In an extremely difficult situation!
You may be forgiven for thinking this is a retro review, as there was actually a game called In Extremis released for DOS by US Gold back in 1993. It was a rather generic Space FPS so hardly memorable. 2016’s In Extremis though is a very different game altogether, but it does have retro roots. After being in production by indie game developer LDNFRR for 4 years, In Extremis has finally seen the light of day on Steam thanks to the Greenlight program. You play as a bald woman with big eyebrows (judging by the opening cut-scenes) escaping the boredom of her mundane planet and hopping into a spaceship which apparently only flies vertically upwards. The lack of back story is not important as you are immediately thrown into the action battling blocky space-invader style enemies. The backdrop is thankfully much better to look at with colorful 16-bit style parallax scrolled space rushing past behind you. After a good 2 minutes of wave upon wave of square enemies you reach an even bigger and blockier end boss. As you shoot away at the large rectangular limbs of your enemy they fall away in Tetris-style shapes. The first stage was done within 2.5 minutes and without losing a life, in what seemed like slowed down bullet-hell but this soon changed. At this point you are presented with different route options for the next stage as you may have seen in games like Darius. This is when things start getting weird, like really really weird and more Extremis.
Choosing the left of the 3 route options I was presented on In Extremis took me to Primordia, a world where you are attacked by what seem like salt and pepper shakers accompanied by a sped up Big Band Jazz and Blues style soundtrack. The music is actually fantastic and would not sound out of place in a Dick Tracy or Bugsy Malone movie. As the level goes on the difficulty rises massively and the screen begins to scroll right and down and back up, dragging you around like a passenger through ever-decreasing corridors of bold lines and enemies. It is almost impossible to pass this section without losing a life as you have little or no control over ship navigation. The ‘Sun King’ end of stage boss is even more surreal looking like a Mayan god and throwing upside down cupcakes at you. Yes, I said things would start getting weird but they are about to get even weirder.
After not being successful in overcoming the Sun King, I attempted the other Stage 2 routes on my next playthroughs. The central route is pure Binary Extremis. To keep the difficulty up you travel across a green screen with levels of code being written in the background while you are attacked by enemies made up entirely in shape by keyboard characters. These are extremely difficult to distinguish from the backdrop and bullets are even harder to see as these are also letters of the alphabet. If you manage to survive through this barrage, likely as much by luck as skill, you are then attacked by micro chips with projectiles that change direction mid flight. I then thought my computer had crashed when I saw a ‘blue screen of death’ and was slightly disappointed to realise the game was still running and this was just a visual trick. I was then pleasantly surprised to be encountered by a section straight out of the Atari 2600 classic River Raid, complete with blocky planes and helicopter sprites. This is one of the biggest problems with In Extremis, the retro inspired designs are great at times, but are too often so bizarre that levels become almost unbearable to look at and navigate. Other examples of this are one of the Stage 3 routes with black and white movie clips running in the background looking like the opening credits to the Thomas Crown Affair and another route which is pure 1970’s psychedelica mixed in with 90’s Acid House. Someone must of thought it was a good idea in one of the stages to have a black and white checkered background with black and white checked enemies on top that are impossible to see or dodge successfully. I think there is actually a great game hidden underneath all this Extremis design. The basic shoot em up gameplay dynamics are solid if not too original. There is an RPG-lite experience system that encourages some grinding and replayability, although levelling up only seemed to give me additional continues and no ship or weapon upgrades.
In Extremis is a game I really wanted to like, some of the ideas and retro throwback nods are delightful and very well executed. But then there is the overly bizarre levels which are not only extremely difficult to see and survive through, but literally left me with with large dots in front of my eyes after playing. I would like to note that the soundtrack throughout In Extremis is fantastically composed and add real atmosphere to certain sections of the game but this isn’t enough to save this sadly flawed and messy retro-inspired shooter.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: LNDFRR; Developer: LNDFRR ; Players: 1 ; Released: November 18, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $9.99 / £6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of In Extremis given to HeyPoorPlayer by LNDFRR.