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Co-op dinosaur slaying gets chaotic as hell in Second Extinction

Second Extinction
(Image credit: Systemic Reaction)

Dinosaurs, last seen ruling Earth 65 million years ago, are back. Even worse, they've mutated into far more dangerous beasts than they already were and are running amok all over the planet. Humans have fled into space, and in co-op FPS Second Extinction, coming to Steam Early Access in October, teams of three players will begin re-invading the planet to fight back.

In Second Extinction, your squads can pick from among four different heroes with various abilities to engage in missions on Earth. One hero can buff her teammates' heath and defenses, and she has electrified anti-dino barricades she can place in the world. Another hero has satchel charges and can use both pheromones and a passive ability to make him harder for the dinos to detect. There's also a trooper with a dash ability who can carry an additional primary weapon instead of a sidearm.

During a 30-minute gameplay session with the developers of Second Extinction last week I went with a hero named Amir, mostly because he has access to an orbital terraforming laser that can target dinosaurs from space. There's a huge cooldown for that powerful death ray, so I also picked an airstrike ability and brought along a grenade launcher for good measure. With mutated dinosaurs running around, I figured the bigger the explosions I could create, the better. 

Amir has a radar that can highlight dinosaurs for the team and a passive ability that can spot threats before they appear. For all the good it wound up doing me—the dinosaurs of Second Extinction hunt in packs, and when you're shooting at one it's a good bet that there's another three running up behind you like the clever girls they are.

Before a mission, players choose which weapons they want to bring and which skills they want to equip. Guns can be customized and upgraded with tokens and research materials earned in prior missions. There are a number of weapon perks to choose from, like one that slows dinosaurs down when they're being dealt damage, or an armor piercing perk that's useful against dinos with thicker hides.

From a map view, you pick your mission and landing area. Each region of the map has its own threat level, giving you an idea of how difficult a challenge you'll be facing. What's interesting is the threats in these regions will change over time based on global player activity. If players—not just your teammates, but all Second Extinction players—focus on a specific region or regions and complete missions and objectives there (killing scores of rampaging dinos along the way) those area will become safer for everyone. 

However, while you're busy clearing out one region, dino threats will grow in other zones, so the hot spots will evolve based on where people are focusing their efforts. And some regions of Earth are so dangerous you can't even land there—you'll have to pick a nearby region as your landing zone and travel to the treacherous area on foot.

During my demo we picked a zone with a "medium" threat level—which is alarming because it was absolutely crawling with mobs of dinos and nothing felt medium about it. The mission was to locate a missing research crew and their data, and as we progressed through the region we received new mission instructions as well as some additional objectives.

We landed in the midst of a heavy snowfall, making it difficult to see for the first five or ten minutes, though the weather eventually cleared. In addition to dynamic weather, there are night missions in Second Extinction, though fighting dinos in the dark doesn't sound like a mission I'd volunteer for. We handled the first few packs of dinosaurs without too much trouble—they're lightning quick but there weren't an overwhelming number of them. That part would come later.

Lots of support comes from space. Members of our team were routinely calling in ammo drops so we could restock. Scanners plunge from the sky and search the area with a laser to point the way to our next objective, then take off again. Coming across useful materials, we could call down pods filled with rocket boosters which could be attached to crates, so we could literally blast our payloads back up into space. The landscape was constantly peppered with pods slamming down and then blasting back off. It's a noisy business and that attracts more dinos, plus there's the risk of a pod landing directly on your head (which happened to me at least once).

After finding the research team's drop ship and repairing it so it could return to orbit, we found the research team itself (well, pieces of them). We also encountered a heavily plated boss dino whose armor had to be chipped away before it could be taken down. The combat was chaotic and ferocious as we blasted away while being swarmed by lesser, but still dangerous, raptor types. 

After a few more side objectives we entered a cavern the research team had been looking for, where dinosaurs had been digging tunnels. Now it was dark and a several new boss dinosaurs arrived, ankylosaurus-types with a massive tails they could whip, plus the ability to—surprise!—curl into a ball and roll right over us. By the time we made it back out of that cave (we had to take turns reviving each other) every single player was absolutely covered with blood.

The mission ended with the team calling for extraction, which results in a final and ever-increasing swarm of dinos as you set up defenses and try to stay alive. The landing craft takes its sweet time as the dinosaurs pour over and pile on. We made it out, somehow. All I can say is, I'm glad there's no friendly fire or I would have blown up my teammates and myself with all my panic firing.

Even in its pre-launch state, the demo I played was amazingly smooth. I did find it hard at times to tell what was happening, though the extreme chaos is absolutely part of the fun. The single mission, which took about 25 minutes to complete, isn't enough to judge how much fun Second Extinction will be in the longer term, but it was exciting and hectic, and there are a whole lot more dinosaurs out there that I'd like to blast. Either a grenade launcher or orbital strike out to do it.

Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring stories in RPGs so he can make up his own.