I am a sucker for shooters like Left 4 Dead, especially since we don’t know if we will see the third entry in that franchise; I have to turn to something else. When I first saw Systemic Reaction’s Second Extinction, I knew I had to play and write something, like this preview. A game where you fight hordes of mutant dinosaurs? That sounds awesome and completely bonkers. In many ways, it is exactly what I had hoped, but as this is an Early Access game, it has plenty of issues.
Story – A Shallow Explanation
Dinosaurs have reconquered the Earth from humanity, except this time, the beasts are mutated with various attributes. The rest of the humans are up in space, and it’s up to you and up to two other members of the Emergency Response Agency to push back and reclaim your home planet. Much of that information I had to Google as the only explanation of what’s going on does not give enough details; even then, it is more of a backdrop to explain before going out for some Michael Bay styled action.
Outside of having a campaign that does not build upon these ideas, the characters themselves don’t fill up the space between these gaps that I would desire. I got hooked by the premise but not fed anything substantial, but even the people who I can play as or talk to me through the radio for objectives have any life to them. Lines thrown here and there deliver a glimpse of a personality, but the lighthearted nature of all of them does not hit a single beat. Also, nothing is more annoying than overly repetitive dialogue in such a tight gameplay loop.
Gameplay – Explosive, Bloody, Fun
Prepared for characters and your gear to get splattered with blood and guts. While having some shallow elements, the meat of the game shows that this has potential as updates come in the future.
You get a choice of four heroes, each equipped with a small selection of weapons and each with unique abilities, that are categorized from passive, tactical (like an active perk), and a special. Everything from Rosy’s electric pylons that zap incoming dinos to Amir’s devastating terraforming laser that shoots down like the Hammer of Dawn from Gears of War. While I had my preference, you can’t go wrong with choosing anyone in this group of armed men and women, if only this diverse cast of characters had personalities to make me emotionally attached.
Selecting each hero does not restrict your other players. Maybe all three of you want to play the balanced hero Ortega; then, you can do that. Little touches like that give some quality of life to the mechanics.
The weapons and equipment bring something to the table and fit various playstyles. Whether it’s having an assault rifle as the primary weapon and an SMG as a sidearm with shock grenades, the limited supply does allow for some distinct ways to tackle the dinosaur invasion. Explosions from grenades and firing off rounds from the different guns all pack a punch, making killing these beasts even more fun. More options do unlock through leveling up, but I haven’t seen a lot in that department, but when I got the airstrike, that was an injection of power that I didn’t know I needed to feel in this game.
Upgrading gear is fulfilling and accessible. Some dinos will drop resources, which can turn into potential upgrades tokens that unlock slots for extra damage or stability for the gun of your choice. It is simple but gets the job done, especially when needing some stats on a particular weapon to go up a notch.
The one piece of equipment I had an issue with was the health stim, the main way to heal when hurt. For a game that is all about speed and constant adrenaline, it makes the hero walk slower and unable to fight, which leaves not enough time to recuperate when in a heated battle.
Mutant dinosaurs have a small variety, but there are updates to deliver more, like a recent poisonous creature. Small to medium enemies are fun to fight as they die quickly enough but leave for a challenge in the right situation. Like the T-Rex, the bigger ones are bullet sponges that are more annoying than an entertaining boss. The only bigger issue is the AI of these bloodthirsty creatures is that sometimes they still stand there as an idle ornament during a battle, sometimes not even facing the humans that their family is trying to eat.
Death is not overly meaningful, which helps in most situations. Getting down means you can pick yourself up if nothing is attacking you or having a teammate help you up. The only way to truly fail is to have the whole team die. I had this happen twice, once as fair as we got overwhelmed and defeated, but another was random and at the extraction point to leave the mission, so I do feel a little salty about that.
So far, there is one campaign, Tundra. The oversized snowy map is empty with bland secondary objectives and manmade structures that look the same. The world has various regions, all of which with varying threat levels based on the completion or failure of missions, but these sections mostly feel the same with not enough diversity to keep my interest in the environment. The higher the level of each area, the harder and more rewarding it will become, which it doesn’t feel like when going into higher areas versus lower.
While the optional missions found in the world are repetitive and unappealing, the primary ones are a mixed bag. Some feel like generic secondary jobs that are labeled as something more important, but some are unique and fun. One involving transporting a minecart full of explosives stands out, but there is not enough that are memorable like that.
Sometimes the game does not mark or make it clear on what to do. I would circle the entire map trying to find my objective without any hints on where to go. Most of the time, it is obvious, but other times I was left in the dark.
Completing a mission gives a rating and your time, with no incentive to go for an extra star or shave off a few minutes. Hopefully, this gets built upon, but for now, it is something I ignored after realizing it doesn’t offer much.
Moving around the large landscape does not get old. The heroes run with the speed of a cartoon while having weight to them that makes it feel right and not airy. Trying to climb up over an obstacle is inconsistent, though, especially rocks. Rather than climbing, I would slide right off, but it is excused as this is rarely required to get somewhere.
Contracts are another way to get resources or cosmetics like emotes or weapon skins. Complete one of these timed activities like getting five kills with a weapon without reloading, then you can get a goodie, and each completion of that same one will grant a better reward. While I stopped caring for the uninspiring packages, I appreciate that I can leave mid-mission to go open up what I earned from the challenge, a consistent aspect of having a forgiving mechanic to make playing more accessible and less grindy.
Customization options for both the heroes and their weapons are generic and bland. Slight color modifications don’t make me feel flashy or unique amongst my peers. Especially in a first-person game where I can only see the red skin on my gun rather than the new blue color scheme I have on my outfit.
While this is a multiplayer-focused game, the matchmaking needs some fleshing out. Only the press of a button to get thrown in with random players does not work the way it should. Randomly getting the host position to pick the mission you want or having no control from a random player is irritating. A mission select that goes beyond solo gamers would correct some of these flaws.
Graphics and Audio – All Over the Place
Visually, most of the time, this apocalyptic world looks acceptable, nothing that blows my mind on the surface. Still, the lighting and color choices give it a boost even if the graphical fidelity is not anything to write home about. Going through caves with glowing dino ooze, or the eye-catching red of the blood, and fire from explosions is something that heightens the beauty that can be found in Second Extinction. I did find some inconsistent textures that were distracting, but nothing sinful.
While I really like the dinosaur designs, the animations of them getting mangled by bullets is iffy. Sometimes their bodies look goofy and take away from the impressive details.
The audio design is all over the place, more than the blemishes found in the visual elements. When it’s at its best, then pods dropping from space to drop off the E.R.A. fighters or to offer equipment is beyond satisfying, reminding me of a meatier sound delivery than Deep Rock Galactic (a phenomenal indie game, by the way). Guns not only feel good, but the sound makes it that much better. On the downside, the sound propagation is off with my teammates being a mile away, yet I can hear them shooting like they are next to me or gunfire in a cave sounding the same as being outside or in a concrete building.
Despite having the music all the way up, I could barely hear it during intense fights. It would highlight the intensity and make everything feel more epic, but instead, the blockbuster styled score is sitting in the background, relaxing and drinking a margarita while my squad gets drenched in blood. For what I could hear over the mayhem, it is decent. It is a generic score that, if balanced properly with sound effects, then it would do its job of getting me pumped up.
My preview of Second Extinction was played on PC, and the code was provided by Sandbox Strategies.