It's October again! And that means horror gaming! While noiseredux is really going above and beyond the call of duty with his excellent blog, with an ongoing featurette for this month covering the console and handheld world of horror, I figured I'd offer him some backup with another entry on that most terrifying of genres.
Extermination has the honor of being the first survival horror title released for Sony's PlayStation 2, beating out Silent Hill 2 by several months and Resident Evil: Code Veronica's PS2 port by just two weeks with its March 8, 2001, NTSC-J release date. The title was published by Sony Computer Entertainment and created by a team of developers that included several creators of Resident Evil. Reminiscent of the genre's flagship title and games like Carrier, the game has also drawn comparisons to the films The Thing and The Abyss.
The story revolves around Dennis Riley, a Sergeant in the USMC Special Forces Recon. Riley is one of a team being sent to infiltrate Fort Stewart, a secret research base in the Antarctic which formerly housed some of the United States' nuclear stockpile. With the end of the Cold War, the installation was converted into a research & development facility. As Riley's team approaches Fort Stewart via airplane in an ice storm, they receive a distress call from the base requesting it be the target of an air strike. But before they can respond, the plane malfunctions and crash lands, spreading the marines across the base. Riley and his combat buddy Roger Grigman are then forced to sneak into the base and meet up with the team.
While the Marines in the game come off as ballsy bad asses, the dialogue ranges from decent to absolutely terrible, and the quality of voice acting fluctuates throughout. Riley's voice is particularly bad, and at times he sounds like a whiny high school kid. The subplot involving his dead friend Andrew and Andrew's girlfriend Cindy also feels tacked on and unnecessary.
Riley must navigate the facility, facing strange mutations and living water puddles with his modular SPR-4, or Special Purpose Rifle. That weapon represents one of the most interesting elements of the entire game: instead of finding new guns to use, the player instead switches out attachments on the fly, so your weapon can always suit your situation if you have the parts. And those parts range from a sniper scope to an underslung grenade launcher, a forward grip with flashlight, enemy detector, night vision scope, and much more. The player can also switch between single round and 3-round-burst firing modes.
The ammunition system is also innovative: an infinite amount of ammo is found in dispensers through the facility, but only a limited amount can be carried, based on the number of magazines Riley happens to be carrying. If you want more ammunition, find more magazines scattered throughout the base. But the dispensers will not give ammunition for the variety of modular weapons to attach to the SPR-4, so once you're out of grenade rounds, shotgun shells, napalm juice, or whatever else you're using, you're out.
Adding to the action emphasis, the game features the use of a laser target, four years before Resident Evil 4 would implement its usage. And while The Ring: Terror's Realm predates Extermination with its laser sight by slightly over six months, Extermination offers far better control. Players can aim in third person perspective, moving the pointer around until it passes over a creature, generally auto-aiming at that target. But those that want to go for more precise shots can also enter a first person perspective which doesn't feature auto-aim. Unfortunately Riley can't move when his weapon is raised, and the sensitivity is too low to make it a truly effective tactic in close corners, but it's a great means for popping enemies from far off. The game also features two knife buttons, resulting in a slash or a stab, which don't require the weapon to be raised.
While this sounds like a good design on paper, it does suffer from some serious flaws. First, enemies are bullet sponges. Though that's not so bad considering there's ultimately infinite ammunition, dispensers are few and far between. To make up for this, enemies have glowing weak points that can be hit to drop them faster. Unfortunately they were designed to be hard to hit, and the third-person auto-aim feature does not automatically target them, making it difficult to kill some of the tougher varieties of mutants at close range. Aiming with the knife can also be difficult, so slashing minor enemies at one's heels can be a pain.
The camera also doesn't help as it can't be effectively manipulated, so the player can't swing it quickly to look around the corner or see an enemy right behind him. Instead, the player must turn and then either raise their weapon or press a button to center the camera behind them, wasting precious time.
The game's health system is also interesting, though cumbersome. The player has health, based on a 100-point numerical value, and an Infection rate. Every time an enemy hits the player, their infection goes up while their health goes down. And most healing items will not lower one's infection rate. Instead, the player must use vaccines to bring down infection, and the field-use variety aren't very common. If Riley's infection rate hits 100%, his max health decreases from 100 to 60, he takes damage over time, his character model changes, he starts taking damage from sources that previously didn't hurt him, and he can only be cured by using the MTS vaccine, which can only be administered at MTS beds...so if you wander too far from one and become infected, you won't make it back.
Extermination also features an unusual save system, revolving around battery power. Forget the ink ribbons of yesteryear, save stations now require batteries, which can be recharged at special power stations similar to the ammunition dispenser. And larger batteries will be found throughout the facility, so don't sweat saving. It's also a good idea to save often, as the game doesn't allow continues. Die, and you must reload.
Extermination is a decent game with some solid ideas that never really rises to greatness. Horror fans who enjoy such titles as Resident Evil, Carrier, Dino Crisis, The Thing, or non-horror games like Syphon Filter and Metal Gear Solid will likely appreciate this game more than those looking for experiences similar to Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, or Haunting Ground. It's something I would recommend to players who have experience with the genre's big names and are looking for something more obscure. And while its ideas aren't always successful, they are interesting enough to warrant a look. Another nice perk is the game's low price tag: not including shipping, it can be found on eBay for as little as $2.
For those interested, here's the introduction to the game: