Review: Extinction

Iron Galaxy has built a reliable reputation primarily as a contract studio porting games from larger developers to other platforms, but up to now the studio’s own titles have been smaller, indie-scale projects like Divekick and Wreckateer. Both of which were really fun. Extinction, the studio’s latest original title about scaling and dismembering enormous, scantily-clad ogres and orcs, shows a major jump up in ambition for the team, swinging for the fences with a spiked club the size of a AAA skyscraper. Unfortunately, like Giancarlo Stanton thus far into his debut season in pinstripes for the New York Yankees, the game strikes out far more often than it homers or even makes solid contact.

The main problem reveals itself right away. And by right away I mean within the first 10-15 minutes. Simply put, the game is excruciatingly shallow, thirsting for a broader sense of depth and strategy and variation that is never quenched throughout the life of its 4-6 hour campaign and any subsequent time spent with the complementary side modes.

Extinction takes place in a fantasy world–colorfully stylized like a cross between Warcraft and Warhammer with a dash of anime flair–where humans are at war with a race of orc-like creatures, giants the size of castles called Ravenii, as well as their smaller, human-size minions known as Jackals. As Avil, one of mankind’s mythical protectors known as Sentinels, you are tasked with defending towns and rescuing hapless citizens from annihilation by the invading brutes. Though its motion-comic-style cutscenes are beautifully animated, the story itself isn’t worth paying attention to beyond what I just outlined. There is an eventual twist that makes you look at the greater conflict in a different light, but nothing that happens leading up to that point or occurs thereafter does enough to make you care.

The campaign has about as much depth as the type of campaign mode that’s slapped onto multiplayer FPSs as a means to provide some way for solo players to participate, where you do nothing but play through a glorified progression of deathmatches against bots on different maps. The same holds true here: You’re dumped into one of a handful of different maps with one primary objective that must be completed, one to three bonus objectives that are optional but reward additional skill points for unlocking new abilities between missions, and then a recycled loop of killing ‘X’ number of Jackals and traipsing around to portal crystals to warp ‘X’ number of immobilized citizens out of danger before they’re slaughtered. Ravenii behemoths will periodically spawn onto the battlefield, proceeding to smash and stomp through cities and countrysides filled with cookie-cutter building layouts, each attack putting a dent in the extinction gauge. Avil can die and respawn repeatedly, but you can’t allow the map’s extinction percentage to drop to zero, or else it’s game over.

In addition to the story mode, the game offers Daily Challenge missions with high score leaderboards, one-off, randomized Skirmishes, civilian Rescue Run time trials, and the titular Extinction mode, an endless survival challenge where your leaderboard score is calculated based on Ravenii and Jackals killed, civilians rescued, and armor/limbs removed. Other than Rescue Run, which is more platform-y and traversal oriented, the campaign missions and what’s offered in these secondary modes stick to the same tired gameplay loop. Everything about the level and mission design feels mass produced through a tileset randomizer, not cared for in a handcrafted way.

At its core, Extinction is a dead simple Dynasty Warriors-lite hack-and-slash–with stronger arcade action sensibilities mind you–only the screen-filling waves of enemy soldiers are replaced by colossal monstrosities towering far beyond the screen’s boundaries. The base combat mechanics are pretty solid, if mostly reliant on mashing buttons and partially automated interactions. Where the mundane task of slashing through braindead trash mobs feels entirely superfluous, the act of taking out a Ravenii is at first exciting and novel. Though missions are confined to small maps, the dwarfing scale of the Ravenii instils an initial sense of fear and being completely outmatched and overwhelmed. Until the rote predictability of everything sets in after a few minutes.

Using the Rune Strike mechanic, you’re able to hold a button to slow down time and gravity, pulling up a reticle to target a Ravenii’s vital points (the arms and legs), releasing the button when the reticle glows to have Avil slice through the air and sever the targeted limb in one fell swoop. Early Ravenii strut around with naught but a loin cloth and exposed vitals, but eventually they begin to wear armored anklets, bracers, pauldrons, and helmets that must first be removed, either from direct strikes or by busting away multiple padlocks holding the armor pieces in place. Destroying armor, severing limbs, killing Jackals, and saving civilians fill up your Rune Strike energy, and only once the meter is full are you able to target a Ravenii’s neck for the kill shot beheading.

Systematically chopping a Ravenii down to size is satisfyingly gruesome for maybe the first half-dozen times, but even as their armored defenses become more complex the process to take them down never truly changes. Chop off limbs, break armor, rescue civilians, mop up fodder, execute the Ravenii when the energy meter is full, then do all that same stuff over and over until the mission goal has been fulfilled. This is no Shadow of the Colossus, folks, where every single colossus has unique weak point locations and traversal strategies to solve. Here, once you’ve slain one Ravenii, you’ve slain them all. Secondary objectives, such as not dying, finishing within a time limit, severing two limbs without touching the ground, and executing a Ravenii with all four limbs missing, try to spice things up, but even with modifiers there’s no sense of evolution to any of the systems. Sometimes you need to defend specific towers from being destroyed for a certain period of time, but doing so still just boils down to repeating the same steps to keep the map free of Ravenii.

I could have potentially considered forgiving the lack of depth had other parts of the game excelled, but mechanically there are plenty of issues to contend with in just getting Avil to do what you want him to do with any consistency. The game so desperately wants to put you in the skin of this fantasy superhero figure by empowering you to run up buildings and propel through the air with double-jumps, aerial dashes and glides, and even a grapple whip for proper human slingshotting off of trees and ledges. However, fidgety controls and a squirrely camera undermine your ability to feel like an almighty badass.

There’s an auto-latching mechanic that sticks Avil to whatever object is near, so in crowded spaces you’re constantly hanging on walls or bouncing off of trees without any desire to do so. Trying to scale the Ravenii is often an exercise in frustration, as Avil is prone to getting stuck in an arm pit, under a leg, or in some other crevice, blocking the camera and thwarting your ascent. Sometimes you’ll be running up a Ravenii’s backside, only to detach and fall back down to earth for no apparent reason. After landing a rune strike, Avil launches backwards so you have the opportunity to slow time and target another weak point in mid-air, but frequently this interrupts your next action by rebounding you into latching onto another part of the giant’s body. There’s a choppiness and inconsistency to the controls that never allows you to get into a fluid, reliable rhythm. Failure always feels like it’s caused by poor design, not player fault.

Poor visibility also makes avoiding attacks a major issue. As you’re almost always under the feet of the ogres, with limited visibility of what their doing with their upper body, it’s hard to predict when they’re about to smash down and crush you. You can see when their feet raise for a stomp attack, but it’s difficult to keep track of their arms. A “Spidey sense” danger indicator appears around Avil’s head when there’s a threat, but you’re often still blind to where the attack is coming from and how imminent it actually is, so timing a dodge-roll out of harm’s way often feels like pure luck, made all the more infuriating because direct Ravenii smashes cause one-hit death.

Needless to say, this game is plagued with problems. Its shallow mechanics are built on a foundation of rinse-repeat, off-the-assembly-line mission design and sloppy, unrefined controls and camera movement. Extinction is a hollow husk of a game, like the developers conceptualized this awesome idea, designed a functional prototype demonstrating the potential, but then got stuck on how to build their ambitious proof of concept into a fully formed game. For all of its woes, I can see a very limited audience of players finding a certain level of guilty pleasure enjoyment similar to other fluff gaming experiences like Dynasty Warriors, where what you do in the first five minutes is basically what you do for however many minutes or hours put in thereafter. In all fairness, I gave the game more of my time than it probably deserved, sticking with the campaign to the end for about six hours, and then putting another few hours into the side modes, trying my damnedest to find a silver lining somewhere, teased by what could’ve been when pockets of legitimate awe and entertainment would strike. Too bad those moments were so few and far between.

SkipIt

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also on PS4 and Xbox One
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Iron Galaxy
Release Date: 4/10/2018
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

Source: A Steam key for Extinction was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by Modus Games.

Buy From: Amazon.com, Steam, PlayStation Store, and Microsoft Store for $59.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!