Extinction review: Shadow of the colossal disappointment

At my most reductive, I’d call one long string of escort missions. The game struggles and claws to add more variety, in small ways, but it never shakes up or fleshes out its core rhythm enough to justify a full game. Instead, it feels like a frustrating proof of concept, unworthy of its evocative title.

Backing up a bit, is an action-platformer clearly influenced by , , and especially the anime . A medieval-fantasy world—of which we only catch shallow glimpses—is under siege by towering, teleporting ogres called “Ravenii” who can topple whole cities with ease. You play as a bland meatbrain who, as we learn through a handful of barely animated 2D cutscenes, is also a magical warrior called a Sentinel. The title grants him enough parkour powers to run up the speechless invaders and lop their heads off.

And lop heads he does. Constantly. Head lopping is pretty much ’s only neat trick, though even that novelty crumbles faster than the settlements you’re meant to protect. It doesn’t take long at all to figure out how sloppy the process really is.

Off with their heads

You can’t just one of the Ravenii, for instance. First, you need to charge up a decapitating strike. That means bounding around the city, killing largely meaningless lesser monsters by mashing the square button, or standing next to large crystals long enough to teleport handfuls of civilians to safety. This is where the “escort” elements kick in. Besides needing to complete a given objective before the ogres destroy too much of each city, you want to protect civilians from the man-sized goblins. That way you can bank them for killing blows later on.

But you can’t protect everyone or everything. If you try to stop harriers from depleting your precious human resources, the 10-story trolls will instead whack your city’s health bar (which, since you infinitely respawn on death, is usually the real failure state). If you try to stop or slow down the big Ravenii—when that’s even possible—the foot soldiers will chip away at your bank of rescue-worthy citizens. And while their deaths don’t damage the city much, the lack of easily bankable energy makes it more of a hassle to build up killing blows.

That difficult balance would be fine if felt like it wanted you to make tough choices. But despite the constantly shifting nuisances, the game isn’t usually very challenging. Mostly, it’s just a . Losing survivors doesn’t mean you’ve lost, it just means you likely need to waste some time repeatedly stunning an ogre and halting its advance by chopping off a regenerating leg or two. Then you can grind out the little buggers in mediocre ground combat until its time to make a Ravenii strike.

Of course, killing the giants isn’t always that simple. Most of the Ravenii come with armor plates that need to be severed before you can hack the limbs underneath. At first, I thought this was how would add real complexity and variety to its titan slaying. I only needed to hit basic wooden armor with a slow-motion dash strike, for instance. But iron armor required me to line up against specific weak points multiple times.

It’s soon clear that’s as deep as the rabbit hole goes, however. Gold armor works the same as iron, but with more weak points you only need to hit once. Thorn armor does damage if you touch anything the weak point. Spiked armor, the most powerful stage of Ravenii equipment, does shake things up slightly by asking you to get the beasts to break their own armor while swinging at you. But that puts you at the mercy the ogres’ often infuriating AI, which makes the whole process even more frustrating.

Lightweight decapitation

What’s worse, the actual act of dismantling and toppling these beasts isn’t very satisfying. It impressive the first 10 times or so times—all sparks, blood, and speed—but it always feels weightless. The monsters literally disintegrate beneath you once their heads leave their shoulders.

Repeating this insubstantial formula over and over only makes ’s glitches more obvious, too, such as when a bracer’s glowing weak point clips inside of a Ravenii’s bicep, making it impossible to hit.

But the real drag is trying to line up your slow-mo strike midair and realizing the game’s camera won’t let you direct your gaze as high as you need. So you fall back to the ground and sloppily run up the Ravenii’s back again (assuming don’t clip into the creature’s armpit and need to start over yet again).

There’s a survival mode, along with daily challenges that randomize the Ravenii encounters, in case repeating the same five objectives (rescue X civilians, kill Y Ravenii) across the same half-dozen maps in the campaign isn’t enough for you.

It was more enough for me. I reached “enough” the first time I lost to a Ravenii spawning a mission-critical watchtower, destroying it and ending the mission instantly. But I still suffered through the same thing eventuality five more times in the campaign’s 34 missions—which, while it only took me about an afternoon to complete, wad far too long.

That’s just how thin feels. Its core concept of a tiny, nimble warrior toppling giants is sound. The better stories and games from which it borrows prove that. But a concept alone can’t stand in for variety, polish, and impact for very long.

The good:

The bad:

The ugly:

Verdict: Extinction is a good idea poorly executed over and over again. Skip it.

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