Purely arcade-style games have had longstanding troubles keeping up with the times. Developers of great experiences are declaring the genre dead. No one but Nintendo and Criterion can release a racer that doesn't ask you about gear shifts and suspension levels. Space shooters have adapted roguelike power-up systems that encourage multiple runs rather than a set experience. Puzzle games have retreated to the lower expectations of mobile platforms. These aren't inherently bad solutions, but it's clear that you have to do something to evolve beyond the cabinet. Thanks to Extinction, we know that loose storytelling is not the way forward for the action genre.
The world of Extinction is a colorful one. You are Avil, last of the sentinels. These fabled guardians once protected the land, and you're called into action to fight an invading force of building-sized ogres. The Ravini are tough to take down, especially when armies of smaller monsters flank them. You'll need to bash open locks, shatter wood guards, and build your energy towards a single beheading blow. All the while, you'll have to lure monsters away from watchtowers and activate portals to save the citizenry.
Does that sound like a lot for one man to handle? Well, it is, and not in the cool way you might expect. Gameplay in a typical Extinction mission is all about managing your time and finding acceptable losses. It's impossible to save everyone, so you might let a Ravini topple a building while you grapple over to another. You also need to vary your tasks on each mission. You can't kill these massive beasts without first building up your power via successful rescues and stabbings. Since the Ravini can quickly cause a mission's failure if left unattended, there's not much downtime whenever you're playing.
Considering the colorful presentation and varied enemies you'll face, you might hope that the combat would be engaging. In my E3 preview of the game, I even mentioned how important dazzling combos and complex mechanics are to a game like this. Extinction forgoes all that and offers a combo system best described as "button mashing with style". A single button press will get you a simple strike, and you can chain five of those together. You can vary your combo by waiting a hot second before your next button press. Jumping in the air will give you a few other options, mostly for the one breed of winged foe. Outside of that, your only move is the Rune Strike, which is a heavy blow mainly used for larger Ravini foes.
Taking down the giants is really the meat of Extinction's gameplay. The sheer size of the Ravini is continuously impressive, and taking the slow boss fights of Shadow of the Colossus into hyperdrive is a great move. Once you reach one of these creatures, the focus becomes immobilization and control. Chopping at the legs is the easiest strategy, but some styles of armor are immune to such tactics. In this case, it's often advantageous to literally disarm the creature and then find other actions to build up your energy. Once you reach peak performance, you can climb onto their back, hack away at any neck jewelry, and then perform the one killer strike to behead the behemoth.
In Extinction's arcade-esque modes, the game's ramp of difficulty makes sense. Just like the aliens of Galaga get faster and faster over time, enemy forces expand until you're unable to take them down. Learning the best ways to traverse the environment is fun. Preserving the crumbling infrastructure as you avoid certain death is a fun puzzle to solve. Accidentally flying across the map due to the unwieldy grapple controls is enjoyable with low stakes. Even the uncomplicated combat of Extinction makes sense when you're fighting against the leaderboard. As an arcade experience, Extinction is innovative in the right spots and worth a few playthroughs.
Unfortunately, Extinction is more than a score attack mode. The story campaign feels like a tutorial for the arcade mode. This is much in the tradition of Battlefield and the console iterations of Unreal Tournament. Any story beats come across via character portraits talking back and forth in a tiny corner of the screen. The world never really changes because of these events. We never see characters appear on-screen other than the protagonist. The game finds every trick in the book to tell as little story as possible. Every plot point is stretched endlessly for just one more mission.
If the levels were designed in a way to build momentum towards a climax, this might not be an issue. Instead, a good chunk of them are procedurally generated affairs where an RNG determines everything. So, you could breeze through an easy set of foes, or you could scramble to defend all your objectives in time. If you lose and retry, the enemy variety and map layout can change. Therefore, you don't learn from your mistakes and campaign progression becomes a chore. It's easy to trap yourself in more difficult challenges for a long while. Especially when tasked with protecting towers than can fall with one swing of a Ravini's club.
Repeating missions ad nauseam is frustrating enough, but Extinction's sound design ensures that this brand of repetition is special. Just about every in-game action triggers a voice line. Did you fail to rescue a peasant across the map? The king of the land will berate you. Did you find a giant gate you can't open from one side of a wall? Your mage companion will ensure you know that every time you run by. Did you let one watchtower fall in order to save a different one? Be sure to listen for a stern warning from the king followed immediately by a joyous compliment on your skills.
These lines repeat in every mission, making the action feel stale fast. You feel helpless in that you can't save everyone, not by a long shot. The overwhelming mission objectives and the forced babysitting of structures cry out for some form of co-op gameplay. Having even a second playable character running around with you could make some of these scenarios more bearable. Additional, it could provide much-needed depth and the boost that a friend always provides to the proceedings. Sadly, Extinction is a purely single-player experience, with only leaderboards providing an online component.
If nothing else, the game looks gorgeous. Everything in the world has a style that balances cartoonish designs with high fantasy well. The Ravini are varied in their accessories, sporting tattoos and skin colors that make every fight more memorable. It may just be that there aren't many action games being made nowadays, but this feels like the first time that an Overwatch-style color palate has been brought to the genre and it really works well.
Extinction is really a tale of two scales. As a small arcade experience all about defending your city as long as possible, everything clicks. It could still use some further variety, maybe a power-up or two, but it works. As a full-scale game with a story campaign and a retail package, Extinction is a repetitive slog. The dialogue is uninteresting and skippable. Missions are a crapshoot due to procedural generation. The simplified mechanics make the upgrade system feel weightless. Everything that makes the arcade experience work works against a meaningful single-player experience. If the developers sever the dead weight and cut this giant down to size, they really might have something special.
Extinction was reviewed on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.
Extinction's core gameplay loop is alright for what it is, but it doesn't support the rickety structure built on top of it. Boring story beats, repetitive voice clips and randomized missions make me classify this campaign as obsolete.
- Colorful Visuals
- Interesting Mechanics
- Decent Arcade Modes
- Inconsequential Story Campaign
- Repetitive Voice Clips
- Lack of Co-Op Multiplayer