Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dead Space Extraction (Wii) Review

I’ve come around to the Wii pretty late in its life cycle – the Wii U has already been announced, and is expected next year, and actually, I don’t even own one. My friend was finally lured onto it by the promise of the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, though, and that meant an opportunity for me to catch up on a few Wii exclusives (and ports) that I missed.

At times, it’s a pretty underwhelming list. Some of the things I was interested in have turned out to be, well, pretty bad – like the Wii version of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which has some of the most awful controls I’ve ever encountered. Though I never completed it on the Gamecube – I was playing it in Japanese, and eventually, it defeated my language abilities at the time – I recall enjoying it quite a lot, and looking forward to experiencing it in English where I could enjoy the story more, as well as find the various tutorials and puzzles less frustrating due to having an added layer of “Did I just understand that right?” on top. On the Wii, all that playability seems to have been thrown out of the window in favour of every gimmicky control Nintendo could think to throw at it. I guess it was an early title for the Wii, and they wanted to differentiate it from its NGC origins, but man, they really screwed it up.

Don’t even get me started on the surreal translation, but I’ve grown to just really hate a lot of official translations, Nintendo’s included. I think it’s the fact that a lot of Japanese dialogue in games, movies, and anime is very colloquial, and especially when written down, features a lot of dialect stuff that in English just looks stupid and unnatural. It didn’t stop whoever translated the speech of the starting area villagers in Twilight Princess, giving them an odd, “y’all”-filled cowboy dialect... with incongruous “bud”s thrown in left, right and centre. “Y’all finished fishin’ there, bud?” “Y’all done with the horse-ridin’ tutorial there, bud?” “Y’all sick of readin’ this stilted dialogue there, bud?” But I digress.

So far, though, the standout has been Dead Space: Extraction (depressingly, followed by Metroid: Other M. I have no attachment to the Metroid franchise whatsoever, but even I can see Team Ninja have really gone to town and butchered it – but get beyond the even-worse-than-Twilight-Princess writing and voice acting – oh, the voice acting – and the gameplay isn’t half bad, and makes interesting use of the Wiimote). Extraction is the once-Wii-exclusive, now-PS3-bonus extra prequel to the original Dead Space, covering a group of survivors from the mining colony as they escape to the USG Ishimura, and leading into the events of the rest of the franchise (with an interesting little nod to Dead Space 2, I might add; particularly interesting, as the storyline in Extraction is continued in the Dead Space 2 DLC ‘Severed’).

Technically a rail shooter, the game feels quite far removed from the find-it-in-an-arcade style experienced I had envisioned. Much of your time in the game’s 10 chapters is spent ‘exploring’, albeit without much control in where your characters goes, or watching cutscenes. You do get a few chances here and there to make choices about which path to take, or opportunities to take control of the camera and check a room for hidden items and ammunition pick-ups. The telekinesis ability from the ‘proper’ console games is here and used (mostly) well to let you grab items that drop from enemies or are just littered throughout the levels, and stasis is back too, allowing you to temporarily freeze or slow opponents and the very occasional puzzle element. I think almost all of the weapons from the original Dead Space show up, in addition to a couple of unique ones like the security officers’ standard pistol. Most of the weapons appear more or less unchanged, though a couple have a slightly different alternate fire. Some, like the Ripper (a spinning circular saw blade held out on some kind of telekinetic tether) take advantage of the Wiimote in that you have the flail the thing around, though sometimes it’s more effort than reward. You also get a melee attack by swinging the nunchuk, though it’s far from as visceral as Isaac Clarke’s aggravated stomping.

I mentioned that the telekinesis was “mostly” used to good effect because there is one downside to all the time the game spends developing atmosphere, characters, and story: throughout it, you’ll be telekinetically grabbing at every shiny object on the screen, desperate for health pickups, a little more ammo, weapon upgrades or hidden audio and textual logs. A character might be making a poignant speech or revealing some important plot element, but you might miss it entirely, the glowing white ball of your telekinetic power (with accompanying sound effect) drowning it out or obscuring the action. It’s not like you have a choice in the matter, either – this isn’t a case of “sure, you can mess with the gravity of the game by choosing to run into a wall or shoot your gun off during ‘serious’ moments”; the game has been deliberately designed to encourage you to be grabbing at everything that isn’t nailed down, and there are hidden items even during important story moments. It’s all a bit schizophrenic.

At least the story is good, and ties in well with the rest of the franchise. I’m a big fan of the first two games, and the first, Templesmith-illustrated comic series/graphic novel (featured in Extraction in its hit-and-miss motion comic under the bonus features). Other things have been less successful – the first animated offering, Downfall, was sheer crap. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to sample the second movie or comic series, or the tie-in novel. There’s a definite purpose behind it all though, a fairly well-thought out storyline unfolding about Unitology, the markers, and the necromorphs. Little scraps of information are meted out across the different games and tie-ins, and Extraction is no different, serving to offer up a parallel storyline to Isaac’s journey.

It’s not perfect, both as a game in general and a Dead Space game in particular. Co-op is implemented as a simple drop-in thing, not affecting the storyline. That means that your first person view develops a second targeting reticule (that many have already noted is ridiculously big, obscuring enemies at range). It’s as if your character is dual-wielding the various weapons, which gets ever more ridiculous during frantic moments such as hacking a door control at the same time as fending off waves of enemies – or visibly reaching out to climb over a ledge while still being able to shoot both weapons. There’s one scene I’d love to explain but don’t want to spoil, but would basically require the character in question to be using a gun with his feet – two guns with his feet, if you’re playing co-op – given the way things are playing out on-screen.

The enemies, the necromorphs, are mostly taken from Dead Space, with a couple of additions. I could’ve done without the odd flying ones that seemed to mostly be an annoyance, and some enemies don’t quite act how you’d expect based on the main entries – there are tiny spider-like necromorphs, for example, that tend to swarm over you and must be shaken off. In Extraction, that action falls to shaking the Wiimote frantically/frustratedly. Normally these things are disgorged from the belly of a morbidly obese necromorph, but while that enemy is present, killing it “incorrectly” doesn’t result in the tide of spider-things you’d expect in Dead Space. On the other hand, the staggering ones with glowing bombs attached to their arms are back – and their volatile appendages can still be shot off, grabbed with telekinesis, and hurled at other enemies.

And, despite the general strength of the story, there are a couple of moments that are let down by odd dialogue choices or slightly weak voice acting – Lexine, in particular, is not a strong character, while Gabe Weller’s macho one-liners soon begin to grate (his first, however, is just dandy). The dynamics of the group you’ll spend most of the game with are quite odd, with Aliens-esque corporate suit, unshakeable-to-the-point-of-being-a-caricature security grunt, homicidal detective, and girl who somehow manages to ham it up despite, presumably, not being mo-capped. And who also refuses to stop wearing a miniskirt despite ample opportunity to put on a space suit or engineering rig, yet repeatedly complains about being cold. Finally, there’s an interesting story choice late in the game that actually spoils a major element from Dead Space. If you’re coming to Extraction having already played the other games, it’s not a problem, and like a lot of the game – visiting areas easily recognisable from the rest of the franchise – is a nice nod to later events. It’s just indicative of a strange kind of “Who was this supposed to be for?” atmosphere that pervades the game and its release, seeming utterly out of place on the Wii.

Is it an essential part of the Dead Space experience? No. It is, however, an interesting and fun diversion, and is especially worthwhile in rounding out the fairly confusing episode in Severed. It’s a real shame there doesn’t seem to be a follow-up coming, though perhaps one can hold out hope that the story will be continued post-Severed in other DLC, or perhaps the whole Extraction side of the franchise will be supported in a PSN/Live Arcade type game – or even, perhaps, on the Wii U?

... Or not, you know. Given Extraction apparently sold terribly on the Wii. Who’d have thought it.

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