PAX Prime 2013: Extraction preview

ss_002Splash Damage’s objective-based shooter, the newly christened Extraction, evokes some of my favourite memories from 2011’s Brink, but a few key difference I noticed in the one multiplayer match I played have me a little worried about what the game is going to become.

I played through a map in London where an attacking team had to hack a console and plant a bomb to derail a train while a defending faction tried to hold them off for as long as possible. It was exactly the kind of asymmetrical “attack vs. defence, and then swap” game design that I love to see in multiplayer shooters, but other than that, some of the level-design and class-division decisions struck me as a little ill-advised.

When I’ve played Splash Damage games in the past, and even other great shooters, I usually notice a distinct attention to detail when it comes to fair sight-lines and strategically rewarding travel paths. In the Extraction demo that I played however, I found many of the cross-fire lanes and vantage points unintuitive and difficult to traverse.

I’m talking about the base level geometry of the level. At one point, I was crouching in the middle of a bridge while scoping down a dried up water way, but as opponents would jump into the trench and run towards me, they had no option in the way of cover – the area was too wide-open. It’s a problem I noted in other areas of the map as well, and it’s a problem that was often compounded by expanses of immovable grass that did little to obscure players’ movement.

A Splash Damage representative told me that I was still playing an early alpha build of the game, which could explain the missing cover pieces and animated grass, but it doesn’t excuse the constraints that were placed on the five playable character classes.

ss_008Without customization, the competitive character of the game feels diminished in the absence of a narrative

In Brink, there was an emphasis placed on class customization, both in terms of the visual depiction of your character, and in terms of the utility that your character brought to a fight. Again, the representative advised me that a lot of the class decisions were likely not final, but I was quite disappointed all the same.

There was a range of four male and one female characters to choose from, and each one had a unique name, physique and class assigned to them. I’d be more ok with this kind of division between characters if I knew that Splash Damage was going to expand on them with some kind of narrative, but so far, I’ve only heard Extraction billed as an online multiplayer only experience.

When it comes time to release the game, having the characters linked to the classes in a discrete fashion won’t be a deal breaker for me, but boring gunplay as a result of poor level-design will. Splash Damage is one of the most talented developers of objective-based multiplayer shooters that I know, and I’m not sounding any alarm bells just yet, but from what I played today at PAX Prime, I am a tad worried.

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