Joystiq impressions: Dead Space: Extraction

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The Dead Space: Extraction dev team would rather you didn't call its game an "on rails shooter." It prefers "guided first-person shooter experience." Whatever you decide to call it, there's no escaping (or being extracted from) the fact that this isn't a free-roaming FPS set in the Dead Space universe. Based on a recent live demo of the game we were given, though, it's clear this isn't a mindless shooting gallery, either.

Extraction builds not only on the audio-visual presentation of the original game -- and certainly looks & sounds the part -- but also on its unique gameplay mechanics, the most prominent of which being "strategic dismemberment." It also uses the Wii's controls to great effect, as we found during our 15 minutes in Hell (or something close and certainly scary, at least).

It was a little odd being guided through a "guided experience" (does that make this a hands-off-off preview?) but it actually gave us a chance to better appreciate our first look at the Wii-exclusive game.

There have been a lot of questions about Dead Space on Nintendo's console -- primarily "How will it look?" -- and this demo addressed many of them. So, with that said, how did it look? Really good. To put it bluntly, it looks like ... Dead Space. Sounds like it, too. The introductory setting we saw was completely in keeping with the original's art direction and, combined with the various sound effects (such as interacting with objects), immediately drew us back into the series' universe.

That's not to say the entire game will look just like the first; EA has promised a wide variety of settings that, while true to the universe, will be very different from those we've seen before.

Back to what we did see, the demo kicked off with some examples of item and environment interaction. As the player character moved forward according their "script," it was possible to use TK to grab power-ups, weapons, ammo and other items, such as video logs, which will once again play an integral role. Of course, just as in the original, TK can be used to pick up and throw crates, furniture and other elements in the environment, something that becomes very useful in keeping the many creatures at bay.

To that end, the stasis "beam" has also returned, and was used during the demo to slow monsters. (Though we suspect it will eventually be used on the environment to some degree, in keeping with the original.) While the game may follow a scripted path, there are "points of interest" pauses where players are able to freely look around using the Wii Remote and grab important items.

The game's designers have come up with a cool -- and obvious, really -- way of working the horizontal / vertical fire ability of some weapons into this game; and, in doing so, make strategic dismemberment work -- and work well. To squeeze off a blast that will "slice" vertically, players simply hold the Wiimote as usual. To cut horizontally, players twist the remote sideways, and the targeting reticule changes to reflect this. If anything, slicing up the game's ghastly creatures look much easier than in the PS3, 360 and PC original. Taking a, well ... paragraph from Gears of Wars' book, there's a timing-based reload mechanic that -- as in Epic's game -- lets players reload faster if they stop a bar (in this case on the reticule) within a set zone.

Though we didn't see any of them used, we were told the game will feature several new weapons. These, like the returning ones, can benefit from new "instant upgrade" pickups. Each weapon has several hexagonal "slots" which denote how powered-up they are. Given the "guided" nature of the game, this replaces the deeper workbench and power node mechanics of the original.

There were points when the dev "driving" the demo ran out of ammo -- just as players are likely to do -- which gave him a chance to show off melee attacks. They're performed by "slashing" with the Nunchuk and seemed effective enough to knock enemies back, if not damage them.

As with the original game, there's no on-screen display unless you want to bring it up or you become gravely injured. At that point, a small window displaying your health and ammo slides on screen. Another presentation aspect that's been brought over and actually tailored for this new experience is the holographic path that projects from the player character's hand onto the floor. This pops up when there are multiple paths to choose from; simply moving the reticule over one and pressing "A" selects it.

In the case of this demo at least, one path was more difficult than the other. The both led to a single end point (for the demo, at least): a pitch-black room obviously included to show off one more mechanic, the glow stick. Holding the Wiimote upright and waving it vigorously is the in-game equivalent of cracking and shaking a glow stick -- the player's only controllable light source in the game. The more it's shaken, the brighter it gets, casting an eerie green glow on the environment. It's still hard to see more than a few feet out, upping the scare factor.

The team says the very nature of the scripted experience has helped them create what they believe are scarier moments than were seen in the original. For example, players now progress through the game with a number of non-playable survivor characters. At one point, a scream came from behind us and the camera -- make that the character's eyes -- turned to catch a member of the party being pulled up into a ceiling vent as blood poured down.

We didn't get to see two-player co-op in action, so we're still not too sure how fun that new element will actually be. But from the demo we got of the solo "mission," Extraction has the elements to be more than a simple lightgun game and more of another adventure in the Dead Space universe those who enjoyed the survival-horror game will want to embark on -- and will probably be just as scared by.