On the best of days, Extinction would seem trite. But in April 2018, it feels even more like an also-ran, coming just months after other properties like Attack on Titan 2 and the remastered Shadow of the Colossus centered around giant slayers. In the game, Avil is the only hope for humanity: the sole swordsman—and the last of his order—capable of beheading a horde of rampaging giant ogres called the Ravenii. But as Avil clambers up the umpteenth ogre for the umpteenth killing blow, it becomes clear that Extinction’s problem is less its stale concept than its numbing repetition.
Each round in the game finds Avil in a new town beset by Ravenii, who are intent on stomping the place to bits. When they destroy buildings or kill civilians, this affects your extinction meter. If it falls to 0% before Avil completes certain objectives, like killing a set number of ogres or protecting watchtowers for several minutes, the round is over. Mission failed. The best way to keep up your meter is to evacuate civilians, which removes them from harm’s way and charges Avil’s Rune Strike, which is the only way to kill a single ogre before the rescue-charge-kill loop stars again.
Extinction’s campaign teaches you these fundamentals by gradually ramping up the complexity, with each mission adding a new mechanic to the mix. It’s a common enough teaching technique, but the game’s protracted tutorial dedicates entire missions to such inane changes as ogres wielding clubs or ogres wearing some armor with some spikes on it. Coupled with talky dialogue bookends to each mission, the story mode is an infuriating spoon-feeding of the obvious that feels much longer than it is, compensating for a lack of variety by treating every minor detail as a momentous occasion.
Despite changing terrain and spawn points, the game never forces you to adapt by developing new strategies. Human-sized creatures called Jackals may wander around in search of civilians to sink their claws into, but the Ravenii are such a disproportionately huge threat to your extinction meter that there’s no reason to deviate from the core strategic loop of saving people to charge the Rune Strike. Jackals are resilient enough to ensure that any non-Ravenii combat feels like a waste of precious time. And though the Ravenii show up with different combinations of armor, this only changes the number of steps it takes before you can sever one of their legs to halt their advance.
It’s Avil’s capacity to cleanly slice through a leg or an arm of beefy ogre flesh that constitutes one of the game’s few pleasures. Your protagonist moves and fights with a powerful, kinetic energy, climbing any structure and zipping across rooftops with his grappling hook and bounding from treetops and canopies like the Incredible Hulk. There are times when Extinction almost gets by on this pure fluidity, but the game isn’t always so smooth. Avil’s propulsive movement comes at the expense of precision. Too often, a jittery camera interferes with his slow-mo lock-on strikes or he scrambles helplessly into an ogre armpit. Where Shadow of the Colossus emphasizes young Wander’s shambling gait and unsure footing, Avil’s stumbles lack any sense of intention. His falls and misses feel more like a casualty of the largely automated climbing, which is too loose to seem entirely reliable.
Such mistakes in Extinction tend to snowball because the very things the ogres destroy are crucial to many of the core game mechanics. When the Ravenii take down a building or a wall, they also remove traversal options. When you lose angles of attack, you lose the basic thrill of the game’s movement, with Avil instead running across dull, open fields in pursuit of marauding ogres. Rounds of Extinction are fights not just to keep your meter above 0%, but to preserve what little enjoyment the game can offer.
That growing tedium conflicts with multiple score-based modes like daily challenges and randomly generated missions. Though they’re more entertaining than the coddling, overlong campaign, they’re predicated on the idea that there’s enough depth to the core mechanics to justify repeated play. They suggest you can experiment with new strategies or refine old ones as you fight for the top of the leaderboard. The player can imagine what the ideal round is at least supposed to look like, where systems converge to force you to manage different meters and defensive fronts. But Extinction never opens up the way it’s clearly supposed to, instead falling into a repetition that makes the game feel every bit as stale as its story concept.