Monday, August 8, 2016

Extermination - Thoughts

[contains minor spoilers]

For as close as Dino Crisis stuck to the Resident Evil formula, it remained a memorable (and pretty enjoyable!) game because of it. Mikami's early survival horror style isn't designed for everybody in mind, but the way you're forced to conserve munitions and memorize important intersections is a unique touch that's integral to his design. Survival horror isn't intended to make you feel comfortable—the genre is supposed to stress you out but keep you moving, urging you to learn the intricacies of its mechanics as fast as you can, or doom your save to incompletion.

So what would a bad Resident Evil clone look like? If you've been searching for the answer to this question, look no further than Deep Space's Extermination.

Where to start with this? Swery65 is the brains behind Extermination, which should already provide ample gameplay concerns (I adore Deadly Premonition, but a fun game it is not). Akin to Carpenter's The Thing, the player is whisked off to an Antarctic base that's soon overrun by fleshy alien monstrosities. Despite the Metal Gear Solid 2 resemblance, Extermination most closely mimics Resident Evil, from the limited health pickups, to the constant backtracking, to the scores of notes to read, to the awkward combat, even down to resource-based saves. As you traverse through more of the complex and reunite with former friends, the facility will gradually get more corrupted and new enemies will begin to spawn into old areas... and that's the only commendable idea the game has.

Extermination botches everything else—the combat in particular is an unmitigated chore. You must manually aim to attack your opponents and their weak spots which discourages fighting early on (as it's much easier to run away), and as the game progresses the dollar store abominations gain more and more health. This leaves your gun and its mods feeling greatly ineffectual, especially since the respawning slug enemies are so numerous that it's often more dangerous to fight rather than flee. Add to this the fact that you must stand still to climb over obstacles or enter rooms and you have yourself a recipe for frustration.

To understand why this game can get so aggravating, you must first learn that there's essentially two health systems—your standard physical health percentage, and an infection percentage. Health is easily manageable since you'll come across a lot of pickups, but the infection rate of this game is downright unbalanced. Foes frequently increase the percentage by double digits when you get attacked, and when it reaches 100% you'll start to gradually lose HP (and get stunned when touching water, which is everywhere). Your only hope if that happens is to hobble back to a save room to cleanse yourself, but the much simpler solution is to just restart in order to keep your supplies intact. I know it doesn't sound too bad, but it's absolutely awful considering how often you'll be assaulted by those dastardly slugs. Good luck trying to escape from those slimy bastards too, as I found no reliable method to shake them off before they burst into neon green gas.

The story in Extermination is barely worth mentioning. There's really nothing interesting or unique here outside of the hilariously bad voice acting ("I'll give my LIFE to protect her"). Since the major conflict between the game's central characters happens off screen you're given no means to understand why Andrew is so important to everyone (what kind of guy was he? Why should we care if he died, or if Dennis feels guilty about it?). The most disappointing part about the story is that there's barely any narrative in the notes you find; whereas Resident Evil uses its notes to both provide information and expand its lore, Extermination primarily uses them to give you the most boring, unnecessary instructions possible. Want to read several pages on draining water from the basement of the facility when the solution is right in front of you? What about extensive military orders for characters that get one minute of screen time? How about a three page list of specifications for a 20mm gatling gun? A good indicator of how bungled the narrative delivery in this game is is that only near the end of the story do you discover what the monsters are even called.

Speaking of the end, I cannot understate how stupid the final battle is—it's really, really, really awful. It's only beatable through sheer brute force, as the second and third forms of the boss relentlessly pelt you with damage, meaning that if you have less than 6-8 healing items stocked up you're basically screwed. Despite my playtime being 3.5 hours total, that encounter alone took nearly two hours thanks to the dozens of retries it took me; rarely do I come across a section in a game where it legitimately feels like it wasn't playtested, but lo and behold, Extermination always finds a way to disappoint.

The uncanny similarity between last week's Wolverine and Extermination is that both games punish you for fighting its enemies, but whereas Wolverine is short enough to remain more entertaining than frustrating, Extermination is the exact opposite. Its combat is terrible, its world is boring, its story is barely amusing, and its level design is ultimately shallow (the battery packs are used for what, like four doors?). Every remotely interesting idea gets squished faster than the slugs in this game do—Extermination is arguably survival horror at its worst. Perhaps the only achievement I'll grant it is that—despite its best efforts—the game is at least beatable. Oh, and Roger's death is pretty good too.

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