From its very first moments, Extinction wants you to know that the Ravenii are the real deal. Frighteningly large, each monstrous, muscular ogre is a roaring mishmash of Japanese Kaiju and medieval fantasy. Magically teleporting into an idyllic countryside, there would be little surprise in seeing an army try and oppose the monstrosity, only to be smashed and scattered like the ants they are in comparison.
But there is no army to oppose them. Instead, you take on the role Avil, the Last Sentinel, a giant-killing curmudgeon who’s just trying to do right and save humanity. Armed with a magical Rune Strike that’s not only capable of dismembering Ravenii but also slows time down to a crawl allowing for greater maneuverability, as well as some sweet movement-based powers, Avil is a virtual army of one. But unlike other games, where “the One” rolls on up and saves the day, Extinction eliminates that possibility from the get-go. Avil is not here to win the day, he’s here to give humanity enough time to run away. Along the way, he gains skill points by successfully completing missions, killing Ravenii en masse, and saving people from imminent doom.
Helping him succeed in that endeavor is Xandra, the clear brains to Avil’s brawn. While never present in gameplay terms, Xandra’s talking head helps not only to drive what story there is forward through small vignettes at the beginning of each of Extinction’s 7 chapters, but she is the creator of humanity’s true last shot at survival, a Portal of immense size and power capable of transporting everyone away from the Ravenii and to safety.
There are some twists and turns along the way, especially regarding the history of the Ravenii, how they are able to teleport all over creation, and the very purpose of the Sentinels themselves. Nearly all of this information is communicated out during the beginning and end of missions through some talking head dialogue, with the vignettes I mentioned before adding info through the magic of cartoon animation. As a fan of stories in general, Extinction’s plays out more like a radio drama, with all the major beats being reported back to Avil, who is almost always defending some other war front while Xandra works to create the portal.
And that’s where 99% of the gameplay takes place. Set within the bounds of a procedurally generated countryside or cityscape, Avil is given one of three tasks and up to three additional subtasks for a mission. Only the main task is required to complete the mission, granting you a gold star medal on the mission screen, while completing side tasks grants silver stars. They don’t grant anything extra, though I am sure that completing all of them grants some kind of achievement.
Main tasks come in one of three varieties: kill a creature, rescue citizens, or defend the watchtowers. That’s it. Kill missions keep count as Avil cuts his way through Ravenii or their much smaller minions. The latter come in several different varieties, including one that flies, and are easily dispatched by either using normal sword combos or Avil’s Rune Strike. Shown as a bar in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, the Rune Strike is always available to use, but it takes a fully powered strike to cut the head off of a Ravenii, which is the only thing that kills the giant brutes.
Getting up to and severing Ravenii heads serves as the main portion of your gameplay, and when it works, is one of the most awesome things I have ever done in a game. Removing their legs stops them from walking around while removing their arms limits their ability to hit back. Much like 90% of the other surfaces in the game, Avil can scamper up the legs, arms, chest, and back of the Ravenii with ease, and once your strike, the Sentinel stylishly flips off of the Ravenii’s shoulders, allowing him to spiral slice its head clean from the rest of the body. While it all sounds and looks deliciously gory, with blood spurting from the wounds upon first being cut, shorn limbs disappear into the ether from whence the Ravenii themselves came, leaving nothing but a clean cut and stumpy cross-section.
To make things more difficult, Ravenii can regenerate their lost limbs, putting a kind of timer on your actions until you have to stop what you are doing to cut them off again. You are also not required to cut any limbs off to kill Ravenii, as the head is the only requirement for ending life, and remembering this comes into play as the giant ogres start to armor themselves up in preparation.
Just as the landscapes are procedurally generated, so are the Ravenii, with few exceptions, so killing one is often like solving a small puzzle. Most come into play with some form of armor on their legs, arms, and head, so figuring out the most effective way to deal with it while not getting smashed yourself is sometimes more daunting then it has to be. Later armors are especially cumbersome, with two, in particular, requiring that you put yourself in harm's way in order to prepare them for rune strike. Thankfully, Avil dying is no stopping point, it just resets your position and sends you back out into the world.
Mission type 2, citizen rescues, keep count as Avil uses smaller portal stones to transport people away from the battlefield. Citizens cluster around the stones in various numbers, while Ravenii minions spawn in and attack them. In most cases, you are better off killing the minions to save the citizens, but in later levels, once I had put some points into Avil’s skill tree, I was able to activate portals so quickly that I rarely needed to kill anything but what the game required of me. I found these missions to be the easiest, and as saving citizens generate near as many skill points as killing a Ravenii, these missions are fast enough to farm if you are looking for a quick point boost.
Occasionally, these missions take place around some really rocky terrain which requires some finesse of movement on Avil’s part. Sadly, the rocky terrain is his kryptonite, as it’s the only surface in the entire game he doesn’t stick to. You have to jump/glide, from plateau to plateau, using small bridge portions to facilitate climbing upwards. Most of the time, zipping from place to place is easy. Avil can climb, jump, and seemingly ride the wind with a glide ability like he was Rocky J. Squirrel. On top of that, to help speed traversal, he has a whip which acts more like a grappling hook, attaching to trees and specific points on buildings, and propelling him forward into one of his glides. Much like killing Ravenii, when it works well, moving around the world, rescuing your fellow humans, is a dream. Avil is smooth and responsive. And then he gets stuck on a citizen transporting away. Or the lower half of his body hits one of those unclimbable rocks, and then, oh no, Avil falls into instant kill thorns that litter the floor. Oops!
Mission type 3 is where this whole train falls off the wagon. Nearly every chapter has at least one mission where you are tasked with protecting a set of watchtowers. Just like the rest of the levels, watchtowers are procedurally generated, allowing them to appear anywhere, even right next to each other. Ravenii warp in from one or two predetermined points… which through the magic of procedural map making, can also happen to be right where the watchtowers are.
Small aside to this: there are a few different levels of frustration that I run into with game. The first occurs when I see what a solution should be and have trouble executing it; I get mad and groan because I know what to do and am just not doing it. The second level is reached when I see the issue, execute the solution, and something breaks, forcing me to do the whole thing over again. This level is often accompanied by a growl and snide comment. Extinction’s Watchtower missions operate wholly and completely on the third level of frustration, where the game’s own system actively messes with me until I snap and yell wholeheartedly at my TV, using “adult words” as my kids call them and forcing me to take a break lest I destroy a controller or yell at the people around me. I don’t like this level. I try to avoid games that bring me to this level.
The fact that a third of Extinction’s mission structure is flawed in such a deeply profound way is astounding to me. I toiled for hours over Chapter 6 Mission 1, so much so that I contemplated emailing my Editor in Chief to tell him that I would not be completing this game prior to review. And then, in an instant, I reloaded the mission for the umpteenth time, and the clouds parted. The watchtowers, which had previously spawned together so closely that I routinely met the mission failed screen within a minute and a half of starting it, appeared on the opposite side of the map as the Ravenii spawn points, and I easily held the position while the city suffered only a minimal level of destruction.
It’s at this point that I have to remind you that I have now literally described the entirety of the game. You spawn in on a randomly created map, fulfill one of three objectives, and move on to the next map, with another objective. There’s nothing else. You hear the radio drama about actions being taken on the front, of NPCs dying in attacks just minutes after their head popped up to say something to you. I never really grew to care because they were never anything more than just voices. My actions never brought me closer to them, I was always defending some front on the other side of the world, and when something big did happen to those characters, I was always brought right back to the same set of missions that I had been doing.
The world is on the brink of extinction, as Extinction endlessly tells us, and while I am being told that people are fighting for their lives, Avil never actually sees it happening. Each landscape that’s generated is filled with the same sets of models all cowered around portal stones. They stand and scream when they’re attacked, not one of them even going through idle animations that make it look like they have the care to do anything but die. There’s no weight to anything in Extinction, just a prayer that the map randomness blesses me enough to not make me wait through the load screen and sit through the same conversation for the 15th time.
As well as the campaign, Extinction features a daily challenge mode, where you can compete for points against other players on a leaderboard, as well as an “Extinction mode” which is basically a survival against an endless horde of Ravenii. Both of these modes are what they are, a way to extend the same things you do in the campaign without dealing with the story bits. After suffering through the final watchtowers, it will be a while, if ever, before I dive back in.
What started out as a promising sojourn into another world, where I could single-handedly take on a horde of Giants, ends up feeling much like the citizenry of Extinction, tired of fighting, tired of Giants, and tired of being there. There’s enough good here that the failures just hurt more. There’s fun movement when it works, fun puzzle-like combat, but despite its best efforts, there’s no portal big enough to save it from the weight of its own systems.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!