The folks at Avalanche Studios are most famous for their Just Cause games but have been venturing out in different directions for the last few years. Leveraging their impressive Apex Engine, the studio has released a strong variety of games from The Hunter: Call of the Wild to Generation Zero. Fans of the latter will be interested in the latest offering from the studio under its new brand Systemic Reaction, dubbed Second Extinction.
Welcome to dino-Earth
While you were distracted, the future happened, and as luck would have it, things went really bad. The Earth is now a wasteland inhabited by roaming packs of pissed-off dinosaurs and only you and your tight crew of armed ruffians are up to the task of taking it back. The action takes place over a giant map divided into 7 areas and has several missions for players to partake in.
There are five different characters that can be selected for each mission, each specializing in a certain type of weapon and each with their own special abilities designed to turn the tide when things get dicey against the dinosaurs. The weapons are also upgradeable as you play and accumulate XP. As with any proper game available in 2020, there are also various cosmetic items available to allow for visual customization of your in-game avatar.
The overall structure of Second Extinction is similar to games like Deep Rock Galactic where teams get inserted into a mission and are given a specific task (or multiple tasks) and then ordered to extract safely. Side missions and alternate objectives litter the landscape should the mood strike you right. Completing these missions is easier said than done thanks to what seems to be millions of angry dinosaurs.
From your run-of-the-mill small raptors to hulking t-rexes and everything in between, the struggle to not be torn to shreds is ever-present. While you won’t have much trouble dispatching the first 15-20 attackers, you will often find yourself in increasingly larger messes. The dinos also attack in mixed groups with special ability raptors mixed in to keep things interesting. Some carry armored plates that have to be destroyed (or shot around), some have a weird electrical ability that allows them to warp around quickly to avoid fire. You also have acid spitters and larger stock that appear to emit concussive blasts.
It isn’t hard to get overwhelmed once the mixed packs surround you. Extra equipment like grenades can buy you time, but you’ll need to become familiar with the special abilities of each character to survive. They range from additional firepower to evasive maneuvers and can make or break an encounter. You also have access to replenishable stim packs to restore health and you can be revived by teammates when downed. Going solo seemed to be a death sentence during my playtime as the dinos didn't stop eating me once I was downed and no one was coming to save me.
Solo play is currently an option, but you’d have to be a real masochist to work through the map in this fashion. Things are tuned for group play at the moment, though this could change in the future. Some areas of the map are less intense than others and can be seen prior to selecting missions. A feature known as War Effort will dynamically shape map difficulty and dino density based on how well the community at large does each week of play. Should the player base fail to push back against the dinosaurs, the devs promise some sort of brutal Emergence Event as punishment.
On the visual side of things, there is a lot to like. Avalanche Studios veterans will quickly recognize the familiar look of the Apex Engine and Second Extinction is certainly capable of flexing the engine’s strengths. In particular, the particle effects for snow are outstanding. Dynamic weather and lighting also add to the immersion and the vast map size is akin to what was seen in the recent Just Cause games and The Hunter: Call of the Wild maps. Load times were nearly non-existent and I got solid performance on my PC at the heist settings when using the dynamic resolution feature.
Second Extinction is launching into Steam Early Access this week and arrives on some stable footing. The developers are promising that the game will evolve as it moves towards full release based on community feedback and that additional missions, modes, and content are on the current roadmap. It has solid gunplay, a large world, and a strong pedigree. If things go right over the early access period, Second Extinction could turn heads. Just make sure you bring a couple of friends if you actually have intentions of making it out alive.
These impressions are based on the Steam Early Access version of the game. The product key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Second Extinction launches into Steam Early Access on October 13, 2020.