It’s a double feature video game marathon of survival horror titles for PS2 that take place in the snow. Brrrrr! Was revisiting these games fun for me?
Bringing the survival horror genre into the bitter, snowy cold before the video game adaptation of The Thing, Extermination is a great looking game for the PS2 that really makes you shiver as you run through icy terrain and frigid hallways in a large, empty facility. If only the game wasn’t a pain in the ass to play. There are so many aspects that make it way too hard, with no difficulty options available.
For starters, since it’s just as much an action game as it is survival horror, it completely drops the puzzle solving tropes of Resident Evil. It also does away with tank controls, which should be advantageous, but instead causes major character control issues. Moving with the thumbstick lacks any kind of precision, leading to out of control running and wonky camera work. Right from the start this is a problem because…brace yourself…there are fricking platforming elements. Yep, jumps over cavernous pits are required to move through the game, but trying to neatly make an accurate jump from one platform to the other becomes a terrifying task when your straight run suddenly veers to the side mid-jump. Argh. And these inconvenient leaps usually occur when there hasn’t been a save room in ages. It’s enough to make you want to throw your controller at the television, but TVs now cost 1000 bux or more, so that would be the worst possible response. The ultra-sensitive controls also cause issues when trying to walk across narrow pipes to get to the other side of caverns. Your character simply won’t walk in a straight line! There are also times when you can shimmy across pipes along the wall to get from one place to another, but the camera angle is locked, so you can’t actually see when it’s safe to let go and drop onto floor beneath you instead of down a hole. You also get hurt if you drop from too high onto solid ground. There’s even a part where you slide down into a plane to get a bomb you need, only to find the only way back up is to jump across suspended crates, using crappy angles and overly sensitive movement that either sends you off to the side of the crate you’re aiming for or right over it! The most streamlined travel is through vents (ugh!), but even then, when you reach the end of a vent it cuts to you dangling from the edge of the vent into a new space, and the camera angle doesn’t let you see what you’re jumping down into. Eek!
There are some bright sides to the controls. You can press a button to reset the camera over your shoulder, but that only helps so much. Also, the mapped controls are basic and intuitive for the most part.
You have only one gun, but if you find the right parts as you explore, it is customizable to be a shotgun, grenade launcher, flamethrower, and more (which means having to switch parts to use different weapons). You also get a sniper scope, but I rarely used it because it is very disorienting and makes you vulnerable to attack. You can also hook a flashlight up to the gun for dark zones, but here’s the catch. When you use the flashlight, you can’t walk! So you have to stand still, check the space ahead with your flashlight, then turn it off and move forward a bit after shooting blindly and hopefully clearing out enemies in the dark before turning on the flashlight again to check ahead a little farther. Ugh.
Inventory is basically unlimited—which would be even better if ammo pickups weren’t so scarce. There are however, a few unlimited ammo depots to replenish your stock throughout the facility. Items you can pick up are clear as day, so you won’t miss anything you come across—although you might miss entire tucked away sections if you don’t use a walkthrough to thoroughly cover all ground.
There’s also a battery aspect. You need the battery to open certain locks and to save! Argh! There are some battery rechargers around, and you do upgrade how many battery units you can store as the game progresses, but it’s fucking devastating if you get to a save only to discover you don’t have any battery units left. Because recharge stations and ammo depots are few and far between, there’s a lot of running back and forth to stay fully stocked.
Then there’s your health. Actually your health and your infection rate. I hate games that force you to monitor two different health issues. Your health bar is pretty basic, but just about every enemy in this game spits infectious acid at you, and as your infection rate goes up, your health goes down. Not only do you have to find health items to patch yourself up, you have to find antidotes for infections. But you can’t just take them on the spot. You have to make it to rejuvenation machines sprinkled throughout the facility to heal up, which means more running back and forth…while half dead and battling enemies, which even tend to respawn in most areas. WTF?
So about enemies. There are tons of them, and they take loads of ammo to kill. First there are these slugs that are everywhere, spit acid at you, fly, jump on you and fill you with infection as you button mash to shake them off, are hard to aim at, and even burst out of crates you can break with your knife in hopes of finding goodies inside. They are also generated by gooey globs on the floor that you can at least shoot and kill to stop some of the spawning of the slugs.
There are flying creatures that fuck you up when you’re trying to jump over caverns, shimmy across pipes, or climb ladders, and they are even harder to aim at and shoot. There are mutated dogs. There are giant monsters with vulnerable spots you have to aim for to kill them. They take tons of bullets before dying and they shoot back at you! Argh!
There are automatic sentry guns that shoot anything that’s moving…including you. You can deactivate them by cutting the cable under them with your knife. There are also trip wire bombs that you can supposedly deactivate with your knife, but every time I tried they blew up. There are fire patches that will fry you, and there are ground puddles that jab you with infected spikes whenever you run over them. Eventually, a big snake-like thing starts coming out of the puddles, too.
There are two encounters with semi-invisible lion creatures, and you have to use a flamethrower attachment to kill them. Chances are you won’t have enough fuel to accomplish that. The second time you fight them, it’s right after you’ve climbed an ice wall outside, and if they hit you, they can knock you all the way down the mountain and you have to climb back up to continue the fight.
With so much space between save points, unexpected elements of the game you couldn’t possibly prepare for without a walkthrough are infuriating. For instance, you see a button you can push, when you do, there’s a cutscene and then a train is barreling toward you. The only way to escape it is to run to a ladder behind you and climb up it or it’s instance death. Same thing happens later on when you blow up a tower that can then fall on you if you don’t hurriedly run away from it after the cutscene.
With a constant barrage of enemies to fight, boss battles are never welcome, but we get them. For starters, after a battle through a tunnel against those damn shooting monsters, you just stumble upon a boss battle when you innocently drop off a train platform into a pit. It’s a huge tentacle arm in the wall and takes forever to kill, even if you’ve collected enough grenades to use against it.
The next boss is in the center of an arena while you stand on a platform surrounding it, and you have to aim at his hot spots while it is constantly shooting at you. Good luck with that one.
And now we get to confession time. The final boss in Extermination is what led to me discovering the magic of Game Shark and Codebreaker when I first played the game back in 2001. I fought my way desperately through this game, and by the time I reached the final battle I barely had any health left, I was slightly infected, and I didn’t have anywhere near enough ammo to take on the giant boss. I was getting my ass destroyed during the battle and there was no way I was ever going to complete the game, so I searched for cheats online (we were asking Jeeves back then because there was no Google yet), and found codes for something called Codebreaker. It was only after buying a Codebreaker disc that I was able to complete the game.
So what’s so bad about the boss? First of all, without the 3 missile launcher parts to connect to your gun, you’d never beat this boss. And without a walkthrough, you’d never find the three missile launcher parts, which are hidden throughout the game. In fact, the final part is hidden in a room that requires 24 battery units to open…the exact amount of units you can hold at any given time, so you can forget about saving one more time if at all before the boss unless you track down one of those battery charging stations first.
You end up on a boat, and the boss is at first in the water, periodically jumping out on either side. I’ll admit it does look fricking awesome. There’s an army vehicle on the boat that you can climb on to use the turret on back…if you can pinpoint the leaping boss to shoot him. The gun moves slow, so just trying to locate him on one side or the other before targeting him and then shooting is going to be a chore. On top of that, he spits balls of infection at you that knock you out of the turret, requiring you to run back up to the compartment it’s in and pressing X to get back in and start all over. And you know what happens if you press X and you aren’t exactly lined up with the compartment door? You JUMP. You jump right off the boat and die. WTF? Oh, and when the boss’s infection balls hit, they explode and release loads of slugs, which now start attaching to you and spitting infection at you. And you have to hit the boss approximately 15 times while it’s in the water before you can even move on to the next part of the battle.
There is another option for fighting him while he’s in the water, but it’s just as bad. You have to climb a ladder to a higher level of the boat, grab a zip line to zip across to another platform, and then use a Gatling gun, which overheats after a short time, requiring you to wait for it to cool down before you can use it again. Fuck this game.
In its second form, the boss morphs into a giant land monster and climbs on the boat. There is nowhere for you to run because the arena is quite small, and he’s still dropping loads of slugs on the deck to spit at you. You have to nail the boss on the vulnerable spot on his chest numerous times to kill him. You’ll so want to use the few rockets you have to beat him faster, but that would be a mistake, because…
He morphs again, this time into a human size boss that you now have to hit in the chest numerous times to kill, all while he’s firing a machine gun at you incessantly and hurling more slugs your way. Fuck this game. I’m selling it on eBay if you want a copy.
Ugh. This game tested my last nerve. Just like the movie, it requires you to keep your team working cooperatively so they don’t lose trust in you and assume you’re actually infected. How do you do this? You have to keep them supplied with precious weapons, ammo, and health. You can also find blood tests to take to prove to them you’re not sick. You can accidentally shoot them, which not only loses their trust but the trust of other nearby members. Argh. Worse part of this? In this game you don’t hold a shoulder button and then press the X button to shoot like in most games…you simply press X. You know, the button you instinctively press to do most actions or pick up items, neither of which is the function of the X button in this game. As a result, you will accidentally shoot your teammates numerous times, especially while panicking when little spider critters come crawling after you. And you know what happens if you just stand by and let your teammates shoot them so you won’t accidentally shoot your teammates? The teammates lose trust in you for not helping to fight! Argh! As a result, I often told my team to stay (you can tell them to stay or come in a squad menu), ran ahead and killed enemies while alone, then went back to pick up my team.
So what’s the bright side of having a team? You need them. You can get the medic to heal members. You can get the engineer to fix junction boxes to open doors. And you can have all members help in those fights if you think you can avoid shooting them. You can go into first person mode for better aim, but you can’t move and shoot in that mode.
The health issue is a pain in the ass. Not only do you and your team lose health when you get hurt, but if you stay out in the cold too long, you and your members will start to lose health. Ugh. And when you’re running around in the windy snowy weather in the dark, it’s easy to lose your way and run in circles when you really need to just get inside. Aside from enemy danger, there’s also fire to watch out for (you can use a fire extinguisher to put out flames), as well as electrocuted fences to beware of.
The d-pad allows you to quick cycle through weapons or other items, but it’s not fast enough once you have to start shooting enemies until their life bars turn red and then switch to a flamethrower to burn them the rest of the way, which causes the little spider creatures to pop out of them, which then requires you to hastily switch back to a gun. Oh…and don’t expect any of your teammates to come out of these battles alive, because if the monsters don’t get them, your manic shooting just to survive will kill them. And you know what happens if you lose technicians you need to perform some sort of action to continue forward? It’s game over and you have to start again from your last save point.
Stretches get much longer where you need to keep technicians alive otherwise you die. They are needed to open doors right to the end of levels with more monsters and fricking men shooting at you. Argh!
The fact is that this is more an action game than survival horror…but lacks the ammo necessary to survive swarms of enemies. There are no puzzles here. It’s just running from one place to another to fetch keys or gather items for other team members. The game becomes incredibly repetitive.
The bosses generally all look and behave the same, but they do get progressively bigger and harder, and there are variations in how you defeat them. Visually, the final boss outside is pretty epic, and there’s a helicopter aspect thrown in just for fun.
There are also timed segments where you’ll press a button and then have to get to a certain door in a short period of time, otherwise, kaboom! And finally there’s the part that made me give up on the game this time around. I guess 20 years makes a difference in how sharp a shooter you are and how much patience you have for bullshit tasks. You have to zoom in with a sniper gun and shoot the bombs on planes in four different hangars outside. The catch is, you have to do it from windows in two different rooms, and…the hangar doors start closing after you blow out the first bomb. You have to shoot two bombs from one set of windows, run around this big console in the middle of the room, push through the door, run down the hall, push through another door into another room, run around another console, then aim at two more bombs from there. And if the doors to the hangars close, you die. Fuck this game. You can find it on sale as a bundle with Extermination on eBay.