Dinosaurs occupy a weird space in the public consciousness. Perhaps it's the unreal idea that there was once a race of creatures that roamed the Earth that are no longer here. Regardless, we love dinosaurs, whether it's just watching them, watching people run from them, or in the case of Second Extinction, killing them.
Second Extinction is the second game from Systemic Reaction, an offshoot studio of Avalanche Studios. Like its first title Generation Zero, Second Extinction is based around repeatable multiplayer action. Instead of four players fighting for survival against robotic invaders in 1980s Sweden, you form three-person squads to drop down onto a far future Earth taken over by mutated dinosaurs.
Before you hit planetside to turn dinosaurs into so many meaty giblets, you need to pick your character and set your loadout. There are a few heroes to choose from, including Rosy, a blue-collar type who can heal the rest and deploy electric barriers; and Jurgen, an old hunter who can hide from dinosaurs and blow them up with his Satchel Charge. Jurgen looks like the kind of can-do spirit that dies about halfway through a Jurassic Park film because he's trying to hunt dinosaurs when he should be running, so I went with him.
I then had to choose my weapon loadout, and given Jurgen's stealthy capabilities, I chose a sniper rifle as his main weapon. It's worth noting that this is where Second Extinction offers customization, as a resource called Research allows you to unlock bonuses, perks, and skins for each weapon type. It's a bit odd not attaching progression to your heroes, but logically, that allows you to be really good with a few weapons, but switch between heroes as the squad need arises. Maybe this round you need Rosy's electric fence to shore up your defenses, but you still want to soften up those dinos with your favorite grenade launcher.
Once you're fully kitted, it's time to get in those drop pods and land on Earth. It's here that the metagame of Second Extinction makes itself known: The War Effort. Each region of the map has a different threat level when you drop in, seemingly shared across the player base. High threat regions feature harder dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, while also limiting your ability to respawn or rest at camps. You can't insert or extract directly from High threat regions either, forcing you to hoof it into hostile territory and back out again.
Second Extinction almost feels like a response to Generation Zero. While that game features a massive open-world map that you engaged with over a long period of time, looking for clues, exploring, and completing missions, Second Extinction is meant to be quicker. When you pick a drop location, you're there to complete one major objective and a few side-missions, and then extract with your findings. Instead of the long-term flow of something like Destiny, Second Extinction wants your drops to be relatively quick.
Our drop came in the middle of heavy fog, one of the many weather effects that can randomly pop up. A few minutes in, my squadmates and I ran into the first pack of dinosaurs, a group of quick-moving raptors. The standard raptors went down with a quick pop from my powerful sniper rifle. There are mutations though, including raptors that spit acid, some style of dinosaurs that can dig underground to move behind you, and tiny little buggers that call others to your area until they're killed. The fog cleared up a few minutes after our first combat encounter, giving me a look at the sunny valley that we landed in. Avalanche has always been great at creating a believable landscape, and this natural, reclaimed version of future Earth was looking pretty great.
Our objective was to find a group of lost scientists. We hoofed it around the environment, once again facing some small packs of dinosaurs, before finding the scientists' ruined ship. This dilemma is fixed by the last part of Second Extinction's combat loop, which sees you calling drop pods from orbit to help you out. For this mission, we called a pod with a working navigation unit that we helpfully replaced for the scientists, allowing them to take off again. You can call other drop pods though, giving you valuable ammo, healing items, or even a helpful air strike. In keeping with my version of Jurgen, I choose the healing pod—when you call it onto the battlefield, it heals players who stand near its field.
Second Extinction kicked up the pace even more during a side mission. On the way back to the extraction point, our objective complete, we stopped to survey a nearby cave. Within the cave, we had to survey three different spots. At each spot, Second Extinction started throwing everything it had at us. In addition to the previous enemies I mentioned, it added the pachycephalosaurus, which charged at me headfirst, and the ankylosaurus, whose hard shell required us to flip it over with an explosive to put bullets into the soft underbelly. I couldn't even use my healing drop pod because we were inside a cave.
In the soft bioluminescent glow of the caves, we were fighting for our lives. I was there, no time to snipe, dodging pachys and desperately dropping my satchel charge under an ankylosaurus. The fight was controlled chaos, as we ran from survey point to survey point, and then to the cave entrance. We weren't done though. Once at the entrance, a drop pod was sent our way with charges to deploy right inside the entrance. Here, my healing pod was very useful alongside Rosy's electric field, allowing us to hold the point until we could place all the charges and seal the cave.
It's quite clear the "second extinction" in the title is the one wrought by the players in killing all these dinosaurs every time they come back to Earth. We finished that side mission in a pile of bodies, covered in dinosaur blood. Now it was time to get to the extraction point.
Unfortunately, extraction means sitting at a point waiting for an incoming ship as waves of dinosaurs try to kill you. That ankylosaurus? After facing two in the cave, we have to tackle five of them, backed up by raptors and acid-spitters. I can't imagine how bad it would've been in the high threat sector, against one of those T-rexes.
Second Extinction is a high-speed, high-chaos shooter where every encounter of blood and carnage is balanced by quieter moments of wandering the countryside Systemic Reaction has created. It's clear the studio has learned from its time co-developing with id Software on Rage 2, and it's leveraging that expertise to craft a quicker cooperative experience. Killing dinosaurs is satisfying, but it remains to be seen if the War Effort metagame adds longevity to the game when Second Extinction comes to Early Access on PC in October. (Xbox Series X and Xbox One versions are planned for the future.) That said, I do see myself getting back in that drop pod and turning dinosaurs into fossils in the future.