Extinction Review: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall
You know the drill: the world is under-threat by giant monsters, a mysterious device is needed to stop them, and it's up to you to do it. However, while the latest release by Killer Instinct developers Iron Galaxy certainly follows some basic video gaming tropes, it also attempts to forge its own path. How exactly? By combining some rather disparate gameplay elements into a single entity in hopes of creating something entirely different. But is it successful in its ambitious attempts?
Extinction follows the story of protagonists Avil and Xandra in their quest to bring peace back to their lands. In their way are monolithic ogres called Ravenii -- huge beasts that roam the plains destroying everything in sight. With the help of King Yarrow, the two powerful allies must overcome the odds and save the city of Dolorum using a mysterious device.
As for the player, you take control of Avil, one of the last remaining warriors in the Sentinel order -- a special forces-type group which possesses incredible ability. The main goals are to save the people, protect the cities, and wipe out the Ravenii once and for all. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay has you doing these very things -- but not much else.
All of the missions you undertake revolve around the same types of goals. Protect the watchtowers for said amount of time, don't allow a certain number of civilians to perish, and defeat a specified amount of Ravenii to proceed through the story. And that's it really (except for some other game modes we'll talk about a bit later). There's not much in the way of variety when it comes to the tasks you have to undertake which, ultimately, hurts Extinction in the long term.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight of the game comes when you go toe-to-toe with the massive Ravenii. While fighting the much smaller Jackals is certainly the hors d'oeuvres, battling it out with these titans is most definitely the main course. In fact, dissecting these foes is the most morbidly satisfying thing about Extinction. What's more, you'll take on different permutations of Ravenii as you progress through the game, meaning you'll have to rethink your strategy on the fly.
These moments are when Extinction shines brightest. Deftly zipping around the beast using your whip, smashing its pieces of armor with your Rune Strike, and dismembering it limb from limb like a sadist. It's nowhere near on the same scale as Shadow of the Colossus, but there's no denying the satisfaction that comes from defeating the Ravenii, especially when you come across tougher ones with impenetrable armor.
Visually, Extinction is actually quite pleasant to look at. The colors pop from the screen with a vibrancy that gives the game a distinct look and feel. The stages themselves feature several buildings which are all completely destructible -- and they even manage to look pretty when they're been smashed into dust!
It may look cutesy from the outset, but this fast-paced title is just as gory as a Quentin Tarantino movie when the action gets underway. Blood sprays from foes with every swing of the sword, splattering onto those same cute looking surfaces you fawned over before. They say never judge a book by its cover -- Extinction is living proof of that sentiment.
Despite its over-the-top violence, Extinction actually displays a level of subtlety in its design, not least when it comes to the Ravenii. The monsters are all incredibly detailed, each sporting visceral appearances which change from beast to beast. From their weapons to their armor, the Ravenii certainly make for a striking image.
Unfortunately, though, this third-person action title does itself a disservice by not giving the player more incentive to continue playing. The objectives, mechanics, and structures that were in-place in Chapter One are virtually the same as the ones you'll encounter in Chapter Five -- a stagnation of ideas with regards to how missions play out.
This repetition is Extinction's main downfall. Rescue civilians. Take down Ravenii. Protect city. Repeat. There's just not enough ingenuity to keep things fresh going into the latter stages of the game. Even taking down the Ravenii can become a chore due to the sometimes problematic camera angles and inconsistent climbing mechanic.
The game attempts to spice things up with some side-missions. However, I use that word lightly. These missions are pretty unimaginative it has to be said, and they don't really add much to the overall feeling of accomplishment apart from rewarding you with some SP (Skill Points) which can be used to upgrade Avil's abilities.
On the topic of upgrades, there are various ways in which Avil can be improved. Whether it's unlocking new combos or boosting a health meter, the skills menu is your go-to for all things upgradable. The aforementioned SP can be obtained by completing the various tasks that litter the game's chapters.
However, none of the upgrades will improve the combat in the game. Battles consist of just two buttons: square and circle. The former attacks while the latter dodges... and that's about the extent of it. Yes, no special attacks, no power-ups, just the basics. It's unfortunate, too, because some of the action is quite slick, yet, there's not enough variety -- inevitably leading to some encounters becoming dull and uneventful.
Iron Galaxy have attempted to insert some variables into the missions with the randomly generated stages that occur later on in the game. These alter everything, from the environment and the enemies to the actual objectives themselves. This does give it a bit more of an air of unpredictability, but there aren't enough possible options to really give it that limitless feeling that proceduarlly generated maps do in most other games.
Randomly generated missions certainly make missions tougher, but to be honest, they were already tough to begin with. Yes, one of the first things you'll notice when booting up Extinction is that it doesn't suffer fools gladly. It's very much time-based, demanding severe focus from the start of the mission to the end. There's tougher games on the market, but not by much.
You see, there are a few conditions which have to be considered while you're skimming across trees slicing and dicing foes. In the top right-hand corner you'll see a percentage for the city. Should this reach 0%, you'll fail the objective and be forced to start from the very beginning again. Unsurprisingly, this can be frustrating after a few tries.
It can feel unfair at the start, but things begin to get easier once you've come to the realization that you need to make every second count. It's not so much the mighty Ravenii which are the main enemy, but rather, the clock. Nonetheless, it's a refreshing change of pace from the easy difficulty levels of some other games of its ilk. It's not for the faint of heart -- and it wants you to know that from the very first chapter.
Despite all of this, one department where Extinction deserves praise is replay value. It wants to keep you around after the credits have rolled through its Extra Modes sub-menu. Here you will find some delicacies to indulge in after you've completed the story, such as the Extinction and Skirmish game modes.
Extinction tasks the player with killing as many enemies as possible with no respawns, while Skirmish is completely randomly generated -- also allowing the player to compare their scores with friends. There's even a Trials mode which becomes available after the third chapter, which has the player completing missions in the fastest possible time.
Throw in a Daily Challenge mode for good measure, and you've got a title which aims to sink its sharp claws into you for far longer than just one playthrough. There's a lot of longevity here even if the modes don't add a whole lot to the core experience. For those that like the story mode, they'll be glad to know that these bonus modes are pretty much more of the same.
Developers Iron Galaxy should be applauded for their ambitious vision here, and when the game hits its stride, it's very reminiscent of the best moments of its greatest inspirations in the genre. However, when it's not delivering the goods, Extinction can seem just like any other standard hack 'n' slash title.
Lengthy load times, a clunky camera system, and the odd technical glitch here and there doesn't help its cause. Yet, buried underneath the rubble is a rather fun little title. And with the likelihood of updates in the near future, there's every chance that it could be improved upon with time.
Overall, Extinction is a solid enough effort that's unfortunately let down by uninspired mission design and repetitive gameplay mechanics. If you can see past these faults, though, you may find that it's more than serviceable with what it provides. Just don't go expecting a new God of War or Devil May Cry -- you may come away sorely disappointed.
(Note: Writer was granted a press copy of Extinction for the purposes of this review.)