By Cautionman 0 Comments
So, Dead Space is out, and now I've finished it. Not that any more text need be wasted on this subject, but I found myself thinking a lot about how this game was made, and why my reaction to playing it was one of perseverance in the face of tedium rather than terror.
The prevailing opinions on the netverse point to the game's strong start and weak finish; the game's length being padded by an unfortunate amount of back-tracking and unnecessary side-mission filler, and this is more or less my experience. I walked away from the game feeling oddly unsatisfied, like it had been aimlessly building towards some ineffable end, but just kind of sputtering out without a climax. After much internal soul-searching, I've come to the conclusion that the game's rigid adherence to the strengths of the previous games-playing it safe--contribute to the game's unfortunately stale arc. Because Dead Space 3 makes little effort to distinguish itself from its predecessors--especially evident in its encounter design--nearly every aspect of the game suffers as a result.
In the Quicklook on the site, Brad suggests that players skip the side missions, and it's absolutely sound advice. It's strange to complain about too much content in an age where many balk at the notion of paying full-price for relatively short experiences, where game-time and money-spent become inextricably linked at the mathematical hip. There's a lot of content in Dead Space 3, but most of it is forgettable. If that sort of repetition adds value for you, then know that there's plenty to do in Dead Space 3. You'll delve into bloodied industrial complexes, uncover the horrors within, find a loot chest, exit. That's the rhythm of the side quest, and it doesn't vary. I honestly can't remember the differences between many oft these side quests, save for a very few.
I feel for the devs, I really do; how many horrors can one place truly house before the audience becomes desensitized to it all. I felt like some sort of space-aged janitor, so accustomed to bodily fluids that I no longer smell the piss and shit and just want to get on with the cleaning. That's not what you want in a horror-type game, right--familiarity? Interestingly, Isaac's madness is nearly absent from the narrative this time around, as though he's also more or less grown comfortable with the heinous slaughter, and is just basically doing his part-time gig. "Yeah, that guy just turned into a hideous bone-monster bent on my dismemberment--I guess I'll cut off his limbs first; though, I will fucking kill someone if I don't get overtime pay for this..."
But this type of predictability isn't relegated to the side-missions; you'll soon notice you're experiencing the same beats in every location. I found myself anticipating attacks, fixing my crosshairs on would-be necro-closets before they could burst through the metal bars. To my mind, the moment the player can reasonably anticipate an ambush in a horror/action game, you're basically playing an action game. This is only problematic for Dead Space because it feels like the game genuinely wants to be frightening, but is relying upon mechanics that worked in the past and hoping it will work again. It'd be like revisiting a haunted house and expecting it to deliver the same experience a number of times; it's only scary the first time because you don't know what's coming.
That's not to say that this problem of familiarity can't be overcome; we need only remember the Ishimura's role in Dead Space 2 to see how developers might successfully revisit old locations. That ride on the tram heading toward the ship, that growing sense of anxiety at the prospect of revisiting such a memorable location was brilliantly executed. The developers had me right where they wanted me, and it I was at their mercy. I never got the sense that the developers had the same control in Dead Space 3, and I think this can be largely attributed to the game's lack of focus: it doesn't know what it wants to be, but it can't successfully please everyone.
Speaking of location, the change in setting was absolutely what the game needed; it would give the developers some new inspiration and tools to create some new moments for Isaac, and the John Carpenter's The Thing association didn't hurt, either. It turns out that the setting is woefully underused, in my mind, and I never felt like the exterior spaces offered any new gameplay. Instead of jumping out of vents, necros leap from the ground/ice-caves; this isn't functionally different and is an absolute waste of the setting's potential.
Dead Space 3 might have broader appeal, but it's not going to truly satisfy any one demographic, it seems to me. Coop players probably won't find enough content to justify the price, and horror fans will quickly suss out the game's fear-logic, reducing the game's capacity to genuinely scare.
My hope is that developers in the future won't settle for a game that aims to offer a small something for everyone, but rather a game that's so focused and tightly designed, everyone will want to play it. That's the goal, right?
Great, have some incredibly vague and unhelpful advice, developers: you can do better...? Glad to be of service, everyone. Cleaning up these messes is what I'm here for; I'm space-janitor Ziggy Star-Dump.