Electronic Arts’ UK-based Chillingo label has been a terrific supporter of the Windows Phone platform. They’re primarily known for their puzzle games – including Cut the Rope, which remains conspicuously absent from WP7. Chillingo makes other kinds of games too, such as Extraction: Project Outbreak. It looks like an action game but plays like a strategy title, making for a unique experience. An excessive number of bugs and technical issues threaten to drag the Windows Phone port down like so many zombies, but the fun mostly manages to come out unscathed.
When in doubt, hire a contractor
The game’s story revolves around a bunch of bio-engineered weapons (different kinds of zombies) escaping and unleashing havoc on the world. A team of highly-skilled contractors are sent in to stop them. Details of the story are conveyed via still pictures made to look like photographs in a dossier, along with bits of text beneath them. The dossier scenes are aggressively uninteresting though, beating players over the head with their poor art and writing. Frankly, the game would be better off with no story at all. Thank goodness for the skip button.
It’s not a shootah!
One look at screenshots of Extraction would lead you to think it’s a twin stick shooter like Zombies on the Phone but with more realistic graphics. Well you’d be wrong, and you really should stop making snap judgments like that. Instead, the game uses mouse-like controls: tap anywhere on the screen to make your mercenary move there, much as you’d do in Torchlight II or Diablo III on PC. Such a simple solution, you have to wonder why more mobile developers don’t make use of it.
Actually firing on enemies works a bit less intuitively. Instead of tapping an enemy to fire on it, you have to swipe a finger over it. The benefit of this system is that you can highlight and select multiple targets simultaneously by swiping over them. The nameless protagonist will then fire on them in the highlighting order until they die or he does. This results in an XP bonus, plus it’s fun.
The skill shot system tries to add an extra layer of technique to the process of locking on enemies, but falls flat instead. At the top right corner of the screen lies the skill shot bar, which looks like a small green rectangle when you’re not shooting. Whenever you start locking onto a series of enemies, the speed at which your finger moves causes a red bar to fill up. Release while it touches the green bar (initiating the attack) and you’ll perform an extra-damaging skill shot. The timing of skill shots feels mostly random – thankfully you can ignore it and you’ll still make enough skill shots for their Achievement entirely by accident.
After locking in on those darn dirty zombies, you’re encouraged (nagged, actually) by the game to move while shooting in order to avoid damage. If enemies get too close, you can melee them by rubbing left and right over them repeatedly. A poor command input, it often results in shooting the enemy by mistake. Not a huge deal, but it makes the melee Achievement harder to get than necessary.
Besides toggling between your two guns at any time, you can also kill enemies with grenades and special weapons. To throw a grenade, just tap the grenade icon at the left side of the screen and drag it onto the playing field. Not as efficient as it’d be with a two-button mouse, but it works nonetheless.
Deploying special weapons works similarly but not as well. On tablets, special weapons get their own hotbar at the bottom of the screen, and you’d just drag them out like a grenade. On phones (including WP7), players must tap a blue icon in the lower-right corner of the screen to bring up the special weapon menu. Then you drag and use them. But there’s really no reason that the four special weapon icons couldn’t just be on-screen all the time. Currently, the time it takes to get the menu to appear and then deploy the weapon could result in player death. Also, the controls for deploying them often just plain don’t work – it’s one of the many bugs we’ll get to in a bit.
Extraction’s store description advertises four different game modes, but really the game has a single campaign containing four types of missions within. Initially you’ll have access to one or two different missions at a time, but after beating the game you can select from eight-ish.
- Extermination: Kill a certain number of enemies and then return to the starting point for extraction.
- Escort: You’ll need to escort two soldiers along a linear path toward the exit – if one soldier dies, you’ll receive credit for rescuing the other, but both soldiers dying results in a failure. These start out easy but get hard quickly since the soldiers can’t take much damage and yu have no way to heal them.
- Rescue: You’ll need to save as many of the four scientists as possible by finding them and bringing them back to the extraction point – all within a strict time limit. These missions aren’t too bad early on, but later in the game it becomes extremely hard to save more than two scientists within the time limit and without dying.
- Reinforcement: Help a group of 5-7 soldiers defend a location against multiple waves of enemies. The more soldiers that survive at the end, the greater your reward. This late-game mission type is the easiest to complete and pays the best, so you’ll probably end up grinding it for credits and Achievements.
Leveling and Upgrades
As you kill enemies, you’ll earn XP, which in turn leads to leveling up. Each new level awards you one skill point which you can assign to one of several stats. Also, completing missions gets you credits to spend in the armory. You’ll be able to unlock new weapons, special weapons like Turrets and Droids, and upgrade each item several times. It’s a fair system, though even at the max level your soldier can’t survive too many hits from enemies.
Slow and buggy
Extraction suffers from excessive start-up and pre-mission loading times – each load takes about 60 seconds on my Samsung Focus. Even pausing and restarting a mission initiates another minute long load; clearly the developers put little effort into load management.
Worse, this is the most bug-ridden Xbox Windows Phone game I’ve played (besides Gun Bros and Contract Killer of course). Here are the many bugs I and others have encountered:
- Even though the game supposedly offers the ability to purchase credits as PDLC, it can’t connect to the Marketplace.
- The protagonist’s movement often glitches, causing him to spaz about randomly (while still obeying movement commands) but making him unable to fire. The only solution is to relaunch the game.
- When one soldier dies on an Escort mission, the other starts moving extremely slowly and awkwardly.
- Sometimes when calling for extraction with only 1 or 2 out of 4 scientists rescued, the game doesn’t give credit for any scientists rescued.
- The main character gets occasionally stuck in walls and can’t move.
- Turrets slide around endlessly when bumped.
- Special weapons sometimes won’t deploy (may be related to the movement bug).
- The prompt saying I have a new special weapon appears at the beginning of every mission, even though I've already used all four special weapons.
A few of the Achievements can be tough if you tackle them later at the game rather than the beginning due to the rising difficulty curve. But follow our Achievement Guide, grind for credits and kills as needed, and you should come away with the full 200 GamerScore.
As a critic, I have to point out the flaws I come across in a game. And Extraction has many, to such an extent that it shouldn’t have passed certification. Yet the game still manages to be pretty fun between all the loading and glitches. Plus it only costs a dollar, which makes any game more palatable. Hopefully Chillingo will patch the game, get the PDLC transactions working, and eliminate the all-annoying movement bug. Even still, patient gamers will probably enjoy Project Outbreak, warts and all.
Extraction costs 99 cents and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Windows Phone Store.