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Extinction Review — The Harder They Fall

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Extinction

Extinction screams Attack On Titan, requiring player to save cities and civilians while cutting down building-sized monsters and their average-sized minions. As Avil, “the last Sentinel,” the player’s job is to take on the hordes of angry, 150-foot-tall ogres called the Ravenii, which are poised to destroy the last human city of Dolorum. The game offers a fair amount of challenge for the player to hone their skills, if some of the quirks are tolerable. Extinction places a huge emphasis on speed and traversal mechanics, but makes some design decision that hold it back from greatness.

The game draws inspiration from Attack on Titan and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for the combat system and the way the player interacts with the giant Ravenii. Extinction does not have a complicated combat system for use against the ogres. When battling the giants, the player must first destroy their armor, which then reveals spots allowing for limbs to be cut off. One of the aspects that adds depth to the combat is the armor, as each type has a different method needed to dismantle it. Some of the pieces need to have certain spots hit, and others have specific timing requirements to be fulfilled before they can be destroyed. This variety forces the player to utilise different approaches to fight the Ravenii, especially when the enemy wears a mixture of armor types. The problem is that combat boils down to only two or three sets of tactics. Perhaps the best strategy is to cut off one of the Ravenii’s legs and then quickly destroy the armor covering the head and neck, allowing the player to land a killing blow. Cutting off the leg of the Ravenii will cause it to fall to the ground, making climbing to the neck easier. Immobilising the giant monster in this way also stops it from being able to destroy the city, which would otherwise cause the mission to fail.

To chop off a limb or kill the Ravenii, the player uses a Cut mode that is akin to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s Zandatsu. However, instead of multiple slashes, as Raiden does in Revengeance, Avil only performs one. The sole way to cut off the head of the Ravenii is with a Rune Strike, which unlocks after filling the Rune Energy meter by killing the human-sized monsters (called Jackals), chopping off Ravenii limbs, and saving townspeople. When the Rune Meter is full and the player is by the neck, triggering the Cut ability will enter a special Kill Strike mode, allowing the play to decapitate the Ravenii from behind, as in the anime Attack on Titan. After landing a Killing Strike, the meter will empty, making the character refill it before the next kill.

Slaying Jackals also helps to keep civilians alive, letting the player activate portals that transport NPCs away from the danger. Fighting the Jackals can be easy as their attacks are telegraphed, giving the player the time to react. The normal grunts are easy to deal with; every hit staggers them, allowing easy combos. Meanwhile, dealing with an Elite Jackal can be frustrating because they do not stagger easily, nor for long. Dodging becomes very important because a couple of hits from an Elite Jackal can easily kill Avil. Alongside the combat, the other main aspect of the gameplay is the fast-paced traversal mechanics.

The biggest aid to fight the Ravenii is the movement options. The protagonist runs at a high speed and has a dodge ability both on ground and in air. Holding the dodge button while in the air will cause the character to glide until he touches the ground. As the player wanders through the city, they can bounce high into the air using trees and the fabric awnings and roofs. Moreover, one of the other traversal mechanics is the whip, which is used to pull the character into objects like a grappling hook and then send him flying into the air. Using the whip, glide, and bounce mechanics will help to reach to the Ravenii and climb up to the neck to kill them.

The biggest problem with climbing is the lack of control. The protagonist will only climb so far before beginning to slide down. To continue ascending, the player needs to jump and grab the surface again. However, this process can be a huge issue, as jumping to continue climbing does not always stick and the character will accidentally leap off, causing annoyance. One recurring problem stems from jumping on the wrong part of the giants and clambering straight up into the armpit or a crevice of the armor, where Avil will get stuck. Meanwhile, the whip works similarly to the grappling hook from the Just Cause series, but without the ability to aim freely. By activating the whip, the player will reel in to any object, branch, or suitable prop. However, this device will only work on certain items, launching the player off them in a predetermined direction, unlike the grappling hook in Just Cause, which can be aimed and attached to any surface or character in the game. Using the whip can help the player reach the Ravenii’s back if the creature is wearing a satchel pack on its belt. Of the armor types worn by enemies, the whip can only be used on two, meaning if they do not have the satchel pack or the suitable armor, the player will not be able to easily attach themselves to the giant ogre. Being able to use this mechanic more freely would boost the depth and possibilities of what the player can do in terms of traversal.

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Having better movement options would also help to sell the sense of power possessed by Avil. Making the whip more viable, and having it play more like the Attack on Titan Ride Gear to allow the character to commit high-precision moves, would look and feel amazing. Nonetheless, the traversal mechanics come in handy when the player needs to get to civilians quickly to save them. Rescuing the NPCs can be annoying, as to their collision box is so large that it can stop the playable character from moving completely when in close proximity, and several seconds may pass before the player realizes why. The NPCs blocking movement become especially frustrating when enemies spawn nearby as the player approaches, making combat more difficult, as the player can become a sitting duck. Being unable to fight back makes losing the mission far more likely as a result of getting stepped on or otherwise slaughtered.

Extinction’s campaign, comprised of seven chapters, lasts approximately eight hours, but that play time can be bolstered by getting all the upgrades. The bulk of the player’s time is spent killing Jackals while activating the portal stones that the citizens crowd around to save their lives. The next major task the player has is to kill off the Ravenii that are destroying the city. The problem with the game’s structure lies in the repetition, which, although helpful for mastering skills, results in the experience becoming lackluster due to duplicating the types of missions. The three major mission archetypes are to activate portals to save a set number of civilians, keep the city from being obliterated for a certain amount of time, or to hit a desired kill count of either Jackals or Ravenii. The only way the campaign deepens is via the difficulty, by introducing new types of Jackals and harder-to-deal-with armor. Some of Extinction’s missions have a randomized side objective and location, adding variety to the otherwise predetermined quests. Each level also features side missions that can be accomplished to earn medals and extra in-game currency to upgrade the character’s movement and combat abilities.

Extinction seems to forget to provide a tutorial for a few of the mechanics and does not hold the hand of the player. This tendency makes for a challenging and exasperating experience until later in the game, after the player has acquired various upgrades or learned more about the gameplay through trial and error. Another irritating aspect is that the Ravenii very often land a one-hit kill that can be near impossible to dodge, causing the player to respawn over and over. The process of respawning can be annoying, as one of the side characters tells the player to do better, instead of offering advice.

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The visuals for Extinction are divided between 3D gameplay and 2D for cinematics and menus. The 3D animation in Extinction is fluid and readable. The attacks and moves Avil performs feel powerful, while still achieving the balance of not looking as though they should kill an enemy outright. Unlike the gameplay, the cinematics are displayed with comic book-style 2D art that looks as though it might belong in a Heavy Metal movie were it animated in full motion. Most of the cutscenes work on still frames snapping to different poses to indicate movement, but this style of animation is disappointing after the well-designed, action-packed 2D sequences shown early on. The art is eye-catching, mixing the drab earth tones of an apocalypse with bright and vibrant colors that breathe life into every area in the game, making the world feel worth saving.

Story bites are delivered at the beginning and end of each level, with cinematics reserved for the end of every chapter. As a whole, the story and the dialogue are captivating, slowly divulging information about why the Ravenii are attacking and the secret behind the Sentinels. Despite generally being enthralling, the narrative is predictable at points—especially the ending, which uses a cliche to hint at the potential of a sequel. With gameplay being a central focus, Extinction benefits from having a fully voiced and well thought-out story, adding back story to help pull the player into the world. During gameplay, side characters make quick remarks about the player character if he dies, kills quickly, loses civilians, or has the town get damaged. These comments help with making the world feel lively and reinforcing the notion that the player is fighting for more than just themselves.

Extinction has a lot of potential to be more than it is. While the title is worth playing, it could strive for better. The lack of guidance in the beginning and the learning curve can be tough for new players to acclimatise to. However, after a few hours of learning, some of the frustration drops away, and the game becomes more fun because the player starts honing their skills. Trying to take down the Ravenii as quickly as possible to save the city before rushing to the next giant can be stressful, but it is an enjoyable kind of stress. Similarly, facing off against two or more Ravenii can be a fun challenge, forcing different strategies, such as attacking the more weakly armored first or severing a leg so the player can focus their attention on the other ogre. The problems that hold Extinction back may be a make-it-or-break-it point for some players. The inconsistency in using the whip can bring exasperation, and the lack of varied game modes can become boring. Furthermore, the predominantly single-button combat system is lackluster because far greater complexity can easily be envisioned for a game of this type. Having more ways to perform sweeping attacks for crowd control or stronger direct attacks might make the physical act of play more enjoyable. With more varied game modes, a more in-depth combat system, and redesigned traversal mechanics, Extinction could stand out, but, in its current state, it simply exists.

Reviewed on PC.

A graduate of Game Development with a specialization in animation. A true love for all things creative especially Game Design and Story.

Review

The Great Perhaps Review — Perhaps Not

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The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 1

Warning: The article contains discussion on the subject of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling, The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides contact information for help across the world.  

One common piece of advice for budding comedians is to never ‘punch down’. The target of a joke should be someone of a higher status or privilege than the joke teller, rather than a person within a marginalised group, such as the poor, the disabled, or the mentally ill. While this is not a hard and fast rule to comedy success, with shows like South Park using shocking moments to illuminate larger problems within society, without a deft hand, punching down comes across as cruel or offensive. The Great Perhaps, the first title by developer Caligari Games, makes an off-colour joke about suicide in the first five minutes of the game, setting a confused tone for the rest of its three-hour playtime. While this puzzle platformer shows some potential with solid puzzle design and great art direction, its terrible writing taints the entire experience.

The initial foot-in-the-mouth moment happens in the game’s animated prologue. Kosmos is an astronaut in a space station orbiting the earth. During a typical day, his communications with Earth are suddenly cut off, and he sees black smoke spreading across the globe. The station automatically puts him into cryogenic sleep, with instructions to wake him when returning to the surface is safe. Upon awakening, he discovers that over 100 years have passed. Kosmos is in despair, realising that everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, including his wife and children. He asks the ship’s A.I., L9, to vent all the oxygen in the ship, ending his life. She refuses, saying that the task is illogical. He asks again. She tells him to ‘nut up’ and to go explore the Earth. Kosmos reacts in astonishment, not at her cruel words, but at the fact she has developed a sense of humour. Magically cured of his suicidal ideation by her sassy insults, the pair decide to go explore the Earth and see if anyone survived the apocalypse.  

Those whose lives have not been touched by suicide may find difficulty understanding why this moment is so offensive. This ‘nut up’ attitude stems from this belief that those suffering are not trying hard enough to get better—that one can just think themselves happy. Men especially suffer due to social pressure on them to not express their feelings, resulting in a suicide rate three times higher than women. Telling a suicidal person to ‘nut up’ would make them more likely to go through with their plans, not laugh. Real treatment takes a lot of hard work with support from both loved ones and mental health professionals. 

This monumental lack of understanding permeates the game, although thankfully not as egregiously as the initial example. The flat intonation of Kosmos’s narration initially seems inspired, a man who has stepped back from the precipice of self harm but is still deeply troubled. However, the content of the writing actually shows that he is really cured, despite the monotony of his voice. About half an hour into the journey, he and L9 encounter a man about to jump off a roof, upset that no one likes his writing. He invites Kosmos to jump with him, but Kosmos proclaims he has ‘better things to do’. A callous attitude for a man who, within the last day or so, was in the same position. He manages to help the man by showing that his book will be successful in the future, handily sidestepping any real understanding of how to defuse such a situation. One does not need to be an expert on mental illness to write about the subject, but a modicum of research, understanding, or respect would have gone a long way. The Great Perhaps seems uncertain if it wants to be mysterious or funny. One moment, Kosmos will be lamenting the downfall of humanity; the next, he is riding an ostrich. L9 switches between making jokes and acting like a cold machine. The game is disjointed and lacks the emotional weight to support the story it is trying to tell. 

The gameplay of The Great Perhaps fares better than the writing. A two-dimensional sidescroller with light puzzling, akin to Inside or Limbo, the game’s unique hook is the lantern Kosmos finds that lets him briefly travel back in time. The lantern button can be pressed for a glimpse of the past world, then held down to travel into the past for 20 seconds. For the most part, this mechanic works well, using the lantern to get around locked doors, bring objects between the past and the present, travel down a metro tunnel without getting hit by a train, or eaten by mutant rats. However, in some instances, the mechanic can be fiddly. The transition between worlds is fairly slow, so for sections where one has to swap to avoid a danger, the sluggish transition is frustrating. L9 will warn the player of a danger, but she usually warns too late for the player to perform the switch and save themselves. If this shifting function was on a toggle, rather than button press to turn the lantern on then press and hold down the button again to switch worlds, a lot of frustration could be mitigated. The time in the past would also benefit from being a bit longer. Throughout the campaign, several pipe dream-type puzzles appear in the past world, with the player needing to rotate tiles to form a continuous line from point A to point B. Getting kicked out of the puzzle every 20 seconds because of the time change was annoying. 

Kosmos has some finicky movement, which is not a problem during the standard object puzzles, but is an issue in the handful of chase sequences dotted through the game. One section is set in a tight apartment building that requires him to push a cart, climb on it, jump to a ladder, jump across the gap, throw rocks to knock down the next ladder, scramble up, and run up two sets of stairs before reaching freedom. An already tricky sequence is made worse by Kosmos constantly getting stuck on objects. The enemy is close behind him for the whole sequence, so the sequence has little room for error. A bit more space between Kosmos and the monster would allow for collision-based delays.

Along with an autosave, The Great Perhaps has a chapter-based system as well. This system can be helpful if the player finds themselves in a soft-lock situation, which happened once during the review playthrough. In one section of the game, Kosmos needs to prevent a bank robbery in the past. A vital object—a large stick of dynamite—managed to phase through the floor and out of existence, making progress impossible. The autosave occurred after the dynamite escaped the confines of the world, so the only option was to load from a chapter. Thankfully, this chapter system was in place, otherwise the whole game would have needed to be started over. Perhaps a ‘reset screen’ option in the pause menu could be a helpful addition to prevent this problem in the future.    

The world of The Great Perhaps has a pretty, cartoon aesthetic, with the transition between the past and the present showing a stark difference in how the place has aged. Lots of menacing creatures have emerged since the fall of mankind, with two-headed rats, giant mole-like beasts, an enormous octopus, and a creepy shadowy humanoid all doing their best to bring Kosmos down. Music is similarly well crafted, with a particular highlight being the escape sequence in a collapsing underground city. Kosmos has to assemble a giant robot to escape, and with each piece he completes, the music increases in tempo and adds more instruments to the mix. On the planet’s surface, the music invokes a sad, lonely atmosphere, trying to insert the emotion this game sorely needs.  

The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 2

So much potential is wasted in The Great Perhaps. Puzzle design is solid throughout, but hampered with finicky controls. Art direction is outstanding, but the story that the game is trying to support flounders between ‘funny’ and serious, and is full of clichés. Offensive content notwithstanding, The Great Perhaps is a very run-of-the-mill time travel story delivered in a monotonous tone. Many adjectives could be used to describe this game, but ‘Great’ is certainly not among them.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on Linux and macOS.

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