I couldn’t help but feel anxious as my drop pod crashed through the heavens. Within seconds I emerged from my metal coffin, only to be greeted by a gorgeous nighttime vista of Alaskan mountain ranges. There was a calmness to the world — as if it was posing for a photo to plaster on a postcard. But this was an illusion: one quickly shattered with a deafening screech as a dozen raptors and a mutated triceratops the size of buses rushed my squad. All hell broke loose, bullets flew in every direction, and I was, unsurprisingly, knocked on my virtual ass by an onslaught of teeth and claws. I didn’t stick with my teammates during the fight. Second Extinction quickly educated me that my typical lone wolf strategy wasn’t going to fly here.
I was the prey, not the predator.
Set on a dinosaur infested Earth, humans have retreated to space and wage all-out war with these monsters to retake their planet. You play as one of four human specialists sent to the surface in order to complete a variety of different missions. From the outset, developer Systemic Reaction’s first-person shooter pushes the notion of banding together as a species to combat the dino menace.
Before you even launch into a mission, you’re shown a large world map sectioned off into different chunks. This is the War Effort: a community-driven mechanic that showcases humanity’s impact on the reptiles. With each portion of the map boasting a threat level, players can actively contribute to making an area safer. Inversely, I was told that the dinosaurs won’t take mass extermination lying down. They will actively take over other areas, raising the threat level.
It’s an intriguing concept that doubles as visual storytelling. Your own personal war effort may not have a huge influence on reducing a location’s threat level. Yet the community at large can work together. Systemic Reaction’s lead producer, Brynley Gibson, explained that resources and dinosaurs will also vary depending on how high or low a threat level is. It’s all designed to increase your character’s firepower via weapon upgrades and modifications.
Gibson noted player progression is “horizontal.” So besides determining how strong your gun is, everyone will have the same tools available to them. Each weapon has a fairly large skill tree. However, users can only activate up to 10 upgrades at a time. Second Extinction is a game about “strategy and choice,” not just who can dump the most hours into it.
All of this reinforces the team player mentality behind Second Extinction. Each three-player squad can bring in a Payload — or a drop pod filled with ammo, medkits, and more aggressive options. These can be deployed anywhere but dinosaur caves. Yet I worry this system may push users to ignore some of the flashier payloads. It’s very easy to burn through your ammo, so you’re almost required to have at least one player bring this Payload with them. Second Extinction even goes so far as to literally warn the squad that no one has an Ammo Payload equipped. Since you cannot swap Payloads out mid-mission, you’ll end up relying more on your character’s specific abilities to impact the moment-to-moment action.
There will be four characters available when Second Extinction launches into Early Access in October. And each dinosaur exterminator boasts two unique abilities on cooldowns. I picked Jürgen — who looks like John Hammond from Jurassic Park got sick of everyone’s shit and took up sharpshooting. My abilities were a sticky bomb that had to be manually detonated and pheromones that masked me (and any teammate next to me) from dinos. Other abilities I saw include a massive minigun, dashing during battle, and setting up electric fences to force enemies into specific choke points.
Knowing when and how to use these skills in chaotic fights was critical to our success. No one player is more important than others, which pushes this idea of working together. While Gibson explained you can go it alone, that’s ill-advised, as the difficulty does not scale based on the number of people playing. It doesn’t help that the different dinosaurs present a mix of both unique and familiar challenges that are tricky for a full squad of people.
Raptors make up the meat of your foes in Second Extinction. And despite getting downed almost immediately while facing my first pack, I quickly began to understand their movements and methodology. Unlike zombies — your typical cooperative shooter fodder — raptor attacks are unpredictable and highly aggressive. If your entire team isn’t careful these reptiles will quickly encircle or break your ranks. The best counter was to communicate more than I normally do in similar games.
That being said, some of the enemies you come across are a little less inspired. You have the ranged one that spits acid, the one that constantly calls for backup, some big armored bullet sponges, and a pack leader that buffs the rest of the beasts. They’re all fine, but there’s a very good chance you’ve seen these archetypes before in games like World War Z or Left 4 Dead.
Second Extinction is a game that wants to bring its playerbase together from the moment it loads up the first mission. It’s a lofty ambition — especially when so many people don’t like matching with strangers. This title will live and die by how driven its community is, which does worry me just a bit. Players are fickle. Not to mention there are so many new, cooperative games out or coming out already. I worry the number of users will check things out and clock out early during an Early Access release.
So much of Second Extinction is about working together towards a single mission. Sometimes that’s securing supplies, tracking down a crashed ship, or pushing back the dinosaur menace. If there aren’t enough people, then the dinosaurs will surely win. Then again… Given how the real world is going, maybe it’s time to give them another shot anyway.