by removing their limbs.
With their proclamation to create new IPs, EA also announced that they would seek alternative ways to add depth and background to their properties. They intended to do so by creating comic books, films, and novels in the universes of their most popular franchises, in addition to exploring other avenues for smaller side-story games on mobile platforms, social networks, alternate reality games, and titles on Nintendo's casual-friendly, but incredibly successful, Wii console. Anticipating the success of Dead Space, it was one of the main titles to receive this extra attention.
In 2008, when Dead Space released, the Wii had taken a quick and prominent lead in the console races, but its weaker hardware and emphasis on motion controls made it an "also-ran" to many third-party publishers. While non-gamers and families were enjoying the new experiences that the Wii provided, hardcore players were often left with nothing more than party games, half-assed and delayed ports, and Nintendo's first-party classics. A common tactic at the time was for publishers to release spin-offs of their most popular Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 titles on the Wii, with more casual-friendly gameplay in the hopes of making a quick buck. These titles were often shoddily made and clearly rushed, but publishers tried to entice players by promising that if they were commercially successful, more in-depth and dedicated games would eventually be released on the platform.
Because of this "bargain bin" mentality, most titles were being judged by Wii owners with a highly critical eye before they were even released. Dead Space Extraction, especially, was a victim of this. Dead Space was praised as a violent and horrifying survival game intended for mature audiences, and while this prequel was created in part by the same developers, the fact that it was an on-rails light gun shooter gave fans pause. Many assumed that the game, releasing a year after its predecessor, was nothing but a quick cash-in, despite protests from Visceral who claimed that due to the time frame in which the game takes place the action focus made sense and that the light gun conceit was chosen to make full use of the Wii's controller. From the very beginning Extraction faced an uphill battle to win over its audience.
So aliens do exist. And they're trying to kill us. Isn't life dandy...
While I played this game on the PS3 (it can be found on Playstation Network), it was, as mentioned, originally developed for the Wii. As such, the technical quality of the game is a bit dated and it will probably take you a level or two to adjust. I was initially disappointed when characters began speaking because their voices sounded a bit muffled and they seemed separated from the characters that were speaking. Likewise, everything is considerably lower in polygon count than in the original Dead Space, and it's painfully obvious considering the two games share many locations. However, the game is really well animated, both skeletally and facially, which goes a long way to making up for the lower specs. There are a few odd glitches, however, in that your cursor will sometimes highlight objects or enemies that are in other rooms when that really shouldn't be the case. Also, the engine seems to have a lot of trouble with shadows, putting them in locations they don't belong, making them appear or disappear, or making them jump around the environment. On the other hand, maybe that's just The Marker playing tricks on you.
Another big change compared to Dead Space that you'll notice immediately, being a light gun game, is the perspective: everything in Extraction is seen through the eyes of the protagonists. While that is a given for the genre, it does breathe some new life into the franchise. It's definitely interesting seeing The Marker and the Ishimura from a natural perspective, and getting up close and personal to the Necromorphs provides a cheap thrill. The Necromorphs, jump scares and all, lend themselves well to this style, as there are a number of times when you'll look left and right slowly, and then suddenly jerk back to the left to have a scythe-armed beastie in your face.
Extraction borrows a lot of gameplay conceits from its predecessor in the jump to this spin-off, and for the most part these additions do a lot to add depth to a relatively shallow genre. Since this light gun shooter was created fully with consoles in mind, the upgrade system from Dead Space comes over and adds a sense of permanence to an essentially impermanent style. The better you do in each chapter of the game, the more your health and Stasis modules are improved, allowing you take more damage and freeze enemies more often when you're feeling a bit overwhelmed. Weapons can also be upgraded by finding schematics in the environment and using your Kinesis to grab them, although this mostly just provides you with a larger ammo belt that lessens how often you need to reload. Kinesis and Stasis are also used pretty often in environmental puzzles, clearing dangerous paths and moving platforms into place. You'll likewise find yourself hacking objects often, in a type of "tracing" minigame, on one side of the screen while enemies approach on the other, which mixes up the gameplay and hammers home your stressful situation. There are also a few scattered Zero-G sections that allow you to create paths jumping around an area, dealing with floating objects and enemies for that authentic Dead Space feel.
The game appears to adapt to your needs in terms of items dropped by enemies. When you're injured, enemies are more likely to drop health. In other situations, enemies drop ammo for the guns you are using, or for the gun best suited to the situation. Similarly, since enemies can approach you from multiple angles, the camera will dynamically shift to the areas of most pressing need, for example if a Lurker is inching up beside you. Once that enemy is taking care of, or slowed down, the camera will move elsewhere. For the most part, this works well, but can also leave you in situations where you're focused on an enemy in the distance while something below your field of view swipes at you, forcing you to just fire at the edges of the screen and hope for the best. Being a light gun shooter, the game is heavily scripted, but these core features actually provide a lot of variety and some depth to the game. Besides, most games these days are basically on-rails anyway, despite giving the illusion of freedom.
Text logs, audio logs, and seemingly one sole video log also appear in Extraction, providing a bit more backstory on the universe. There's nothing revelatory here, though, and they mainly serve to kill the pacing of the levels. If you pick up a log, the action freezes awkwardly (especially if you're on the run from some kind of monster or if a companion is on screen), and everything waits for you to finish reading to proceed. Many of the logs allude to "planet cracking", the purpose of the Ishimura, and how it is dangerous to the balance of the universe. I remember mention of the controversy surrounding planet cracking in the original Dead Space too, and the prevalence of this in these early games make me think that it was originally intended to have deeper meaning and consequence, but became a dangling thread after they went in another direction for the sequels. Despite these small hiccups, however, the cutscenes and story told in the game are an improvement over pretty much any other light gun shooter on the market, even if it's the typical "surviving against all odds" plot.
The game is actually full of fan service for people who played the original Dead Space. While this could come off as cheesy or exploitative, Visceral took things so far that it winds up working pretty well. The whole game is basically Dead Space in reverse. In addition to doing things that Isaac Clarke will later have to undo, like welding shut a door or turning off the ships autoturrets, the game literally begins where Dead Space ends, with you removing The Red Marker from the dig site to bring on board the Ishimura and ending in the shuttle bay that Isaac arrives in. Throughout the game, you'll shift between different perspectives, and at the start of each chapter where this happens, you'll start by looking at your reflection, to emphasize who you're controlling; the most ridiculous of which being seeing your face in your own pool of blood.
The game begins with you as one of the miners tasked with removing The Marker from its dig site, which starts off the chain of events that begin the series of games. The game plays some clever tricks on you as The Marker messes with your character's head, culminating in a Silent Hill-like realization about who or what you've been shooting at for the whole first level. After that, all hell, predictably, breaks loose. You quickly gather up a squad of action movie cliches: the charmingly world-weary detective, the stern and professional military man, the cowardly and egotistical executive, and the sweetly naive hot chick in a futuristic mini-skirt and stockings combination. The plot itself is fairly cliche, involving betrayal, subterfuge, love in the face of death, and sacrifice, but it's all in service of keeping the action moving, and it does that really well. Even though the beats are familiar, as are the locations, it's a pretty fun, if mindless, thrill ride.
Of plot significance is Gabe Weller, the military man, and Lexine Murdoch, the suggestively dressed but most assuredly innocent surveyor. Both take center stage in the Dead Space 2 DLC campaign, "Severed"; revolving around Lexine Murdoch's unique relationship to The Marker, not too dissimilar from Isaac's. While Isaac Clarke is able to interpret The Marker's signal and hold the blueprint to replicating it, Lexine is immune to its effects and projects a dead space field not unlike The Marker's, something on which the plots of Extraction and Severed hinge. Perhaps the ultimate reveal in the game though, is the mystery of the Dead Space hand. For the entire year that Dead Space had been out before the release of Extraction, there was one question on players' minds, "Whose hand is that on the cover?" I don't want to spoil it, but let's just say...the developers give you a hand. After playing this game, rest assured, everything will make perfect sense.
Hell, I'm just going to spoil it. Watch the video below.
Jesus. I'm too old for this...
Dead Space Extraction was released in September 2009 to favorable reviews. It was praised for advancing the genre of light gun shooter and for remaining faithful to the Dead Space franchise, while being criticized for being fairly short. However, despite its critical successes, Extraction sold less than 10,000 copies in its first week of release. Following the Wii release, the game was put out on PSN, as well as being bundled with the Limited Edition of Dead Space 2, where it took advantage of the Move controller, with optional DualShock support.
As such, Dead Space Extraction doesn't have much of a legacy. Despite being a worthwhile addition to the franchise (one that has been expanded upon with Dead Space 2: Severed), and despite improving upon the light gun genre significantly, it was too much of a commercial failure to make much of an impression in either case. Light gun games have been relegated to quick arcade ports and bargain bin knock-offs, and despite becoming something of a B-story arc for Dead Space, the adventures of Lexine and Gabe appear to have been left dangling after the conclusion of Severed. With the future of the Dead Space franchise in question, it's a plotline that may never be resolved.
Interestingly, a focus on action and cooperative play made Extraction stand out at the time, but have become increasingly more integral to the franchise going forward. The tone of the Dead Space series has drifted more in that direction as time has gone on, for better or worse, but these decisions made a lot of sense for the game that Extraction intended to be, and it succeeded at them. Meanwhile, spin-offs and side stories in video games appear to be mostly focused on downloadable promotional games, and light gun games are likely to become increasingly more irrelevant as gaming moves past motion controls in the next generation. In the end, Dead Space Extraction is a worthwhile installment in the series and a lot of fun with little investment required. Seek it out if you have the inclination.
That's all for today. I hope you enjoyed this Wretrospective, and maybe learned a little something in the process. Feel free to post comments, opinions, and memories of this game below. Thanks for reading!
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