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PAX Prime 2013: Extraction hands-on

PAX Prime 2013

Knowing your audience is one of the most important aspects of any creative endeavor. Splash Damage seem to know this better than anyone – their latest game Extraction has been tested by an inner circle of fans for nearly a year now, with nary a peep of its existence leaking outside of the tight-knit community.

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At its public reveal at PAX, it looks like all that feedback is paying off. Extraction feels far more polished than most pre-beta games available at the show, thanks in no small part to its impeccably tight strategic design. Similar to Brink and Enemy Territory, Splash Damage is making another team-based, objective-heavy shooter. At first glance, it looks like a best-of-Splash-Damage compilation game: the unique art direction of Brink and the more-beloved gameplay of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory seem to be what’s on offer in Extraction.

It has an extra level of polish that really makes the game instantly attention-grabbing. A loud tutorial video seeks to train people waiting in line to play. It’s barely necessary: Extraction‘s HUD displays enough information for any pick-up player to get situated with immediately. Despite being a class-based shooter, every class can contribute to every important step of a match – it’s just that some classes can contribute faster.

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Speed is key, too, since the entire game is based around competing to see which team is better at attacking and defending each objective. In the map on offer at PAX, two teams of five duke it out over a train yard, with two stages of gameplay requiring one team to attack an area, and the other to defend. With only five players on each side, it’s hard to simply throw sheer firepower at the defending team.

In the match I played, each round came down to two close-quarters characters frantically fighting over the objective while other players waited to respawn. With each second mattering, matches got more and more intense as time went on. The defending team – trying desperately to prevent a train car from blowing up – covered as many entrances to the objective as possible, but enemy snipers began catching on to where they were hiding. The bomb was planted, and the attackers began holding their ground as the timer started rolling, only to be picked away by shotgun-wielding engineers dashing madly into the area, as the long-range equipped attackers were now outmatched in a close-up fight.

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All this felt incredibly coordinated for a show-floor demo, thanks in no small part to the game’s refreshing tactical design. When anyone can hop into a game, pick a class they’re familiar with, and still at least help out with the current objective – that’s inviting. As Splash Damage’s CEO puts it, playing Enemy Territory as a soldier is a ton of fun until you become dead weight during an engineer-reliant objective. In Extraction, every player can make a difference at any given time, even if the roles are vastly different in combat.

There are five classes on display at PAX, but Splash Damage (and their new publishing partner, Nexon) have bigger plans for the game. Extraction has 20 characters in testing currently, each with diverse combat skills that slot into the objective-based design. The overall design of the game is decidedly British, set in a post-apocalyptic London with a cast of motley mercenaries serving as player characters. The full roster aims to offer a wide variety of player choice when it comes to ethnicity and gender, as well as functional gameplay differences.

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The free-to-play market is massive on PC these days, and Splash Damage is planning on releasing Extraction for free as well. However, they’re currently planning on actual free play – think Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, not Candy Crash. “If you look at our game, you can already see places where we could be charging for things,” says the Splash Damage CEO and lead designer Paul Wedgwood. “We haven’t yet, though. We don’t even have a store built.” If or when that store eventually comes, they’re adamant that nothing bought through a store would affect gameplay. The balance of Extraction is too fragile to allow for any kind of cynical pay-to-win strategy. I believe him, too – if he can convince hundreds of fans on the internet to help him test a game without breaking an NDA, he’s somebody who understands how important the respect of players is.

Extraction will be launching a closed beta later this year for PC.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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