Developers Iron Galaxy are, perhaps, better known for their work for other developers than their own games. Whilst their own titles include Wreckateer, Divekick and Videoball, they have worked on everything from Borderlands to Destiny for other studios. Extinction is their latest effort, and is easily their largest game to date.
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Moat
Extinction is a third person action game that sees you taking on the role of The Sentinel, a somewhat fabled protector of the people. Because it wouldn’t be much of a game if it was about a retired protector of the people, there is a monstrous horde that threatens the land. This horde takes the form of the usual smaller fantasy creatures, and also giant orc-like monsters, called the Ravenii. The real meat is in the killing of these giants beasts. You have to destroy their armor, and chop off their limbs, to build up your energy. When the bar is full you can decapitate one of the giants, neatly killing them. One of the things implemented very well is scale. These monsters feel huge and imposing when you first fight them.
You also need to kill the Ravenii while fighting smaller creatures, rescuing civilians, stopping various towns and cities from being destroyed, and generally doing the type of heroic stuff that heroes do. Story is delivered largely via on screen text, with voice overs, and little pictures of the person talking. While the story is largely standard fantasy fare, and the voice acting is actually quite good, the delivery system largely undercuts any weight in the narrative. There are occasional animated cut scenes, but these are few and far between.
One of Extinction‘s highlights is certainly the movement system. You can grapple your way around the level, bouncing from tree top to tree top with some highly impressive parkour skills. You will need to take advantage of this, as part of the challenge is balancing not just the various things you’re asked to do, but also the general random nature of the environment itself. Levels are less designed than they are generated, with random challenges and map types coming together to generate the missions. This is certainly a novel system, but like many other features, it is not without its problems. Sometimes you can just get a bad combo of objective and map, meaning you need to quit out and effectively re-roll the level. A fine example of this was when I was tasked with killing six Ravenii before they could destroy the town on the map. The problem was there were only about six buildings generated on that particular map type.
Heads Will Roll
Overall, the premise of Extinction is interesting, and there are enough neat ideas at play that I really did enjoy some of my time with it. What is lacking is polish. While movement is largely smooth, how the character behaves on ledges can be infuriating, and it is far too common to encounter certain types of surface that you just can’t climb. There is no real reason for this beyond trying to force you into taking certain routes. When freedom of movement is part and parcel of a game, this just seems like a foolish callback to how other games have done things.
Combat against the smaller monsters feels almost pointless, as they simply don’t provide enough energy to make fighting them worthwhile. I normally found it better to run to civilians, hold the key I needed to spirit them away and just ignore the small creatures. The real selling point of Extinction, fighting the giant Ravenii, also has its share of issues. Different Ravenii have different types of armor that will be harder or easier to break. Once you have it broken, you can lop off a limb, then repeat this for other body parts until you build up enough energy to deliver a killing blow. Sadly, though, all the Ravenii are, by and large, the same creature, just with mild differences each time.
I found there to be an annoying pattern with armor parts I needed to hit to destroy these beasts being hidden by their own animations. Need to get at a lock on the arm? Tough luck, it’s folded in such a way that you cannot possible hit it. The worst were locks placed on the front of a monster’s helmet. Their erratic movements meant it was mostly luck that the beast wouldn’t just turn around when I jumped in front of its face. Add in the fact that you need to recharge your Killing Strike each time you use it, and missions become a constant repeat of the same actions, to achieve the same ends, with the same mild frustrations each time. Climbing the creatures can be wonky, and jumping from them to try to hit armor is too close to a leap of faith to feel rewarding.
Looks wise, I really did like the cartoon style of the graphics. Things are easily readable, threats and objectives are very easy to make out, which is important when you are moving at high speed. It also ran very smoothly, with no frame drops during the action. However, there are issues even here. The Ravenii are so large that fighting them means a lot of the beast will be off screen. There is absolutely no indicator of an incoming blow, either from the giant Ravenii or the smaller monsters. This means you can get hit by things you cannot see. Some of the massive Ravenii will do area of effect attacks, but these will not really be marked either. Most of the time it felt a little random as to whether something hit me or not. I did enjoy the fact that these huge creatures could one-shot me; it felt like a vital part of the threat of fighting such enormous enemies. Any kind of on-screen indicator of an incoming blow would have made me feel like it was more a game of skill, and less a game of chance.
Despite the core element of Extinction being fighting the large Ravenii, this rapidly becomes samey, partially because of those small frustrations I mentioned earlier. Nothing is really as smooth as it should be, from scaling one of the beasts to delivering a killing blow. The combat, while fast and sometimes fluid, also lacks weight. Chopping the head off a Ravenii feels no different that fighting the smaller creatures that accompany them.
The Path To Progress
While you can upgrade your character using skill points that you earn during play, most of the upgrades feel notably lackluster. An increased mini map range doesn’t help much due to the fundamental flaws of the mini map. It doesn’t show topographical detail, something vital for a game about moving fast, nor does it show objective height in relation to the player. You can run into a cave seeking civilians, only to find it empty because civilians are actually on top of the cliff you are now under. In a game where time and threat management are important, it’s not the strongest look to offer poorly thought out systems that cost precious seconds. The one skill you really want (a way to feel more powerful) is a way to kill Ravenii faster, but that never really comes. It seems like the designers hit upon a core power fantasy of quick movement and giant fighting, but never discovered a way to take that into deeper territory.
There is an interesting concept here, and much of the execution is fun, but a lack of polish and depth, with no real effort to expand upon the core mechanics, means missions rapidly fall into the trap of feeling repetitive. Extinction is filled with neat ideas, like balancing fighting the Ravenii with the threats to civilians, but never finds a way to make anything other than facing the biggest threat make sense. I can’t help but wonder what experience might be like if more of the levels were more consciously designed, rather than relying on randomness to try and generate interest. It would also have been nice to see a much broader range of giant enemies. When you are told a Revenii is spawning in, there is no real surprise waiting for you. Not knowing if it was going to be a giant orc, or a massive golem, or even some giant insect, would really increase tension.
The simple truth is that the repetition casts a harsh light on the problems and lack of polish in Iron Galaxy’s largest product to date. While Extinction certainly has some style, it’s lacking in substance and polish.