Extinction review

A colossal disappointment.

It’s vital that developers be realistic about their ambitions. Constraints on time, budget and manpower are very real. Better to execute a simple concept with grace than spread a game too thin across convoluted systems and rickety worlds.

Extinction respects this truism. A fantasy action adventure, it could have attempted exploration across a vast open world. Instead, this arcadey brawler wisely distills itself across structured, linear levels with one primary focus: combat. The problem? It still doesn’t work.

The other problem? It carries the price tag of a game without such restrictions.

In Extinction, you step into the nimble shoes of Avil, a powerful Sentinel soldier. As armies of Ravenii, towering 150-foot ogres advance upon the kingdom, you’re the only one standing between them and the extinction of the human race.

There’s the overused fantasy trope of a hero struggling to convince a stubborn king of the dangers of an incoming threat and the correct course of action to take against it. When you finally get him on-side, of course, he complains about your efforts to single-handedly defeat entire armies laying waste to his kingdom.

Worse, this back-and-forth takes place through painfully generic and contrived dialogue at the beginning and end of every mission. On the other hand, occasional animated cutscenes competently introduce the backstories of the main characters and the world they inhabit in a far less grating manner.

Levels in Extinction are simple and reiterative. Evacuate civilians through nearby teleportation crystals. Beat up any orcs that get in your way. Then set your sights on taking down the mighty Ravenii. If they reduce the city to dust before that, you fail.

Some missions feature randomly generated settings and objectives. This is a creative way to mix up otherwise rudimentary and repetitive design. This can result in objectives either too easy or unrealistic depending on how much luck is on your side, however.

Facing hordes of colossal beasts alone should be a near-insurmountable task. Yet, on paper at least, controlling Avil is a real power trip. This guy can leap boggling heights, grapple and climb across buildings like some sort of medieval Spider-Man, and dismember Ravenii limbs with a single swing of his sword. In practice, unfortunately, this isn’t nearly as smooth as it should be.

The problem is that much of Extinction is spent wrestling with its frustrating controls. Grapple points are arbitrarily spread across levels. You can leap across trees and rooftop canopies, but movement is just too erratic and unpredictable to traverse a level smoothly like in Assassin’s Creed, for example. Climbing the Ravenii is similarly maddening, with Avil regularly slipping or awkwardly getting stuck up a festering ogreous armpit. When grounded it’s hard to see a Ravenii foot stomp coming, or a sweep of their gargantuan arms – surprise instant deaths are common.

Avil has a sort of bullet time – sword time? – which lets you target and home in on weak points of Ravenii armour and bodies. This is a lifesaver, but these attacks don’t always connect, or sometimes fail to even target properly in the first place.

Many of the rules and mechanics at play just feel imbalanced and carelessly thrown together. An arbitrary ‘Kill Strike’ gauge needs to be filled by rescuing citizens, breaking armour and lopping off limbs before you’re allowed to defeat a Ravenii by chopping its head off. The decision to include a fighting game-style special gauge is an interesting one, but when you’re against the clock it just ends up being an annoyance, resetting every time you down a Ravenii.

Fighting grunts is mostly pointless because they give little Kill Strike gauge and it’s much quicker to just teleport townsfolk from under their noses. Dismemberment is satisfying initially, but in a bizarre and silly design decision, Ravenii can infinitely regenerate limbs 30 seconds later. There could have been more logical ways to temporarily incapacitate the Ravenii.

An upgrade system provides something worthwhile to work towards, at least. You can increase the slowdown of ‘sword time’, rescue civilians faster and jump higher, amongst other more typical buffs to health and attack power. These help to mitigate the frustrations of the controls and combat. Mercifully you also get to keep all experience earned whether you complete a mission or not, so failure doesn’t feel like a total waste of time.

As you progress through the game with upgraded movement, jumping prowess and keener abilities it all starts to come together a little better. When it works, it feels pretty cool to methodically demolish a Ravenii’s armour in slow-motion, bring it down with a severed leg, clamber up top and take it down with a decapitation. It’s just a shame that you’ll have a bit of a miserable time until you have a bunch of upgrades under your belt.

Visually Extinction is pretty nice, if completely unoriginal. It adopts the colourful cartoonish fantasy style popularised by the likes of World of Warcraft and League of Legends. I played on PC and am pleased to report that it ran smoothly on my midrange rig at near-max settings.

Overall, however, Extinction has all of the refinement of the hulking ogres it tasks you with fighting. This action game tries to play to its strengths, but even these are feeble at best. A colossal disappointment.