Dead Space Extraction Preview

The announcement of a Dead Space game on the Wii was initially met with more trepidation than excitement from fans of the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of the game. On one hand, Wii owners have every reason to be excited about having a game full of bloody zombie aliens instead of doe-eyed, super deformed children. On the other hand, some of us had legitimate concerns about how well the dark atmosphere and excellent presentation of the original would hold up on the technically inferior Wii hardware.

I played Dead Space Extraction recently at a pre-E3 press event at the Electronic Arts offices in Los Angeles and was pleasantly surprised at just how great the game looks and plays. Once you accept the inherent limitations of the game's rail-shooter design and start shooting aliens and watching them explode in gory, satisfying fashion, you might start enjoying Dead Space Extraction almost in spite of yourself.

Marketing folks try to spin the game as a "guided first-person adventure", but Dead Space Extraction is nothing more than a rail-shooter. Extraction bears more than just a passing resemblance to the classic House of the Dead series of arcade shooting games. While EA's game does take itself more seriously than Sega's series of campy zombie shooting games, aside from a more somber tone and vastly superior voice acting, the games are almost interchangeable.

You play Dead Space Extraction from a first-person perspective, pointing the Wii Remote at the screen to aim a reticle at various objects and enemies in the environment. Movement is taken care of for you, so all you have to worry about is aiming, picking up items, and completing the occasional minigame.

The demo I played started off in a small space craft approaching the ship Ishimura. The ship is under quarantine, and its inhabitants aren't exactly rolling out the welcome wagon when you arrive. As my ship approached the Ishimura of its own volition, I was tasked with shooting projectiles out of the air. This section only lasted a couple minutes, and wasn't especially difficult.

After boarding the Ishimura I watched a brief cutscene of four characters suiting up to enter the quarantined ship. As the cutscenes play out you can look around at your surroundings with the analog stick on the nunchuk, but you can't do much else. There are four playable characters in Dead Space Extraction, each of whom you'll control at different points throughout the story.

As I entered the darkened hallways of the Ishimura I quickly got a feel for the controls. Pointing the Wii Remote at the screen and pressing B fires your weapon. Each weapon also has an alternate fire mode that you can use by tilting the remote sideways when you fire. I used a flamethrower, arc welder, and line gun in the demo, and it was easy to switch between weapons using the D-pad on the remote. There are 10 total weapons in the game, each with an alternate fire mode, and you can hold up to four weapons at a time.

There are items scattered all over the Ishimura, including weapons, ammo crates, and health pickups. Using the Wii Remote to aim and pressing the A button, you can use your kinesis ability, which allows you pick up items or otherwise interact with the environment without actually deviating from the pre-set path. Because you don't have control over the movement of your character, it can be easy to miss items. However, that didn't seem to matter much when I played, because I never came close to running out of health or ammo.

The game walks you through room to room, stopping at key areas to throw a few waves of menacing alien necromorphs at you. Strategic dismemberment still plays a role in the game, and I found it much easier to take down enemies by aiming at their legs to slow them down, then finishing them off as they flail about on the floor. I only encountered a handful of enemies at a time, but it always seemed enough to keep the action moving without feeling overwhelming.

Just as in the first Dead Space, the Ishimura is a dark and claustrophobic setting. This time you can shake the Wii Remote to activate a "glow worm" item, which briefly lights up the area so you can see your enemies. The light is so weak that it's almost useless, and I seemed to do just fine blasting away in the dark.

At one point in the game I was given the choice between two distinct paths through the level. Supposedly these branching paths will provide incentive to replay the game to experience different events and areas in each level. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to actually play both paths, but according to one of the on-hand reps from EA, one path was slightly shorter than the other.

Later in the demo I came upon an elevator that could only be activated by completing a simple minigame. I had to soldier a circuit board to bring the elevator back online. The circuit board is a simple maze-like diagram with several inter-connected nodes. You have to use the Wii Remote to trace a line from one node to the next without touching any of the moving red lines on the board. It's similar to a game of Operation, requiring a steady hand to avoid touching the sides and having to start over.

While the gameplay is very basic in Dead Space Extraction, the presentation is excellent and it certainly lives up to its pedigree. The Ishimura is a creepy place, and the lighting and sound effects do a great job of heightening the tension. The environments are nicely detailed and the frame rate seems to hold up well even with several enemies and special effects on screen.

Dead Space Extraction looks to continue the story and further flesh out the world established in the original, and that alone might be reason enough to play it. But whether you play it for the story, or play it just because you feel like shooting some aliens, at the very least Dead Space Extraction will provide some respite from the rest of the sickly sweet Wii software lineup.

Dead Space Extraction is scheduled to be released for the Wii in Q4 2009.