Wednesday, March 2, 2016

VGR Extermination

This game is what you'd get if you mix an old school survival horror Deep Fear with a recent action game like Dead Space.

Alright, that was just a silly pun on the developers name, Deep Space. But I still stand by my point, the game does remind me of both of those titles actually.

VGR: Extermination 
From Deep Space/Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.
Played on PS2
Also available on /

Survival horror game
Year 2001

I can't talk about this game without mentioning the team behind it. A bunch of talented creative people that have been struck with string of bad luck. 

Their games share some interesting aspects like big open worlds, a lot of fetching quests to force the player to explore the game world and an emphasis on a story back in a time where that seemed like an after thought in most games.

After a failed success with the Tombi!/Tomba! games, despite all the critical acclaim they received they still sold poorly, the independent company Whoopee Camp was disbanded in 2000. Most of the same team would shortly open a new studio within Sony Computer, Deep Space.

With Sony financing their marketing campaign, surely this would mean more success this time...?

Extermination was released exclusively for the PS2 as a launch title in 2001. It's a survival horror that completely ditches the old cinematic angles for a 3rd person perspective.

The game was directed by Yuzo Sugano, while designed by noneother than Hidetaka Suehiro aka one of my favorite game developers, SWERY65, and written by Yuzo Sugano.

Our story takes place in the "future" of Christmas 2005 (sadly, unlike Blue Stinger, the holiday would have very little to do with the actual game, such a missed opportunity...)

A team of US Marines are sent on a recon mission after losing communication with a secret research facility, Fort Stewart, in the middle of Antarctica. Following the radio silence, they've now been receiving this distress signal. Our protagonist is Sergeant Dennis Riley, a member of the recon force called "Team Red Light".  Because of the call for air strike they've received, they are sent to investigate the situation first.

Along the way their plane crash, scattering the team across the tundra. Dennis Riley and his partner Roger Grigman find themselves cut off from the rest of the group. At first they find the place completely deserted and destroyed, but soon they find infected people mutating in front of their eyes. A woman saves Dennis but is forced to kill Roger in the process.

Trying to find this mysterious woman again, Dennis explores this infested facility while trying to regroup with the rest of the team along the way. He finally meets up with her only to find out she's Cindy Chen, an old friend of his. But she's not the last people alive and they find other survivors such as an undercover journalist.

The base was put in a lockdown when a strain of a bacteria called HO213 escaped the labs. After going through the entire underground laboratories and a water filtration plant Dennis discovers how this infection spread through the water all around!  

Dennis must place a few detonators through the base to exterminate the virus. He soon picks up the trail of other remaining members from his unit. The bacteria appears to be weak against the cold, which explains how some were able to survive longer.

The original strain of the virus is on the loose, it's called "Origin". At the heart of all this was project "extermination". 

The final act of the game gets pretty cliché as you find out this was all part of some twisted experiment to judge the potential of this virus. They exposed everyone in the facility voluntary and even called the marines to push the tests further.

And years before the new Resident Evils, we get one long final chase over water as the final strain Origin takes on several forms from some giant aquatic monster you have to gun down with machine guns to a giant monster on the escope boat to finally a more humane familiar face...

The objective in this game is to try to survive the journey while trying to piece what was really going on the Antarctic base.

Gamerplay is what you'd expect from a fairy standard survival horror.

Controls aren't as restricted and limited as past 90s games of the genre, but despite a good handle of the character and a ton of ammo enemies can still overwhelm your senses and your character. There's a ton of them. So it's always recommended to try make a run for it whenever you can to conserve your limited ammo and health supplies.

Your basic weapon is your trusty knife which can be used for quite short and long range attacks. In a way it made it easier to fend off monsters and made them also less scary. Which kind of also reminded me of Blue Stinger on the Dreamcast.

The main weapon in the game is an heavily customization special rifle. You can obtain several equipment for it through the game. You can add these different parts to the rifle to better suit your style or the different situations you find yourself in. You can add a zoom scope, an infrared vision, a flashlight, an Aliens-style radar, a flamethrower add-on, a shotgun one, a grenade launcher, etc.

You can also switch back from first to third person to aim, which helps when you find yourself in a dark room and need to use the light. (although the game turn off the light every time you stop aiming in front of you.. that got annoying quick..)

The entire game is a series of short quests roaming free this huge environment, looking for keys to move on and open new doors to advance through the story.

The main gimmick of this game revolves around your infection rate. You must keep an eye on your contamination level at all times. It pops up in the pause menu next to your health. Being in contact with monsters AND the water will make things worse. And when you heal yourself with most items it won't clear your contamination level.

To do so you either need to find items that will both cure health AND contamination. Or use MTS vaccines in special chambers to get you back up. Failing to do so, you will start mutating and your health will drain quickly. 

It's a fun little system that can make things really tense and gives the game a nice unique edge. Otherwise it's a pretty simple and basic Resident Evil clone.

Also, there's a second original game mechanic in the form of the battery pack your character is carrying. The energy will be both used to activate machines as well as save your progress. But it won't really cause much problem since you can charge it back up almost everywhere and it even gets upgraded through the game.

Extermination was one of the launch titles for the PS2 in Japan. Sony made sure to heavily use the game to promote their new system at the time. It helped sell the new console with fans since this was the first survival horror title for the PS2, before we even heard of any more new Resident Evil or Silent Hill games.

The game was inspired by a lot of previous titles. Sure it draws a lot of comparisons from Resident Evil and even Carrier, which actually shares a lot with this game including story, visuals and concept.

But Extermination also takes a lot of cues from the cult PSX classic Metal Gear Solid - a big favorite from most of the Deep Space team. From animation movements to controls, and even some cues from the stealth approach. It's clear that guys at Deep Space were big fans of Solid Snake and tried to infuse some of the character in their own protagonist.

Finally, the game is obviously heavily inspired by John Carpenter's 1982 scifi horror film The Thing. The music specially seems to draw a lot from Carpenter and Ennio Morricone's cult soundtrack! 

Also the effect of the contaminated infested water seems pretty inspired by James Cameron's The Abyss if you'd ask me...

Extermination is a pretty captivating interesting game, with great environments that all feel fairly distinct.

You quickly get a ton of firepower, which is a big change from traditional survival horror titles. But you aren't necessary better for it since there's always dozen of monsters on you constant, particularly annoying tiny creatures or flying enemies. The knife, or running, is always a better option.

There's a bit too much backtracking later on.

And the end seems to drag on for a bit too long in my eye, it's like the story won't ever end. There's so many big weapons-sponge bosses near the end of the game and the final boss is pretty tricky.

People called it a Resident Evil clone at the time, but I'd say it's more than that. It's a clone of Carrie, done right.

Aside from a few though spots, the game is not particularly difficult or long.

Fun fact, there was one major different between the Japanese and the Western release of the game. Different versions of the main character! I have no explanation for that. Did they think the protagonist didn't look American enough for international audiences?!

Finally let's not forget to mention the fantastic sound work on the game. From monsters to music, it simply sounds really good which is perhaps the best aspect of the entire game. There's some terrific music which always sounds really good and action-packed. It's on par with some of the best movies out there.

Overall, Extermination is a fun action-oriented survival horror. While it didn't really bring anything new, it's still pretty fun - if a pretty standard RE clone.

The graphics were decent if a bit messy (it's definitively closer PSX games with higher definitions and detailed models than a proper PS2 game). With a great soundtrack. The game does have a few impressive effects like some nice ice reflections and lighting effects.

At the time there were some brief talks about a sequel, before the game ended in complete obscurity. I imagine a more modern approach to another installment using the same atmosphere could have worked wonders.

Sadly this game wasn't anymore a success to Deep Space as Whoopee Camp's previous Tomba! games. So after this other failure, Deep Space also shut down. But third time's the charm, right? So a new studio was founded in 2002 with the same team, Access Games. And they would finally get a lot more popular thanks to the success of Spy fiction in 2003, the first game with SWERY in head of the development team. But that will be for another time...
I give it:
2 / 3 Quacks!

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