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Preview By: Siou Choy
Developer:  Sony
Publisher:  Sony
Genre:  Survival Horror
# of Players:  1
Estimated Release:  TBA
Posted:  3-26-01

Having duly noted the phenomenal success and longevity of the Resident Evil series and its various progeny (Parasite Eve, Silent Hill, Dino Crisis, etc.), and never one to pass up on a shot at making a quick buck, Sony has decided to leap headfirst into the survival horror genre with their forthcoming PS2 release, Extermination. Of course, given the inescapable predilection of the Sony P.R. machine towards unwarranted bombasticity, the company could never have produced what could be considered an everyday survival horror game. No, their entry would have to be something completely different. To that end, Sony is claiming that Extermination is somehow so beyond being a mere survival horror, that it merits its own genre: to wit, Extermination is being touted as the first "panic action" game (excuse me while I stifle a guffaw here).

Developed by Deep Space, a little company consisting of several Capcom defectors (including a few of the creators of the Resident Evil series itself) and produced by Tokuro Fujiwara (producer of Resident Evil, Ghosts 'N' Goblins, and Mega Man), the game has some admitted credentials to back up its somewhat preposterous marketing. As you may have been able to figure out from the title, the premise of the game is to make like Raid and dispose of swarms and swarms of giant bugs (as well as assorted other sci-fi beasties along the way). You play as Dennis Riley, sergeant of the Red Light team assigned to investigate Fort Stewart, a secret US military base located at the South Pole, where an emergency alarm has been sounded 3 days ago.and there hasn't been any contact since. Unfortunately, the ship explodes en route: the other members of the team have disappeared and your supplies have been scattered allover the base (shades of D2!).

The much touted "panic action" is described rather obliquely in the literature. In the interests of producing the feel of "an interactive action movie", at given points in the narrative, the gamer is asked to "respond to a requested button sequence within a time limit to successfully complete the objective", the intent being to force the gamer to act quickly "while in a state of considerable fear". As you can see, the information on this supposed dramatic innovation is vague, at best; but having experienced mountains worth of advance P.R. and similarly overenthusiastic (though seldom as jumbled) rhetoric in the past, my impression is that this is hardly as new, unique, or engaging a plot device as the corporate heads over at Sony would have you believe.

Graphically, the game appears to be a cross between Dino Crisis, Parasite Eve 1 & 2 and Resident Evil 3 and 4 (Code Veronica). One of the promotional screenshots was marred by significant blurring (possibly some sort of zoom in by the camera), which I imagine is intended to impress the viewer -in point of fact, it elicited the exact opposite effect from this hardened survival horror gamer. The pointed marketing of this programming flaw as some sort of selling point is undoubtedly intended to gloss over, if not spin doctor, one of the biggest problems with the PS2 (beyond the obvious pricing issue and lack of any significant content to date): the blurring and lack of clarity in motion sequences caused by Sony's failure to include anti-alaising capabilities in the PS2 hardware. While all published literature would suggest that the corporate heads involved in producing the system deliberately cut corners in this regard, in the mistaken belief that the machine's frame rate was so powerful that such cleanup tools were thereby rendered "unnecessary", the facts of the matter are in plain view, each time a prospective gamer turns on the machine. Even accepting the colossal arrogance of such a misguided business decision, the mind boggles that such a blatant flaw would be touted as somehow breaking new ground, particularly in comparison with the to date at least equal (if not generally superior) performance of similar games (and indeed, direct ports of games) on the ostensibly less powerful Sega Dreamcast.

One press release notes that the backgrounds and environments in the game are rendered in real time with 3D polygons, going on to exposit what an improvement such a motif is over the more traditional pre-rendered backgrounds of other survival horror games. In point of fact, poorly rendered, obviously polygonal-based games are a large part of why the N64 remains generally considered a child's system (as opposed to the more "adult" oriented Playstation or Dreamcast). Which would you rather see, the clunky blockiness of, say, Donkey Kong Country or Mario Tennis, or the smooth stylings of Parasite Eve, House of the Dead 2 or DOA2? I feel the answer here is obvious. Extermination may very well come out facing the same barriers to acceptance as the Dreamcast's few attempts at survival horror (the interesting, but poorly received Carrier, the misguided D2 and Ring, the pathetic Blue Stinger): i.e., bad graphics on a system that could and should be producing much, much more. Another early reviewer agrees on this point, calling the in-game engine "early, leaving much to be desired, looks like a third generation Playstation game, character models and environments are extremely crude". Hardly a ringing endorsement for a game that is supposed to be launching a genre all its own.

Overall, Extermination comes across as an amalgam of Resident Evil, Syphon Filter, and Carrier, utilizing elements of plot, setting, style, and of course, their standard third-person, over the shoulder perspective. Its sole "innovation" in terms of somehow setting it apart from the survival horror genre as a whole is that according to one of their press releases, "instead of slowly lumbering forward and rotating in place, you will bolt in any direction you press on the analog stick" . Wow. Pardon me while I hold my breath over this dramatic improvement (guess they never heard of Urban Chaos). And while the overall proceedings sound entertaining enough, and sufficiently pique the curiosity of this diehard survival horror fan, they remain nonetheless derivative (particularly notable in light of the marketing) not to mention more than a bit reminiscent of John Carpenter's version of the Thing - enjoyable, certainly. Unique, hardly. A little less ambition and a little more emphasis on quality control would seem to be in order if Sony's Playstation is to survive, much less thrive, in the wake of the upcoming console wars. Good luck, guys.
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