Dead Space: Extraction, the prequel to the original Dead Space title, was released in 2009 on the Wii and was a commercial flop.  In the first five days of sales the game moved a measly 9,200 units, proving undeniably that the Wii is a platform that is absolutely dead to the vast majority of core gamers.  As puzzling as decision as it was to release the follow up to a blockbuster PS3/Xbox 360 game on the Wii, there was no denying that people who played the game found it satisfying:  Metacritic rates it at 82%, which is more than acceptable.  As a fan of Visceral Games’ survival horror games, how could I say no to giving it a whirl?

The original Dead Space takes place on a wrecked space hulk, the Ishimura, orbiting a doomed mining colony on the planet Aegis VII; by the time the player arrives everything has already gone to hell, and the game only hints at what happened and why.  Dead Space: Extraction is set immediately prior to the breakdown that leads to the colony and ships’ demise, and tells an essential part of the backstory which, most importantly, explains the arrival of the necromorphs.  Furthermore, as progress is made through the game’s story mode, a voice acted comic book is unlocked which reveals even more of the events and intrigue that combined to threaten humanity.  In this respect, the game is integral for players wishing to understand the series on a deeper level than simply dismembering zombie-like creatures.

Artistically, Dead Space: Extraction makes excellent use of the Wii’s engine, rendering the game world in a gritty detail that – while not as superb as a high def game – is more than could be expected on the console.  Character models are particularly well done, and I found myself enjoying the look of the main characters far more than I did in the original.  The environments that you visit throughout the storyline are many of the exact same spaces that were explored in Dead Space, and they are recreated brilliantly.  If I had one complaint, it would be that the necrmorph dismemberments are not as varied, and it can get tiring watching beasties be blasted apart in the exact same manner for twelve hours.

Game play in Dead Space: Extraction is an enormous departure from the original title.  Instead of being a third person shooter with plenty of exploration, Extraction is an on-rails light gun game.  The main character moves, looks around, and interacts with his surroundings of his own accord, granting the player only infrequent opportunities to look around for a few scant seconds before relinquishing control to the script.  The player’s main involvement consists of shooting enemies, using telekinesis to gather items, and using stasis to slow down enemies.  On paper this sounds horrible, however in practice it is a great formula that is equal parts frantic and harrowing.

To shoot you aim the Wiimote at the screen and blast away with the trigger button.  Eventually you start to run out of ammo, at which point you need to press a button on the nunchuck to reload, and then press it a second time within a relatively small window to speed up the reload.  Enemies come at you from all angles, and your character will turn to face them, giving you precious seconds to kill them, or at least cripple them to buy yourself some time.

Extraction places a much larger emphasis on stasis – the slowing power -  this time around.  Instead of being a limited resource, stasis recharges on its own and is vital if you’re going to survive some of the more intense waves of necromorphs that are thrown your way.

Unlike in the original Dead Space, where the plasma cutter could be used exclusively to beat the game, Dead Space: Extraction rewards smart and varied weapon usage.  Different foes can be more easily contained using different weapons, and since you’re only allowed to carry four of the eight possible guns at any one time, you really need to think about your load out.  Often I ran with the rivet gun (weak, but infinite ammo), the line gun (powerful but scarce ammo), the flame thrower (good for mobs), and the plasma rifle (great against distant foes).

Which combat is frantic, gathering items from the environment – ammo, health, new weapons, upgrades, etc. – is even more stressful.  Since your character is moving around on their own there is a very limited window – only a second or two – to identify a collectible, aim at it, and use telekinesis to haul it in.  It is rare that my twitch reflexes are tested so much during a modern video game, and it took me a while to get into enough of a groove that I could grab three quarters of the items that I saw.

As a horror game, Extraction draws on a lot of the same tricks that made Dead Space so intense – lighting, sound, and pacing – however the fact that you do not have full control of the main character lends a distinctly different flavor to the terror.  Much like a good thriller, I found myself almost yelling at the screen for my character to just turn the hell around and save himself.  The helplessness mingled with fear was an absolute rush, and on more than one occasion it caused me to unload a full clip needlessly when my character finally did turn to confront the necromorph that had escaped his notice.

The balanced mix of strong story telling, nail-biting suspense, and skillful shooting sequences combine to make Dead Space: Extraction an exceptionally satisfying experience.  At no point did I feel like I was playing an inferior product merely because I was using my Wii, and in fact I am tempted to say that the prequel is a superior all round product to the first game in the series. If you don’t own a Wii, the game was released along with the PS3 collector’s edition of Dead Space 2, and will be available on the PSN shortly.  Fans of Dead Space can’t miss this title.

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