So I picked up a copy of Extermination a week or so ago, and was able to play through the game pretty quickly (in about four or fives hours), and that made me think about and then eventually do a pretty long write-up about Survival Horror essentials, but even though it inspired the piece Extermination only really got mentioned in passing. I liked the game though, so I thought I'd do a short write-up about how the game plays.
Extermination is a PS2 Survival Horror game that follows the story of a squad of marines who are sent to investigate a top-secret Antarctic research base when contact is lost with the facility; unbeknownst to them the scientists at the facility have been working on reviving a prehistoric bacteria frozen in an alien artifact for thousands of years. This bacteria is unleashed on the facility, revealing itself to be a pseudo-intelligent lifeforce capable of infecting and mutating living creatures and turning them into monsters, driven only by the urge to in-turn infect others.
Now, granted even at the time I'm not sure the description sounded particularly ground-breaking, and you can probably already tell where Extermination is taking its cues from in terms of story – The Thing mostly, but nevertheless I found it interesting as it also borrows a lot from the Resident Evil games in terms of the general outline of the plot and the way events progress in the game. You have similar sorts of boss fights, and you spend much of the game doing those same sorts of fetch quests.
Overall the game could pass for being pretty forgettable for some (especially if the dialogue has anything to say about it!), but for a Survival Horror fan, and especially a fan of a lot of the mechanics at work in a Resident Evil game I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of the nice little things the game does differently.
The game features a fairly unusual enemy dynamic – whereas most games would have you fighting pretty fearsome or imposing enemies right off the bat, Extermination doesn't. For the first, maybe forty minutes, you don't really meet any of the usual sort of man-sized enemies you might expect.
Much of the first quarter of the game is actually spent avoiding or hunting down these small, leech-like creatures, that slide absently across the scenery and whose only real aggressive action is to spit infectious liquid at you. I'm guessing that probably sounds kind of dumb, and not all that exciting, and individually the creatures really aren't much of a threat – or atleast they don't seem it, but it's more a cumulative thing.
A big part of the game is your having to avoid getting infected, because if you do get infected then you have very little time (or the supplies) to get to somewhere where you can cure yourself. Though individually the 'bugs' (atleast that's what the game calls them, they look more like leeches) don't offer much of a challenge, as a group they can be very dangerous, and they often swarm areas in large numbers – and a fair few of the areas are dark and claustrophobic, just the sort of situation where you might find yourself slipping up.
For the type of game it is, telling the type of story it is, it actually works really well. The game centres around the idea of this infection getting out, yeah? And how do we often think about disease or infection working? Often we imagine a single case of whatever it is infecting somebody, then that spreading to other individuals, before it explodes outward and becomes incredibly dangerous as it spreads to the general populous. The virus in the story works a lot like this, and the way the gameplay and levels – and enemy progression, is designed reflects this really well.
Though the leech-like creatures don't initially pose much danger by themselves, as the game progresses that threat increases as both their number and the other threats in the environment increase. I think it also reflects the nature of the game that the biggest threat those small creatures pose is not one of bodily injury but rather infection – you're more afraid of losing your humanity and becoming a monster than you are of dying in those early stages.
The infection system itself is pretty interesting too, you have two 0/100 meters, one for your health, one for your infection level. Health works as you'd expect, if it falls to 0 you just drop dead. Infection on the other hand doesn't lead to death but rather you enter this sort of limbo state in which you have reduced health, a large prominent patch of mutated flesh appears on your back, and you have limited time to find a recovery station.
Another important mechanic worth mentioning (especially in the context of what I just said) is that you have health supplies but you also have these sort of 'instant recovery pills' that completely recover your health and infection rate, but you can only use them at recovery stations. And once you are infected they're the only cure you have, and though the game does give you a generous amount of these pills there are a finite number of them overall. So you have to be careful.
I do also want to mention in brief the ammo system and how the gun(s) work. Unlike other survival horror games you actually have unlimited ammo in Extermination, but you can only carry so much at a time (determined by how many 'magazines' you have), so when you are low on ammo you have to find a supply room with an ammo dispenser in it. Essentially you have limitless ammo but given how few and far between the supply points are, and how dangerous it often is to get to them, you're forced to be very frugal with your ammo. It struck me as an interesting take on the usual survival horror mechanic of scarce supplies.
The way the weapon system works is also interesting, rather than having multiple weapons you have a single weapon – an assault rifle, but that assault rifle can have a myriad of attachments that offer you different options in combat, including different sights, enemy tracking scopes, an underbarrel shotgun, grenade launcher and even rocket launcher.
Though one or two extra, secondary weapons, might have been nice, I do like the focus on having this one weapon with a single ammo reserve. I found myself worrying a lot more about having enough ammo than I did in other survival horror games, which is funny when you think about it - whereas most survival horror games give you a very finite, definite ammo supply, Extermination gives you unlimited ammo at limited supply points.
Admittedly there are a fair few things I didn't think were so hot about the game, I've mostly focused on the mechanics because they piqued my interest in the game – it messes with the standard survival horror mechanics (well, standard to Resident Evil atleast) to do something interesting, whilst keeping a lot of the plot and narrative elements very standard, which I liked a lot.
On the other hand though those actual plot points are pretty standard B-movie material, you have the heroic lead character, his ill-fated friend(s), the (sort of) love interest, and a general confuddle of events and happenings that don't make a whole lot of logical sense – at one point you discover that a few of the scientists have somehow survived and been leaving notes for one another around the infected base to meet up. How it makes any sense that two civilians could survive that long without having to be huddled in a closet somewhere and not a single soldier from the base manages to survive is beyond me!
I quite like B-movies though so I liked the plot generally, but it is admittedly very dumb at times. I don't think it helps very much how wooden and forced the dialogue sounds. And when I say wooden I do emphatically mean wooden, we're talking 80's anime/D-list movie level performances. For the most part it's ok, but like with a lot of not very well dubbed/translated foreign games I get the sense the original Japanese version probably made more sense and affected the player more (I could be wrong, the plot is still very B-movie, even ignoring the voice acting).
Overall I doubt Extermination is the sort of game that'd impress anybody whose not a fan of the genre but for a Survival Horror fan like myself I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with the game. Kinda glad I got it for next to nothing though!