Second Extinction Early Access Review: A Raptor-ous Debut
For all of the fanfare they receive in Crichton novels and their blockbuster movie adaptations, dinosaurs are surprisingly underutilized in the video games space. Capcom seems content to sit on their Dino Crisis IP and while ARK includes them in its broader but messy survival game it's virtually alone in casting the giant beasts in a game. You have to go pretty far back to find much else in the dinosaur genre.
There's definitely space for a new take on the dinosaur sub-genre to leave its mark. Second Extinction, like a tyrannosaurus rex stomping through the mud of Jurassic Park, does just that — even if it's just in Early Access.
With intense, cooperative action as the ever-rumbling engine behind this still-growing dino shooter, Systemic Reaction has found a way to bring life to a promising FPS.
Second Extinction Early Access Review: A Raptor-ous Debut
One of the first things to notice about Second Extinction is how gorgeous it is.
At launch, players choose a pre-designed hero from a list of four characters. Each of them serves as a familiar but remixed archetype, like Rosy who acts as both a minigun-wielding tank and the group's healer, or Ortega who is both nimble and deadly with a unique ability to dual-wield primary weapons instead of carrying a pistol as her sidearm.
Each round of cooperative play is built around teams of three, and while you can load out with duplicate characters, the best teams utilize the complementary skill sets of three of four heroes in every round.
That also means you'll always be one shy of a full four-person team, even among the most diverse teams, which leaves you vulnerable in an interesting way. You're always needing to make up for a deficiency somewhere depending on who you're missing.
One of the first things to notice about Second Extinction is how gorgeous it is. Systemic Reaction is a team within Avalanche, the same studio behind Just Cause and the co-developers of Rage 2, and their experience in making gorgeously lit, sprawling worlds is immediately on display. It's all built on Avalanche's proprietary Apex engine, which allows the fast-paced gunplay to shine with a smooth framerate and impressive draw distance.
That said, the vast world does lack variety at launch. Much of the map can be described as snowy mountainous terrain with only the occasional human-made encampment and dinosaur-filled cave to break up the scenery.
In time, I hope for more visual and topographical diversity.
While the world is beautiful, the dinosaurs are not. These hideous mutations sometimes have the names of real-life extinct creatures like raptors and the T-rex, but the loose sci-fi story playing as the game's backdrop has resulted in colorful tendrils, glowing underbodies, and vibrating red pheromones that fill more submissive breeds with rage.
On one hand, these dinosaurs look something as if the Lisa Frank brand targeted boys in the 1990s instead of girls, but given the setup and how they seem to have just appeared one day — leading to the fall of our kind — I find myself forgiving of the B-movie design because it's in keeping with the world the exaggerated survivors live in.
What I'm more appreciative of is the game's relentlessness. There are few moments of salvation in Second Extinction, especially if you don't have a full team. In fact, if you plan to play it solo, find a new way to spend your time. It's virtually impossible, as the hordes that rush you at every objective location across the open-ended map are massive and overwhelmingly fast.
A two-player squad is where you can start to consider it playable, but it really is best played in a full team, and I say that as someone who hears that about other games a lot and still finds fun in playing solo.
Second Extinction doesn't fit that bill. It is non-stop punishment for solo players. I'm not sure if that's by design or if it needs to be scaled better, but this is Early Access, so, for now, I'm willing to keep playing with others and see how it evolves.
With several replayable missions that can vary in certain ways, such as where and when the dinosaurs arrive, Second Extinction earns some of the Left 4 Dead comparisons it's received since its reveal earlier this year, but it's quite different enough to stand on its own, too.
Primarily, this comes down to the game's upgrade system. Every success in the game earns you XP and Research points, while special breeds of dinosaurs drop rare biological loot, like claws, that you are meant to collect. As you work through the massive world, hitting only the main objective or as many side attractions as you wish, the end goal is to rack up a lot of these credits.
Both successes and team wipes will reward you for your time, though you get much more for making it to the extraction dropship. I immediately found the loot and XP to be well worth the trouble because the unlocks they bring are powerful. New weapon types allow you to customize loadouts, while Research points can be spent however you wish to improve guns.
I focused on the standard assault rifle with my early upgrades and after just one round, I noticed a huge improvement in how efficiently it could dispatch the countless dinosaurs jumping at my face — much like the Jurassic Park arcade game.
Though it's made by a different team within its parent company, Second Extinction reminds me of a more explosive, more polished Generation Zero.
While the missions available for now can feel a bit lacking due to some repetitive objectives — destroy nests, collect eggs, find your deceased crew, etc. — I've found the pull of these upgrades to be more than enough to keep me invested so far. Because improvements are blatant with every unlock, the game can shift from one where you're outnumbered and outclassed to one where you're daring the most daunting tasks, like taking down a T-rex, to earn the best loot.
In that way, it's more like a Destiny than Left 4 Dead, and it's this unexpected marriage of the two genre frontrunners that makes Second Extinction interesting right away.
Though it's made by a different team within its parent company, Second Extinction reminds me of a more explosive, more polished Generation Zero. It was that 2019 game that betrayed my strong enthusiasm at its own rocky launch and only recently became the game I was hoping it would be a year and a half later. Maybe that's helped shaped Second Extinction as an Early Access game and helped it deliver a much stronger debut in the process.
It's that simple distinction — "Early Access" — that has me at once forgiving of its faults and hopeful for its future. There is surely room to improve things like mission structure and Systemic Reaction has already shared some of the Second Extinction post-launch roadmap, including more game modes, new augmentations, and party buffs for each mission.
I'd also hope to see more diversity come to the world map. New heroes and weapons seem likely, though the team isn't speaking to those areas just yet.
Second Extinction Early Access Review — The Bottom Line
- Fast-paced, smooth gunplay built perfectly for co op
- Complementary heroes allow for varied squads
- Addictive upgrade system with great rewards
- Open-world lacks variety
- Mission objectives also need more diversity
As easy as it is to point to Second Extinction's deficiencies, it's even easier to see all the fun already present at launch. In time, this Early Access game may grow into one of 2021's best co op shooters. It has many of those pieces already thanks to a fun cast of heroes who offset teammates in useful ways and a deep upgrade system that is hard to step away from.
Trusting that the future of Second Extinction brings recurring and rewarding updates, I have no doubts this will be a game many, including myself, will stomp around in for a long time.
[Note: Systemic Reaction provided the copy of Second Extinction used for this Early Access review.]