The Entertainment industry has always been prone to slavish bandwagon-jumping and mindless trend-following. tv companies, for instance, recently decided that everybody in Britain loves detective series, and so they set about clogging up the schedules with thousands of grumpy sods. It was impossible to switch on the box without being confronted by an episode of Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect, A Touch Of Frost or Spender. At one time there were so many fictional television crime-stoppers, I half expected them to set up their own union and go on strike for juicier murders, emptier private lives, denser sidekicks and drier cynicism.
Hollywood reacted in similar fashion following the success of Basic Instinct, churning out no end of murder n sex dramas each featuring kinkier sex and ghastlier death than the last. Im still waiting for Ripsaw-Wielding Shoe Fetishist, starring Sharon Stone, Madonna, Michael Douglas and Pee Wee Herman. The pc games industry is no different. Right now theres a torrential flood of first-person perspective 3D kill em-ups.
Nothing compares to Doom
Now, as everybody knows, Doom stands decapitated head and blood-stained shoulders above the rest. It forces them to kneel at its feet at gunpoint and lick its combat boots until they can see their sorry faces reflected back in them. So how will In Extremis fare as it enters the ring? Does it cuff Doom round the ear and give it a dead arm, or does it simply join the back of the queue for the boot-licking contest like all the others?
Things dont look good right from the start: our hero, the man you must guide to victory, is called Bob Jones. Not the most inspiring name for a hero, really. Sounds more like the bloke who comes round to unblock your toilet with a generous hairy bum cleavage and a smouldering roll-up hanging from his lips. But no, according to the manual this Bob Jones is a top space marine, whos been spending his time off enjoying a relaxing time by the swimming pool surrounded by a bevy of buxom beauties. Hmm. Unfortunately for Bob, his Spaceclub 18-30 holiday has been cut short by an urgent call for help: a top secret research laboratory, which the military hid in deep space, has mysteriously disappeared and hes got to jet off into space and find it. And find it he does, moments before his own spaceship blows up for no good reason whatsoever, forcing him to eject into space and clamber up the exhaust pipe of the offending laboratory. Standing alone, in his bulky hi-tech space marine clobber, and with only a generous selection of high-powered weapons to protect him, he must make his way through the abandoned research centre, killing all manner of goggle-eyed, green-skinned scum as he goes.
First impressions are good. The spacelab interior is moody and atmospheric, with all manner of H. R. Geiger-style metallic spaghetti decorating the walls. A few human corpses are sprinkled around on the floor, as if Jeffrey Dahmer and Hannibal Lecter had held a boisterous party there the night before. Computer terminals blink away in the darkness. Eee, its just like Alien', you say to yourself.
Movement is smooth but fairly slow. Bobs space suit is somewhat bulky after all, and the screen bobs up and down as he plods along to the sound of his own weighty footsteps. In fact, he walks rather like somebody wearing a large pair of skis attached to their feet and this sense of hindered mobility actually adds to the games fear factor; you soon realise that its going to be totally impossible to run away from anything that lurches out at you.
And its not long before something does lurch in your direction. Almost immediately youll find yourself set upon by a pair of pointy-headed, snarling green thingamyjigs. The alarming thing about the monsters onboard is that, rather than spit acid or fire lasers at you, they beat you up. In a panic, you try and dodge the greenies flailing tentacles and fire your weapon at them. Once killed, the aliens explode, causing green goo to run down your visor as if youd sneezed inside your helmet.
Its at these times when In Extremis is at its most effective - the aliens leap out of nowhere without warning and it does genuinely make you jump. The lack of music makes these rapid bouts of screaming all the more scary. But these moments of tense panic soon become outweighed by the mundane nature of the overall gameplay, and its this which Id like to take to task.
Ive got the key
To advance from level to level in In Extremis, its necessary to locate and utilise all manner of security cards. There are elevator cards which let you gain access to higher levels, and computer cards which open sealed doors and the like. Further-more, each level has its own access code which must be tapped into fixed terminals, allowing you to collect more weapons, health boosters, oxygen packs (your air supply is constantly diminishing), bombs and batteries.
In practice, this comes across as bureaucracy at its worst. For instance; sometimes, in order to get from one level to the next, youll have to do the following:
Tap in the corresponding access code (which you wrote down on a bit of paper)
Search around for a security card in order to open a sealed door.
Search around for another security card in order to learn the access code for the next level up.
By now youll have found the lift, but for some reason you cant make it go anywhere. Time to walk back out again and search for a new elevator card. In order to find it, youll probably have to use one of your security cards again - no doubt the old one which you dumped when you found the new one. so youll have to go back and find that as well.
You get the picture. Presumably, this sort of thing is an attempt to add depth to the game - in which case give me shallow, mindless entertainment any day of the week. Anyone whos ever queued for three hours to pick up an emergency passport only to be told that theyve filled out one line on their form incorrectly and have to start all over again will be on familiar territory. This isnt fun, its just irritating.
Occasionally youll discover something new, however, moments like these are few and far between. There are a fair number of levels, but theyre all tedious Hampton Court Maze-style affairs and the constant wandering around in search of access cards soon becomes as monotonous as watching 18 episodes of Lovejoy in a row.
Its a shame really. If Blue Sphere had injected just a little more action and removed some of the card-searching, they might have had a sure-fire winner on their hands. It still wouldnt have come close to Doom of course but it could have come a little bit closer. As it stands, expecting anyone whos experienced Doom's thrills and spills to be impressed by this effort is rather like taking a group of battle-hardened Vietnam veterans onto a fairground ghost train and expecting them to wet their pants with fear.
Download In Extremis
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP