Saturday, March 30, 2013

The best thing about Dead Space 3 is that it's free.

To clarify - it's  not actually free, but because I bought the new Simcity and it had a rocky launch, EA gave the people who bought Simcity a free game to placate the customers. From a limited catalog I picked Dead Space 3 - in part because I really enjoyed the first game in the series, and in part because the alternatives were Battlefield 3 and Bejeweled. In hindsight Bejeweled might have been a better choice.

To clarify further, I haven't finished the game yet, according to the helpful percentage complete dial on my saved game I'm almost halfway through. Great. Can barely contain my enthusiasm. Let me dial down the difficulty to casual so I could finish it faster.

There we go, that's a little better. Of course I'll never get back an hour and a half of my time I lost when the game decided to randomly reset my save to a much earlier checkpoint. And I will not get back half a quotation mark key on my keyboard. The poor quotation mark didn't do anything to me, but I had to punch something in frustration and it was the closest thing. Rest assured gentle readers that despite being maimed the quotation mark still works. Watch, I'll demonstrate. ''''''''''' """""""""""

Where were we? Oh yes, how much this game sucks. Please understand that it's not EA hate. I never hated on EA before and never understood the hatred that some people felt for this company (enough to vote it the worst company in America). Oh sure, I was disappointed with Dragon Age 2, and The Old Republic was also a hit-and-miss experience. And I didn't hate the Mass Effect 3 ending as if it was puppy-killing/cancer-spreading Hitler like so many others; it left me shrugging rather than boiling in rage. But after spending 8 hours with Dead Space 3 I can now understand the EA hate.

How I hate Dead Space 3? Let me count the ways. Maybe it's the toxic carry-over from a console port also known as "save checkpoints." Maybe 15 years ago when consoles didn't have hard drives we needed save checkpoints. But in this day and age not only don't consoles need it, but we don't need to port them to PC either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think I almost broke my exclamation mark key as well.

!!! No, still works. As I was saying, there are save checkpoints, and they're awful, and really spaced apart. Death will not set you back all that much, usually a room or two at most, but quitting the game in between the checkpoints could be (as I found out) nearly 20 minutes of gameplay lost. And then there are the aforementioned save game glitches that reset the savepoint I thought I was bound to, setting me back an hour and a half.

Then there are minigames and quicktime events that suffer from one cardinal sin or the other. The former is the lack of explanation as to what my goal is supposed to be or the controls required to navigate the minigame. The latter is how arbitrary some of the events feel. Sometimes I would pass it with laughable ease, and sometimes (after a checkpoint reload for instance) I would fail the same event with no explanation why.

The camera is a huge problem in Dead Space 3. A signature trademark of this game is that there is no HUD, instead it's projected from the character's body - in other words the character is seeing the same HUD as the player. Only because of awkward camera angles I literally can't see my HUD whenever I'm backed into a corner, or hanging from a cliff. Oh. A shuttle fell on me. I see. I had to press a key, but I couldn't see that I had to press a key because I couldn't see the HUD. Oh, I got killed because I ran out of ammo and couldn't see my ammo counter because of the camera. A neat, artistic, and immersive idea that at the same time fails the gameplay - that might describe much of this game.

The game's been out for nearly two months. During that time EA has released many abominable DLCs for Dead Space 3 that add very little actual substance to the game - different suit skins, more largely cosmetic weapon components. During that time EA and the developer have also failed to release patches to some rather glaring and obnoxious bugs. In one room a panel was supposed to light up after I dispatched all the baddies that would allow me to progress. Only it did not light up and I had to redo the fight 5 times before the stupid panel would light up. It happened in other rooms two more times. Or you know, the game might just decide to arbitrarily take your ammo away with no explanation why. If there was a decent melee mode it wouldn't be such a crime, but unfortunately there isn't. Hope you like using the Half-Life 2's gravity gun ripoff!

Then there is the mission design. To be sure there are spectacularly beautiful and intricate environments - the game is absolutely gorgeous even on my mid-range PC. But the mission design is utterly linear, and with the ability to customize and try out weapons however the players wants in a separate custom arena, I don't see why anyone would want to ever replay Dead Space 3 (except maybe for the coop missions). There is a series of rooms the player progresses through. When there is some big glowing objective you just know that monsters will burst through doors, windows, vents, floor, or thin air. Any horror quickly wears thin as the monsters appear right on cue and there are basically 5-6 monster types (plus human adversaries) using the same tactics in every encounter (except the human adversaries who take cover, throw grenades, and are actually more unpredictable and dangerous).

The story would be very enjoyable and the game is very atmospheric, if it wasn't for some very hackneyed elements. I'm wearing an awesome armored space suit, using it to walk and fly in zero-G and in space (easily my favourite parts of the game), but when I hit the planet's surface suddenly I'm losing body temperature while wearing a suit that could easily protect me from the cold heartless vacuum of space. OK, sure, whatever. My idiot team members will sit in safety and comfort, and not only yell at me to hurry the fuck up while I'm knee-deep in monsters and low on ammo and medpacks, but on the rare occasion when they have to accomplish the task they will predictably fail at it and often place my life in danger! Clearly the level and mission designers were on the same team that designed Doom 3 and Aliens vs. Predator. And the protagonist's girlfriend dumped him too. It's like the game forces both the protagonist Isaac Clark and the player into an abusive relationship and charges money for the experience.

The worst thing about Dead Space 3 is that you can see what could've been a masterpiece of sci-fi horror lurking under the surface. The combat is as strategic and enjoyable, the universe is interesting, the graphics are beautiful, and the atmosphere is terrific. The story is rife with cliches, but in an enjoyable way, and the protagonist is actually an interesting and sympathetic character (even if he is yet another dark-haired white dude). Too bad that everything else about it conspires to drown all the good things about Dead Space 3 in an acid bathtub of rage. Unless you get it for free or with a massive discount a year from now don't bother.