The first question everyone has about Dead Space: Extraction is: What does “guided first person experience” mean?
To executive producer Steve Papoutsis, it means that gameplay in the Dead Space prequel is not a straight line through an alien-infested ship. Players will have the opportunity to choose diverging paths and pan the camera under certain conditions for what the developer calls a “managed horror experience.”
To me, this means that the Wii exclusive is an on-rails shooter – but with layers of complexity added on to increase the scare factor.
Take for example, the level demoed at EA’s Spring Break press event. This was chapter four of the game; our hero character and his three buddies had barely escaped a Necromorph encounter only to find that their whole ship has been trashed by the mutated baddies. The main character – who we don’t know much about besides the fact that he’s not Isaac Clark from the original Dead Space – breaks off from the group to find clues about what happened and restore power to that part of the ship.
While moving along the on-rails path, an icon appeared onscreen, indicating that the player could move the camera around with the analogue stick on the nunchuck. Doing so allowed the main character to look up, down, left or right to scan for clues or take in vivid scenes that you might otherwise miss with a fixed camera.
Our demo master — Product Manager Matt Bendett — spotted a recording device on a nearby table and activated it to see a short video of some victim getting mauled by a Reaper. This is what passes for foreshadowing in Extraction - once Bendett rounded a corner and chose the left branch of a diverging path, he got jumped by three to five Reapers and Slashers, conveniently out of range of his buddies' weapons.
The main character died and we had to restart the demo from the beginning. This time, Bendett chose the other branch of the diverging path and - surprise, surprise - wound up in roughly the same place with similar shoot-the-alien conditions.
There are some new weapons in Extraction, but Bendett stuck to flamethrowers and the rivet gun. Like the original game, combat is all about strategic dismemberment and you can use the stasis gun to paralyze Necromorphs for a short time.
A new mechanic to combat in the Wii game is the glow stick. I got to see this in action when Bendett entered the room right after the first Reaper encounter to find a bunch of apparently-dead Slashers lying on the ground near the circuit box we wanted to get to. Three steps into the room, the lights when out and Bendett began shaking the Wii remote up and down. This generated a soft green light on the right side of the screen, illuminating the now-alive Slashers as they rushed toward our hero for the kill (I don't know how scary this "fooled you!" moment would be if you already played Dead Space...).
The glow stick flickered out after a few seconds, prompting Bendett to keep shaking if he wanted to keep an eye on his enemies. Of course, said Papoutsis, you could just stay in the dark and fire blindly - that would definitely add a layer of difficulty to Extraction that you can't get from the original.
Once the Slashers were dead, the lights magically came back on and the on-rails path guided the main character to the circuit box. Here's where I'm tempted to cry "tacked-on Wii mechanics": to repair the circuit box, the player has to use the Wii remote to draw a blue line from one point within the box past some red obstacles (called "hazards") in order to close the circuit. This is but one of many "puzzles" the game has to offer; but all of them will use the Wii motion controls in a similar manner (shake, point, draw, etc.).
What could be fun about these Wii controls, though, is using them in two-player co-op. According to Papoutsis, you will complete one half of the drawing puzzle while your partner completes the other. I can already picture friendships breaking over this game.
Circuit closed, doors opened and elevator activated, our hero was free to run back to his buddies and get on the elevator. But of course, because it's a survival horror "guided experience," nothing is ever straightforward (even though it's on-rails).
Nercomorphs started to come from everywhere, swarming the elevator before the doors could close. At this point, gameplay looked like one of those old shooting range arcade games: an alien would pop up, the targeting reticule would be centered on him and boom! Move to the next alien.
But the baddies were coming too fast, and Bendett got the main character killed again, forcing us to repeat the demo from the part where the circuit box was fixed. This checkpoint system concerns me because if the enemies always come in the same formation at the same time (and that's what happened both times during the demo when we died and had to start over), how scary can the game really be?
Third time's the charm - Bendett made it into the elevator unscathed and we were treated to a short cut scene where we got to see the well-animated the NPC facial features. Papoutsis explained that Extraction uses full facial and body motion capture from the voice actors for more effective dubbing and emotional expressions of "OMG - aliens!" I thought it looked pretty good, considering that this build is probably alpha or pre-alpha.
The last thing I saw in the game was the new female character, Lexine. She was sporting a bloody nose and said something like "I don't feel so good." Remember what I said about foreshadowing?
Other tidbits revealed at this demo event were the fact that there would be zero-gravity sections, co-op is going to be single-screen with two reticules and we "may" see some characters from Dead Space. Maybe Isaac's girlfriend and Lexine will bond over being surrounded by miners who are the silent type.
Predictable or not, though, Dead Space: Extraction doesn't look like a half-assed attempt at cramming a franchise onto the Wii. It may not be using Wii Motion Plus (Papoutsis said they don't need it), and some of those motion control mini games may seem silly (come on - one of the hazards was a pinball flipper). But to look at the screenshots and consider that they've made all new enemies and weapons for the game, I think it's fair to say that EA and Eurocom are using their whole arse to make Dead Space: Extraction a scary game that stands on its own as it guides you along.