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Extinction Review

What a very strange game Extinction is.  Occupying an odd middle ground between the indie trappings presented mostly by the title’s visuals and features and the full price point expected of a AAA production.  Simplifying in such a way does Extinction a disservice; it’s also brilliant fun.  Allow me to explain.

You probably know now about as much as I did when I first installed Extinction last week.  You may well remember that trailer from E3 with the really fast bloke that killed the giant green ogre and then it will have slipped out of your mind, along with 78,000 other interesting looking games shown that week.  Well you’ll probably be glad to know that first impressions from that trailer did not deceive.  This is a game all a about a rapid, lithe man slaying an entire race of viridescent giants.  Said behemoths are the Ravenii.  Their singular purpose is to wipe out humanity, one town at a time.

Our hero, Avil, is the last of an ancient race of Sentinels; the only one that can stop these brutes in their path.  And that’s the story in a nutshell really.  Every mission begins with some ramblings between Avil and one’s of Extinction’s secondary character where they explain what it is you’re supposed to be doing and provide a bit of exposition about how they’re feeling that day/ why their family died etc.  It’s voiced well enough but with absolutely no visual flourish whatsoever.  Conversations literally appear as talking heads at the bottom of the screen.  Every few stages or so, a slightly better animated video sequence pops up to try and give a bit of general backstory.  I’d be very surprised if you’re not reaching for the skip button (as I was) by the end of Act 1.

But, what of the actual giant murdering?  Well, that’s really rather good.  Avil is just as fast as he looked in that initial trailer, to the point that it really took me by surprise on mission 1 when I first got handed control. (NB: Go back to playing PUBG after a few days of Extinction and you feel like you’re in control of a snail!) Stages generally consist of our protagonist having to defend a settlement against impending destruction.  Maps are pretty big so you’ll find that speed is much needed.  Ravenii’s often spawn on the opposite end of human cities, so getting between the two (or 3, or 4!) is imperative to completing missions successfully.

Fortunately, the methods by which you traverse obstacles (aside from running really fast) are extremely well implemented and very easy to pick up.  Avil has a whip which hooks onto the branches of conveniently placed trees and hooks are placed appropriately spaced apart from one another to enable you to stay completely airborne for long periods if you so choose.  The sense of locomotion is fantastic it takes minimal skill to feel like a superhero as you spring from branch to building to ledge.

The Rune Strike is your other major tool; this is how you take down the Ravenii.  Approaching these giants, a squeeze on the left trigger will start a bullet time-like effect which draws the world around you to a crawl and allows you to target Ravenii appendages.  Releasing said trigger empowers Avil and lops one of the giant’s limbs off halting (in the case of a leg) or slowing (in the case of an arm) their hulking progress.  With their march suitably terminated, you’re tasked with leaping onto the ogre’s back and repeating your time bending trick; only this time ending in a decapitation!   Multiple chapters in, I still wasn’t bored of the squishy type sound effect that accompanies the amputations and bringing down something many hundreds of times your size remains wonderfully satisfying throughout.

Missions aren’t all fun and giant-slaying from the off though.  Your Rune Strike starts unpowered and must be charged up in game in order to activate the final killing blow.  There are a few methods by which you can do this – most notably by teleporting villagers out of harms way using a magic crystal.  Why the villagers are all gathered around these crystals (and how they even work!) is never explained.  It feels like a mechanic created in service of the game rather than having an actual reason for existing in Extinction’s lore.  That said, they do serve to generate tension.  It really is exciting, springing around the architecture desperate to find the next group of humans ready to be saved so you can go back and take down the last Ravenii, just before it destroys the last of the city you had to keep safe.

Objectives are variations on common themes.  Sometimes you’re tasked with taking down a certain number of Ravenii; other times its rescue a certain number of endangered people and occasionally you’ll need to kill a specific number of Jackals or Vultures: smaller cannon fodder type ne’er-do wells.  If this seems like it might become repetitive, that’s because it does, after a fashion.  Extinction just about holds this element together for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, levels are the very definition of pick up and play.  It’s rare to see a stage with a par time counter longer than 8 minutes.  This makes even abject failure seem like a minor obstacle because you know that at most, you’ve lost minutes of gameplay rather than hours.  My one caveat for this is that when you restart a level there are multiple, relatively short, unskippable cutscenes which really begin to grate once you’ve restarted the same mission for the 5th time.  Secondly, every few stages Extinction mixes things up by giving you a semi-procedurally generated level.  On the level select screen you get a spinner which selects at random, not only your type of terrain you’ll be fighting, but the bonus level objective.  It’s mostly just a veneer, but it changes things just enough to keep things interesting.

It does help that the veneer is a pretty one.  Everything has a hand drawn feel to it and when I describe the style as scrappy watercolour you probably won’t know what I mean until you see it in action for yourself.  I don’t mean it  derogatorily either, I very much enjoyed the visuals, spartan as they were at times – it was not a style I had come across before.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the lighter end of the scale RPG elements at work here too.  Avil’s abilities can almost all be upgraded.  Simple things like improving the efficiency of the teleporter or making you jump just that little bit higher make a big difference in your ability to get around the world.  You’re encouraged to grind already completed levels to progress in the story.  For once this doesn’t feel like a chore; such is speed at which you complete stages and the sheer fun involved in going back through older missions and watching as your new abilities make short work of things that were once extremely taxing.

If you don’t fancy repeating your earlier work, there are a few extra modes that will keep dedicated players occupied once the main yarn is completed.  Trials are speed runs through levels you have already cleared in the campaign.  They have some very challenging time limits and there will no doubt be players that get a kick out of seeing those through to the end.  Developer Iron Galaxy is also pushing down daily challenges which will test even those who have completed the story to the limit.  Finally, Extinction mode is an endless horde of Ravenii and their kin encouraging an online charge to the top of the leaderboards.

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