Saturday, March 2, 2013

Brother Moons and Love Triangles

Since I last updated this blog I’ve played quite a few new games: Silent Hill: Downpour, the Silent Hill HD collection, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Resident Evil 6. Oh, and I bought a new laptop, promptly rejoined the World of Warcraft and after a few nostalgic months quit that cold turkey. 

And yet, I felt no real desire to share my thoughts on any of these games. 

Downpour I enjoyed much more than I was expecting but still didn’t find it really remarkable. The Silent Hill HD collection is convenient to own if only to have a copy of Silent Hill 2 and 3 readily available but so much was altered and removed from the source that if you played the original games it’s quite disheartening. Assassin’s Creed 3 just failed to pull me into its world despite living in the city it takes place in and Resident Evil 6? Boring. Great G-Virus Gods, was it boring. I was about a 1/4th of the way into Chris’ campaign when I called it quits. 

I was starting to wonder if maybe my expectations had gotten too high or perhaps I’d started to loose interest in gaming all together. It can’t be the latter because my heart still races when I catch glimpse of games I’m anticipating and it also can’t be the former because, well, your standards should be high when you’re dedicating the little free time you have to one particular hobby, shouldn’t they? Well, no matter. Dead Space 3 is here! I adored the original Dead Space and its sequel was even better - a game I actually called a “masterpiece” in my review of it

The series can only continue to go up right? 

Let’s just say I had my doubts when the game first started and I was shooting my way through human enemies in my derelict space apartment complex. Shooting humans. With the plasma cutter no less. One of the things I really enjoyed about the first two games was that all of Isaac’s weapons for the most part were engineering tools. In the original Dead Space you were sent to the USG Ishimura to repair the ship and ended up making makeshift weapons from your tools. In Dead Space 2 that made a little less sense but you were still fighting necromorphs and the precision of the line gun and whatnot made them very effective. Here, you’re fighting people. Has Isaac really not thought to acquire a gun to keep in his home? Whatever. It’s too early in this review to get distracted by these things. Let’s instead move on from when my doubts started to when my heart actually broke.

Ellie Langford. 

Ellie in Dead Space 2

Ellie stole my heart in Dead Space 2 - she was a fantastic example of what women in gaming should be; she was a survivor of the outbreak on The Sprawl and a heavy equipment pilot who when we first met her was effectively defending herself from a horde of necromorphs. She and Isaac developed a relationship that was built on survival, trust, and egalitarianism. Simply put, Ellie was a character first and a woman second. Her being female was never made mention of. She was never the subject of the male gaze nor was she doubted by Isaac in her abilities. Bitch got shit done:

I couldn't wait to see her again.You can imagine my disappointment when she showed up in Dead Space 3 with a much more noticeable bust line and in the middle of a love triangle between herself, Isaac and whatshisface. I don’t remember the other man’s name and frankly, I don’t care enough to look it up. And let’s talk about this love triangle for a moment shall we? It’s quite possibly the beginning of the end of the world, the violent undead are ravaging everything and everyone around our protagonists, and all Isaac and whatshisnuts seem to do is bitch and moan and carry on in an effort to win back or retain their female prize. 

Ellie's new look in Dead Space 3

Why couldn’t Ellie have been Isaac’s co-op partner? She had proven herself more than capable in the last game. Why was her character so drastically changed? Why is she now just the girlfriend? Ellie had so much going for her and it made me so sad to see the developers throw it away. Ellie’s alterations certainly wasn’t my only problem with Dead Space 3 however. 

Another fundamental change that was made was the atmosphere; this game is not scary. I would go so far as to say Dead Space 3 is tense but only because I was nervous about a necromorph (or should I say, 6 necromorphs) suddenly leaping out from beneath the snow to attack me. There were no moments of hearing a strange sound and wondering if it was just ambient noise or an enemy coming for you. It was always an enemy coming for you. There were no moments of walking in on an old friend mindlessly banging his head on the side of a wall. No eerie renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star echoing off in the distance. 

It’s jump, aim, shoot, stomp, repeat. 

If I wanted a military space shooter, I’d play Alien Colonial Marines. 

Well, okay, maybe not, but you see my point. 

Dead Space 3 is so far removed from the atmospheric horror game that the first two games were. There is no variety, just waves and waves of enemies. This was a large issue that I had with the game that not too many people seem to share. I very frequently felt overwhelmed by the amount of necromorphs. I cannot recall a single time that I was attacked by 1 or even 2 - it was always at least 3 rushing you at the same time. It got to a point where 1 would appear, I would shoot at it, and then quickly rush into a corner because I knew an onslaught was coming. This is not horror. This is action. I was never scared because I knew there was no downtime. I never really explored or appreciated the environments because I was always just waiting for the next horde. 

As a side note, the regenerating necromorph was terrifying in the first game because you were faced with a single enemy that you could not extinguish. When another one showed up in the sequel I was confused (I had always thought him to be a unique specimen and not a prototype) but by the third game? Come on. 

I feel as though Dead Space 3 was intended to be played co-op and while I appreciate that the developers took the time to flesh Carver out so much for the co-op play, as someone who played it single player I felt punished. One of the most frustrating moments of the game for me came at the very end when the environment was collapsing around me forcing me to progress or else be torn apart, having necromorphs assault me (including one of new brute-like one) and having two tentacles block my only escape route. Two tentacles. Two. I just keep thinking about how much easier it would be if someone else was there with me. 

I know that certain aspects of the game are very different depending on if you go it solo or with a friend but from what I’ve seen you fight the same number of enemies regardless. I do partly blame myself for my frustration. The weapon crafting system that Visceral clearly put so much effort into completely bored me. I’ve never, ever enjoyed crafting in games. Give me simple upgrades - a bigger clip, more damage, faster reload - not customization to the point where my eyes glaze over and I just move on. As a result, I’m sure I went through the game with underpowered weapons and that that no doubt shaped my overall experience but twice during the game I knew that if I shut the console off without completing my current objective I would more than likely never pick the game up again. That’s not the feeling I was expecting from the third installment of an otherwise terrific series. 

Overall, Dead Space 3 left me with the same apathetic feeling that most games have felt me with lately. I think I only finished it out of hope that maybe a semblance of the previous two games would reveal themselves but at the end of the day, it was nothing but a space zombie shooter. A well made and pretty one, but uninspired. And now with Dead Space 3 come and gone, I’m just going to have wait and see if Tomb Raider and Bioshock: Infinite can remind me of what a great game is. 

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