Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Game 45: In Extremis

Name:In Extremis
Publisher:US Gold
Developer:Blue Sphere
Time:4.5 Hours

In Extremis is one bizarre game. Seemingly made as a cheap cash-in for the Wolfenstein craze, yet it has actual cutscenes, by what appears to be a legitimate artist. An engine with many unusual things for the era, advanced beyond Wolfenstein and even Doom in some cases. So this had some actual effort put into it. And yet...I can't believe that anyone spent any real amount of time on this game. It doesn't feel tested.

Perhaps its for the best, its hard to look at In Extremis and not think of Alien. The game's most notable feature is that it rips off Alien more blatantly than any other game I've ever seen. Every single element of the first two movies is here, and I dare say it gets close to some of the stuff in Alien 3 as well. The similarities end visually, as once you fight them you're not in danger from their blood and the face huggers don't turn you into a ticking time bomb. Granted, no one ever does that aspect of the Alien films, even the official titles, but its an interesting thing to note.

With that in mind, the whole style of the game feels like a bizarre relic of pre-Doom times. With its inspirations exactly the same as Doom's, we sort of get that game through an entirely different set of eyes. Instead of a fast, action game, we get one that's plodding, slow, and without much tactical consideration. You move very slowly, and without the ability to as much select a different weapon, instead using whatever you last picked up. All you can do is walk backwards and shoot, and you don't know if you've been flanked until you've killed the enemy in front of you.

There are several new and interesting aspects that haven't been seen before, and some that haven't been seen since. There are doors that open in proximity, lights that turn the screen a certain color when you get close. These are interesting, but don't have much effect on the game. The new aspects are terminals, places where you can get various items or passcodes. This isn't like Marathon or the myriad of other games that use such things for displaying text to the player, no this is the only part of the game where you can get items. From guns, to oxygen tanks (because oxygen slowly runs out, why do the French love this so?), to bombs. You don't even get ammo, just another gun from another terminal. Saving works in this system too, although you get save codes automatically at pre-set levels, with pre-set equipment.

Unfortunately, once you've gotten over the unusual nature of In Extremis, you've pretty much seen all there is worth seeing. Instead of the key and door games, its passcode and terminal, key and door. The usual pre-placed monsters are replaced with respawning ones that come out of certain locations. You need to find a bomb in order to stop this from occurring. It was precisely because of this situation that I never finished the game. The game's not very interesting in terms of combat, at least I never found anything that offered something beyond slowly walking backwards. At a certain point, I was on a level, one I had a code for, where it seemed like I didn't have enough ammo to reach the bomb and the location I had to use it in.

Fortunately, multiple people on the internet have beaten this game, so there were working save codes for the final level. Where the player has to fight a Xenomorph Queen. The final boss has a lot of health, too much. The game is expecting you to run out of ammo on one weapon, then go to any of the dozen terminals here in order to get another weapon, and repeat this possibly that many times. I didn't have the patience to deal with that, but some Russian let's player did, and winning isn't impressive, just another cutscene.

I haven't mentioned the cutscenes for a reason...they're very French and non-verbal. There's an intro cutscene, which explains you're on a derelict ship, and an outro cutscene, where you get out of a mine onto a planet's surface. Presumably I missed a cutscene where we enter that mine. There are a lot of little cutscenes for doing things that other games would gloss over. Getting an item out of a terminal starts a cutscene, dying, I think using key cards, and using an elevator. They're the best part by far, feeling truly alien and cold. Like you're all alone in space.

There are two weapons I remember using, there may be more. The first were varieties of a laser gun. Some were a flamethrower, I think. None of them were any good. Then, there was the good weapon, the plasma...something or another. It slowed enemies down, it didn't take a dozen shots to kill things. Its actually a pretty good weapon. Which is why I'm giving this a single point. 1/10

Alien. Xenomorph. Facehugger. Xenomorph. Xenomorph Queen. The amount of variety is bizarre considering how little it matters. I didn't notice any real practical difference between enemies, except the queen, who is so boring I didn't bother killing her. The problem is with the regular enemies, the strategy is effectively, shoot, walk backward, hope it dies. This happens in a lot of games, but here this is pronounced because you move like a normal person in power armor, which is slow. You have no way of actually running away, so every fight is exactly the same. 0/10

None. 0/10

You walk around a bunch of areas until things happen. 0/10

Player Agency:
You have move, you have crouch, you have shoot, which is also the use key, and you run. You always run because this guy is slow. There's no real point in crouching. Having two vitally important actions bound to the same key screwed me over more than one time. Its just so slow and unwieldy, like a prototype tank that nobody should have actually made. At least the doors open automatically. People taut that like some kind of accomplishment.
The inventory is okay. You can pick up various kinds of items. Batteries, which power a radar and night vision goggles, the latter is completely useless. Oxygen, syringes, which are vital to surviving the game. Cards, which tell you what the level codes are and give you access to the elevators. Finally, there are bombs, which blow up enemy spawning points. 1/10

Shoot and use are bound to the same key. The only thing I can use are terminals which are also item lockers. Neither of these are postitives. 0/10

There's something bizarre here. Not a feeling of "what's going on?", but a feeling of "why did they do it like this?". There are little cutscenes that play after some important actions. They feel weird and out-of-place. The whole thing feels familiar and yet, completely alien. It is not an all together good feeling, but it is the fondest I ever felt of the game. 3/10

On the surface, the game is very nice-looking. The monsters in particular are gorgeously grotesque. The problem is they have three frames of animation, and no side sprites. They're always facing the player. This isn't a problem in some games, because enemies always walk towards the player, but here, they walk in other directions. Frankly, the graphical artist would have been better off working on a RPG than a shooter or anything requiring animation.
The walls, within a level, are basically all the same. Everything looks the same. There's variety across levels and a few distinct interlevel graphics, but that doesn't change the bland profile the game builds itself. The floors have textures, which I think it beat Blake Stone to the punch on. I didn't notice much.
There are a few gimmicks here. In some places there are green and red lights. You approach them, the screen turns that color. It means nothing. Then, whenever you're next to a monster (which is always) killing it covers the screen in alien blood briefly. Finally, 45-degree angles. None of these improved the experience. 2/10

The player goes to a planet, aliens took over the planet, and the player gets rescued. I think. This has the double whammy of being confusing for an already pointless plot. 0/10

I think I was supposed to have music in this game, but I'll be honest, I'm not crying over that. I think there's some static background sound which is a weird combination. Regardless, the sounds in-game are all bad. First, there's the walking sound, which sounds like my ears popping, which unnerves the hell out of me. Not in a good way.

The problem is the sound effect dude, because he doesn't deserve a title, left in a bunch of popping sounds. Its noticeable in a lot of places, but its the walking sounds that are the most annoying. Running is only slightly better. The rest, is bland. The shooting sounds like generic sci-fi blaster, although the plasma weapons have a decent punch to them. Generic alien screams.
Supposedly, the game's sounds are ripped from Alien. As in actually stolen. Considering how very blatant the game is otherwise about stealing it, I can believe it, it explains the game's awful popping sounds. However, throughout the game there's a Star Trek-style red alert sound effect. I don't remember that from Alien, but I haven't seen it in years and I don't care to see it anytime soon. 1/10

Totaling it up gives me 8. I'm going to take a further 2 points off, because of the passcode system and because some of the savecodes are literally impossible to start from. That's 6. That is the lowest score any game has had that wasn't from the early '80s. The nearest in-decade games are 10 points higher. From a practical standpoint, this game is probably the worst one I've played yet. 90% of the time, except for nostalgia, games from the early '80s aren't that good.

As there's some shoot 'em up sharing the game's title, I'm going to go over modern reviews extremely briefly. Judging by most of these statements, but they don't really say why. They all really boil down to it having neat ideas, but its not as horrible as I think. The Alien wiki has this game, although the writer forgot to mention why its an Alien game, which is amusing, all things considered.
There are no period reviews in English, and all the foreign language ones are surprisingly nice, albeit in the 3/5 70% range of reviews.

So, Am I right or am I wrong? Well, considering the best reviews lean towards better than average, and nobody really played it, oh, and someone made a shoot 'em up sharing the game's title. The next FPS is going to be Freaks, the original, not the remake. Not before a detour into another Sid Meier flight sim.


  1. I'm the anonyous who asked for a potential blog about MS-DOS action games on The Adventurer's Guild. Nice blog! Perhaps my only criticism would be the excessively low scores due to counting things like "Non enemies" (most action games in the early 90s don't care about that) or "Story" (who play these games for the story?). and the same could be said about The Adventurer's Guild when they count the "graphics" and "sounds" in a text adventure of the 80s!

    About In Extremis, coincidentally I discovered it few days ago, while I was browsing through Spanish computer games magazine Micromanía. In the end I only found some previews, but not a review (probably because it was not translated into Spanish and it felt "dated" compared to the new hi-res, video or 3D games?), but in turn I found an unexpected review of In Extremis.

    Without even having played the game or watched any gameplay, I could tell simply by the screenshots that this game was massively overrated by Micromanía. Not only the cover of the March 1994 issue was dedicated to In Extremis ( https://archive.org/details/micromania-segunda-epoca-70/mode/2up?view=theater ), but the game received an outrageous 94/100 in a review that compared the quality of the title to movies like Alien ( https://archive.org/details/micromania-segunda-epoca-70/page/n5/mode/2up?view=theater ).

    I have translated the review to English ( https://pastebin.com/raw/mA5y5PTB ) and it's pretty interesting to read. Hasn't the reviewer ever heard about Doom and Wolfenstein 3D? Even the annoying up and down screen movement to emulate the steps was praised as super realistic.

    Of course, the rest of European magazines gave it 80 or 70, which are decent scores, and this 94 only reflects the brutally inflated scores by this particular magazine (as an example, Disney's Beauty of the Beast, which was no more than a collection of minigames, received a 90: https://archive.org/details/micromania-segunda-epoca-62/page/n25/mode/2up?view=theater ).

    But there may be other reasons why the hype for this bad Wolfenstein clone was so high even in 1994, "after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom": I'm not sure about other countries, but those games were not reviewed by the Spanish video game press beacuse they were not officially released here. I understand the shareware or even full versions were heavily copied and some more mature gamers were able to experience both games in the early 90s, but in my case (I was 14 in 1994) I was only able to play Doom, Doom 2 and Wolfenstein 3D in 1997, when somebody gave me a couple of CDs full of MSDOS games (which also included other cool games that I had never played in my own computer, such as Another World or the Coktel Vision graphic adventures).

    So there you go! The first of these games to be reviewed by the Spanish press was Doom II, which I assume was released AFTER In Extremis. So maybe everyone was genuinely surprised by a Wolfenstein 3D clone... In any case, the inflated socres of this particular magazine make me suspect that they had some kind of economical benefit from the publishers. I wish video game press was more critical and didn't "fall in love" with the graphics so often. (But then again, let's be honest: In Extremis was ugly even in 1994!)

    1. CORRECTION: I accidentally forgot to write "looking for Bloodnet reviews" on the second paragraph. The actual text should be:

      "About In Extremis, coincidentally I discovered it few days ago, while I was browsing through Spanish computer games magazine Micromanía looking for Bloodnet reviews. In the end I only found some previews, but not a review (probably because it was not translated into Spanish and it felt "dated" compared to the new hi-res, video or 3D games?), but in turn I found an unexpected review of In Extremis."

    2. Welcome aboard! I think that a lot of action games spend considerable time on their story, and if that's crap you're going to notice. So far there hasn't been a lot that's outright awful, but Isle of the Dead got on my nerves at times. And there are titles like Star Cruiser where you need to pay attention to what's been written or you won't be able to advance. In the future I know that there are going to be a considerable number of story heavy games where that starts mattering a lot more. To keep it to classic shareware games, titles like Xargon and Traffic Department 2192 have a lot of writing. Non-enemies was probably a mistake, but I can't really say I've come up with a good substitute.
      Its not really something that ruins a truly awful game, but a mediocre game can be improved by it.

      Wow. There's a lot to unpack with that. Guy doesn't talk about the gameplay whatsoever, which I find a bit grim. Even if you never saw a FPS before, the game has considerable issues. Only being able fill up ammo by getting a new weapon is annoying and in the end put me in an unwinnable situation. No mentions of sound issues either. What the heck got low originality from that magazine if unlicensed Aliens game still got a 80? I can see a few ports and expansions got as low as the 40s, but actual original releases aren't getting anything that low.
      Also, I find it mildly amusing that just after this I played Freaks, which was from Spain and apparently got absolutely nothing from any of those magazines. Not that I expect the gaming magazines of the time to say anything nice about it, since it wasn't flashy or anything. (and Delphine publishing it in Spain explains why they were linked to the game in some places online)

      That said this does make sense, people tend to be only know about games if they have some way of playing them. Wolfenstein isn't really the first game of its type, but earlier games had poor reach. Someone from Spain or Germany who couldn't play those games owing to whatever reasons would naturally be more receptive to the kind of game that actually could reach them.

      The Bloodnet thing is weird. Not because I find the graphics in that game appealing or anything, but the mismash of clashing graphical images doesn't really seem all that different from this. I'm no professional, but I do have some knowledge of graphical design and neither strike me as something especially appealing. In Extremis in particular has a very noisy artstyle that makes it look scaled down from real artwork poorly. It looks like it clashes in gameplay even if it isn't.