Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Finished Dead Space 3! (Review)

I finally finished grinding my way through Dead Space 3, and boy was it a grind at the end there. The story just kept hammering me with cliche after cliche, and I never developed a relationship with any character in the entire game. I didn't care when someone died, because they were all strangers who sent me on mission after mission like some space maintenance man. That's not to say that I hated the game, but there was certainly a lot about it that I disliked. I'm going to discuss my thoughts in detail so don't read any further if you don't want anything spoiled.

Dead Space 3 may be a new release, but it feels pretty damn old. The storyline relies on the same cliche plot points as every video game and action movie in human history. Isaac, our hero, is a broken man who drowns his sorrow in alcohol. Ellie, Isaac's former lover, is lost somewhere in space. Carver and Norton, a couple of hardcore space soldiers, are seeking Isaac to aid in her rescue, only Norton forgets to mention he is Ellie's current Friday Night Fling. Does any of this sound new and fresh to you?

The game starts out by putting us in control of a common soldier named Tim, who is attempting to retrieve a codex for Dr. Serrano. Right off the bat, I was annoyed by the inclusion of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. I'd love to play a game without hearing, "Whiskey Alpha Five Bravo Taco." After navigating a blizzard, and finding the codex, a big Call of Duty style action setpiece goes off, sending the spaceship over the edge of a cliff. Tim, being the tough soldier he is, manages to slide down the side of a mountain while being pursued by a spaceship and an avalanche. He lands safely, and promptly gets his head blown off by his General. What the hell is going on?

It turns out all of this is taking place two hundred years in the past. The only issue is that Tim is wearing the same style of RIG as Isaac. Are they trying to tell me that space suit technology hasn't changed in any meaningful way for two hundred years? My cellphone from four years ago is considered an antique, it can't even run the Xbox Smartglass app, but space suit technology just stalls out entirely for two hundred years? I'm already getting grumpy.

Anyway, once Tim is dead, we jump two hundred years into the future and meet up with Isaac as he stares at a torn picture of Ellie and listens to some break up voicemail she left him. This is our hero, folks. Carver and Norton break in and do their thing, convincing Isaac that he has to help rescue Ellie. Isaac eventually agrees, and everything's cool, right? WRONG! Unitologist's attack the city, because they have awesome timing, and Isaac has to battle his way through war-torn city streets while Unitologist suicide bombers charge at him. Yeah! Dead Space!

All I can think of during this entire segment is Visceral programmers sitting in a dark room while EA lords over them with whips.

Make it more action-y! *CRACK* More explosions! *CRACK*

It isn't that I hate the addition of human enemies into the Dead Space universe. On the contrary, by Chapter 14, I was hoping some would show up to add a little variety. Unfortunately, the human enemies aren't peppered through the game, they only show up in the very beginning and the very end of the game. The rest of the time you're fighting the status quo of necromorphs. Throwing in a human enemy here and there could have added a little bit of spice to the combat in DS3, but instead they feel like tacked on last minute additions that were demanded by the publisher.

After Isaac escapes the city, and "shocks" to Ellie's last location, we... immediately find her and her crew. So there you go, all of the mystery and intrigue regarding Ellie's well being is gone. We don't have to worry about her anymore.

Once Ellie's taken care of, her crew starts sending Isaac on mission after mission to reach the fabled "Black Marker" that controls all of the other markers. During these missions, I learned almost nothing about the other characters, and even less about the truth behind the markers. Carver had a wife and son that Danik killed, and he isn't my friend. That about sums up his character development. Norton and Ellie are in love, and Norton is so jealous of Isaac that he betrays him to Danik, only to get double crossed by Danik. This all sound familiar? It's just so damn cliche.

With the story being so weak, I started looking towards the gameplay to keep me hooked. Sadly, it couldn't. If you've played God of War 3 or Wet, you know about the sections that require you to dive through debris, right? Well Dead Space 3 does that a lot. Especially in the later missions, just traveling from one section to the next (and you'll have to backtrack) requires flying through rocks and dodging floating exploding aliens. It's not fun, it's not new, it's just lame.

I felt pretty satisfied by the combat at first. Admittedly, I was turned off by the Unitologists with machine guns in the beginning of the game, but once I found myself in space fighting Necromorphs, it was all good, for a while anyway. Sadly, I feel like Dead Space 3 drags on for a really long time. At around an hour per chapter, with nineteen chapters, you wind up putting RPG Time into a survival horror game dressed up as an action title. It just can't sustain itself.

After almost eighteen hours of dodging debris, solving puzzles that involve little more than spinning circuits until they match, and dismembering necromorphs, I quit playing Dead Space 3. I shut off the Xbox, and turned on my PC to play Torchlight II. I just needed a break from the tedium. I believe this lack of proper length and pacing hurts Dead Space 3 more than the cliched storyline or the repetitive enemies. I could take both of those things for a while, but once it became a trial of endurance, all the little issues began to seem much bigger.

To make matters worse, I actually lost progress a few times due to Dead Space 3's garbage save system. Saving and exiting only saves your inventory, all of your progress is still lost. The game also autosaves your inventory separately from your progress, but uses the exact same icon for both. There is nothing about this design that wasn't going to lead to confusion and lost progress. How Visceral or EA could think it was a good idea is beyond me.

Anyway, Isaac finishes running errands for everybody and we get to the end of the game. Danik returns, Norton betrays Isaac, Isaac shoots Norton. The foreshadowing of Norton's betrayal is so heavy-handed that Ray Charles could see it coming, and he's dead. Ellie, in typical cliche fashion, dies while Isaac and Carver struggle to escape a room filling with noxious gas. It's OK, though, we find out she isn't actually dead like fifteen minutes later.

Isaac learns that the codex controls a machine that will destroy the markers, and the planet they're currently on. Carver decides that being a huge dick isn't good, and chooses to sacrifice himself to save humanity. Isaac proclaims, "I am the marker killer" and refuses to let Carver go it alone. Danik shows up with the formerly dead Ellie as his hostage, and Carver goes back on that whole I'm going to stop being a dick thing and tosses the codex to Danik in hopes of saving her.

Danik sets loose some major-necromorph of doom, and Isaac goes about fighting it by using kinesis to fire red markers at the giant necromorph's eyes while Ellie escapes on her own. I don't even know what the hell Carver is supposed to be doing right now. Once Isaac defeats the giant necromorph of doom, he and Carver activate the machine to end all markers. Carver is sucked into space almost instantly, but we linger on Isaac a bit as he dies. This would be sad if it didn't already happen in EA's last space trilogy. Actually, it wouldn't even be sad then, because of course, Isaac is alive if you wait through the end credits.

Here's the problem with that, during a section of the game your helmet gets damaged, and if you stay out in the cold for too long, you die. Just before the final battle in the game, Isaac's helmet is badly damaged, and he removes it by hand, tossing it away. Now, Isaac could not survive in the cold without a helmet, but he can survive in mother-fuggin' space with no oxygen, no helmet, nothing! It's not like he went to the seven-eleven and picked up a new suit, the whole damn planet was destroyed. So how in the hell is Isaac Clarke not dead?!

Dead Space 3 was decent, but it's definitely the weakest link in the trilogy. I don't know if they'll sell the five million that EA wanted to keep the franchise going, but honestly, I feel like I've had my fill of Dead Space for a good long while.