Games 2/1/11: Dead Space Extraction, Breach, Fluidity

Dead Space Extraction
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Visceral Games/Eurocom/Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Price: $15 standalone, free with purchase of Playstation 3 version of “Dead Space 2”

Few games deserve a second chance as much as “Dead Space Extraction,” which sold miserably on the Wii despite continuing one of the generation’s best new fictions and outclassing just about every on-rails shooter that ever came before it.

Though it also works (and with surprisingly decent results) with a regular Playstation 3 controller, “Extraction’s” chemistry with the Wii’s remote makes it a perfect fit for the Playstation Move controller as well, and its flawless (and, on some levels, enhanced) migration immediately positions it as perhaps the best Move-enabled game out there until “Killzone 3” arrives later this month.

It also gives PS3 owners a chance to experience a slice of “Dead Space” lore that easily earns its place in the franchise canon. In contrast to the two mainline “Space” games, “Extraction” almost always surrounds you with a crew and even drops you into multiple characters’ shoes when the story — which begins before and runs somewhat parallel to the events of the first “Space” while answering a bunch of questions raised by that game — dictates.

“Extraction” also departs from franchise norms by presenting everything through a spectacularly energetic first-person presentation.

That, along with the decision to go on-rails, was a byproduct of “Extraction’s” understanding of the Wii remote’s control limitations. But it ceases to feel like a concession once it becomes clear how little it loses and how much it adds. The Necromorphs from “Space” return, and nothing about the encounters — from their attack intelligence to the spot-damage approach needed to neutralize them — feels dumbed down or scripted just because the camerawork is out of your hands.

The series’ inventive weaponry also returns, alternate fire modes and all, and some of the guns (the disc ripper in particular) are more fun to use in “Extraction” because of the added immersion the motion controls provide. Kinetic and stasis powers lay freely at your disposal, and opportunities to use them are rarely more contrived here than they are in the other “Space” games. The only real puzzle contrivance is an occasional hacking mini-game, but even that’s exhilarating when the mechanisms grow more complex and you have to hack them and fight off encroaching Necromorphs at the exact same time.

About the only place “Extraction” feels compromised is in the upgrades department. Instead of allowing you to upgrade your character and weaponry according to your combat preferences, the game assigns upgrades automatically based on mission scores and the items you pick up (if you’re quick enough) with your kinetic beam while the action rages on. The reflex test is terrific fun in its own right, and it’s a very satisfying trade-off given the style of the game, but the lost flexibility merits mentioning all the same.

“Extraction’s” main campaign is lengthy enough to easily justify the $15 price tag, and it tops that off with local co-op support and a challenge mode that strips the story missions down to points-based arcade levels. The PS3 version receives enhancements via trophy support and graphics that look nice in HD, though it lacks any kind of online functionality.

The best way to get the game is as a free bonus with initial printings of “Dead Space 2” for PS3, but schemers beware: You can’t play that version of “Extraction” without the “DS2” disc, so attempts to get “Extraction” for keeps without buying it or buying “DS2” will be thwarted.

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Breach
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Atomic Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, violence)
Price: $15

“Breach” had no choice but to be pretty special — or at least different — if it was going to successfully command $15 from the same military shooter crowd that’s already invested in “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield,” “Medal of Honor” and the rest of a rapidly crowding sub-genre.

Unfortunately, “special” is just about the last word that describes this one, because while “Breach” strives to hang with its big-budget competition, it doesn’t do anything to meaningfully set itself apart from it.

The lack of originality is apparent almost instantly. “Breach” is a multiplayer-only first-person modern warfare shooter, but the lack of a single-player storyline doesn’t excuse the game’s complete disinterest in divulging anything about why these two armies are fighting or who they even are. Those details aren’t paramount, but they also aren’t meaningless, and it’s weird to engage in a war that’s completely free of context.

Unfortunately, the visual presentation, while perfectly technically competent for a $15 downloadable game, offers few clues for those who wish to guess. “Breach’s” character models lack any significant distinction, almost to the point where soldiers from one army are interchangeable with their enemies. The five maps are similarly plain: There’s a silo that’s probably important, and the game’s best map takes place amid snow-capped mountains, but mostly, you might as well be fighting anywhere in the world.

It’s unfortunate, because while “Breach” has some fundamental hangups as well, it functions competently enough that, if it took players to a fresh war or corner of the world, it’d be easy enough to recommend.

The essentials are, imperfections aside, there. “Breach” offers four playable classes — rifleman, gunner, small-arms support and sniper — with a fifth, reconnaissance, that unlocks with experience. Each class has its own lengthly roster of weapons, add-ons and perks for players to unlock after accumulating experience points, so there’s no shortage of replay value if unlocking everything is of interest to you.

Spotty online performance leads to some issues with enemy players skipping around maps or magically popping into view, but only very infrequently, and the action mostly functions as expected. The guns feel powerful, the control satisfactorily tight. The ability to take cover (switching the perspective from first- to third-person) also is handy, though the run-and-gun leanings of enemy players will inevitably limit its utility.

“Breach’s” map design is hit-and-miss — some maps feel too corridor-laden and too often turn players into easy targets for snipers — but the game’s penchant for destructible environments offers some nice options for rearranging the furniture. Of all the ways to put down an enemy, none beats blowing a hole into the ground on which they’re standing and watching them tumble into oblivion.

In terms of modes, “Breach” again suffices. Matches support up to 16 players, and the mode offerings — territory, team deathmatch, single-life deathmatch, retrieval and a convoy mode that tasks one team with protecting the convoy while the other attacks it — run the gamut.

When the net code cooperates, getting into a game — either quickly or by browsing the available match types — works effortlessly as well. Unfortunately, while demo downloaders flood the servers, connection errors are frequent. The connection issues should soon pass if the game’s pre-release performance is any indication, though, and even at the height of the problem, attempts to get into a game eventually
paid off.

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Fluidity
For: Wii (via Wii Shop Channel)
From: Curve Studios/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: $12

Attractive lower price aside, it’s unfortunate that Nintendo took the most unique Wii game it’s published in nearly a year and effectively hid it where most Wii owners are bound never to find it. “Fluidity’s” concept is simple: You star as a small body of water tasked with purging a magical book of an ink-fueled infection. The control scheme — tilt the Wii remote to tilt the levels (which resemble pages from a book) and dictate the flow of water — is similarly straightforward. But “Fluidity’s” handling of that water is at once predictable and delightfully frantic: Like a real body of water, it’s fragile, dynamic and extremely prone to splitting into smaller bodies and droplets that, if left too small for too long, will evaporate. As you might guess, losing all the water means losing a life. But keeping the water together is more than a survival tactic, thanks to the game’s wonderful level and puzzle design. “Fluidity” doesn’t resemble a Super Mario or Kirby game in any visual respect, but it displays the same level of invention, relentlessly creating new obstacles, gadgets and scenarios to put that straightforward premise, control scheme and physics to continuous brilliant use. Though things get a little excessively difficult toward the end, the game mostly toes a perfect line in terms of difficulty: The main challenges are tricky but fair, while a ton of optional challenges are perfectly skippable but both mentally and physically gratifying to complete at your own pace.