Having played through and reviewed the epic Shadow of the Colossus remaster a few months back, awarding it a very respectable nine out of ten, the team at JDR looked upon the trailers for Extinction with reasonably high hopes. You see, Extinction’s core gameplay mechanic is similar — you scale giant beasts, hack off limbs and politely remove their heads from their bodies in a story-driven romp to save a race from destruction. Extinction arrives off the back of some excellent marketing which pitched it as a colourful action adventure mixing quick, action-orientated gameplay, dashing up buildings, saving townsfolk and scaling huge enemies — it looked like it had a ton of potential. Unfortunately Extinction wastes pretty much all of that and goes so far the other way it could be one of the most frustrating games on a console this year.
You play as Avil, the last living sentinel and along with your trusty magic wielding friend, Xandra, it is your job to save the last humans on earth holed up in the kingdom of Dolorum from the fast approaching horde of giants known as the Ravenii. The adventure begins with our hero courting the assistance of the king of Dolorum, King Yarrow — his help is desperately needed in the final great battle to save humanity. If they succeed, the resources obtained can build a transporter to safely get everyone out of harm's way and away from the city-stomping Ravenii.
Whilst this setup seems on the face of it a little silly and heavy on the random fantasy elements, as it progresses you find that it actually marries really nicely with the colourful art style and the mystical elements of this version of Earth. The story is told in two main ways; firstly with beautifully rendered animated cutscenes which give us some much-needed backstory, and secondly with the less appealing small pop up talking heads during the intros to new mission levels. Overall the story whilst a little silly does actually hold your attention, at least in the initial few hours, but there isn’t a lot the story can do once you are neck deep in Ravenii, struggling to achieve what feels like the easiest of tasks on paper but seems so frustratingly difficult to achieve in a mission.
The main gameplay loop in place to compliment the bright, light-hearted ogre-heavy art style sees you performing a number of core actions per mission. These are namely: killing grunts otherwise known as Jackals, saving humans by means of small transporters and bringing down however many Ravenii have decided to descend on the city you are currently defending. The basis of pretty much every single mission is the same, perform these actions to build your rage meter and once full you can then climb a Ravenii and slice his head off with one huge blow. Sounds fun right? Absolutely, but sadly not for very long.
The first hour will fly by and is at times a mixture of tense and fun. Running up the side of buildings, jumping from tower to tower, hacking apart Jackals, saving humans and then getting to work in taking down the early screen filling Ravenii is genuinely fun. As you make your way into your second hour though it hits you — you’ve actually seen almost everything the game has to offer and as more time rumbles on you just start to feel annoyed. Worse still — and in fairness to the game it makes no attempt to hide this fact — it’s no more than a series of timed challenge arenas, rarely any different from one another and devoid of anything more to do. Note that this isn’t an exaggeration, as you progress the game actually presents you with missions which you must effectively roll the dice beforehand to see what the mission and map variables will be. This is where it hits you square in the face, this isn’t a story-driven action adventure at all, it’s a series of challenge maps with paper-thin towns and pretty much one main enemy type (if you ignore the armour variants).
This alone doesn’t make for a bad game, far from it. It will, however, make you wonder why this is a full price title. Maybe the gameplay can save it, and the Ravenii variants with new armour types to hack off can provide some variation to keep it fresh? No, not at all. In fact the game does a really poor job after the initial few tutorial like battles telling you how you should go about taking down the new Ravenii you will encounter (similar beasts, new armour types). That now sacred first hour of the game allows you to experiment with the controls and the game helps you along with each new type of armour which the Ravenii can wear, then oddly, the game just stops and leaves you to it. New Ravenii are introduced with new armour types and locks on armour pieces which must be targeted before you can start to sever limbs and in time, the all-important head.
The combat itself is floaty and lacks any sort of weight at all, with little to no feedback for the player to feed upon in the heat of battle. Additionally, it can at times feel really janky and unfinished especially when there is a lot going on on the screen. The worst offender however when it comes to combat and the general gameplay in general, as the whole thing is a combat room in a small lifeless papier-mâché city, is the camera. Scaling Ravenii is a hit-and-miss affair which usually results in you mashing buttons simply to cling on; more often than not however you will end up quite literally in an armpit or glitching into another body part of the Ravenii. For what is essentially a button-mashing combat game the combination of floaty, loose combat and a dodgy camera simply add up to hours of annoyance and anger. What starts off as light-hearted fun, hacking off limbs and dashing about becomes more of a battle against the game’s controls and camera to actually achieve anything, draining any fun away as you try and try again.
Extinction is a series of really big missed opportunities. The core adventure isn’t actually much of an adventure at all, and whilst the first hour or so feels really fun and at times borderline exciting, you soon realise that the game is actually a series of procedurally generated paper thin challenge rooms. Add to this the weightless feeling of the combat, the odd design decisions placing a reliance on the rage meter and a countdown timer as well as a god awful camera, it will hit you that it just isn’t fun at all.