A horrifying thought occurred to me while I was playing Dead Space 3 recently. "Man, I wish I was playing Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City right now." You should gasp: RE ORC sucked ass. Unfortunately for me, Dead Space 3 felt only slightly less tiresome for most of its playtime. I had heard from people that the third game was bad because of a focus on action - which as my last blog discussed, is something I have no problem with - so I had expected to enjoy it.
Jesus, Dead Space 3 could have done with more of a focus on action. In its current form, the game doesn't have much of a focus on anything, really.
If Dead Space 2's achievement was to trim the fat from its predecessor, then Dead Space 3 is the portrait of morbid obesity. It forces in things that nobody asked for. There are a lot more button presses the game forces upon you - most doors require three inputs to open rather than, you know, one. There's a crafting system that no one gives a fuck about, and the game knows this so it forces you to craft key items at a couple of points. There's a very poorly implemented cover system. Every mission is a fetch quest, more so than in the original Dead Space where it at least felt necessary. Nothing in Dead Space 3 feels necessary, but it is mandatory anyway.
The thing that trips up Dead Space 3 where its predecessors soared, however, is very subtle: intelligent level design. Have you ever noticed that even though you can't walk and aim at the same time in Resident Evil 4 - something essential to third-person shooters now - the gameplay never comes off as cumbersome? That's because the game - with all its enemy placements, the way the areas were mapped out, even the furniture in the rooms - had a great deal of thought put into it. Instead of frustrating you, the inability to walk and shoot at the same time was exhilarating. You would subconsciously choose where to make your stand, when to fire at enemies and when to quickturn and run.
Dead Space 3 does let you walk and shoot, but it's so lazily designed it feels like a Dead Space 2 mod someone quickly slapped together in a level editor. It drops you into wide-open map after bland wide-open map, with crowds of enemies coming at you. I'm pretty sure some places had endlessly spawning enemies because of how many of them there were. Oh, don't get me wrong, the game is still very easy. Just shoot grenades at the crowds when they get right in your face, fall over, shoot again, rinse, repeat, over and over and over. It's very hard to glean fun from that. As is tradition, I only needed the pulse rifle and plasma cutter to beat the game. Fuck you, crafting system. Nobody likes you.
If you get tired, you can just run through many parts of the game without killing the enemies at all. It's fucking hilarious how they're still politely waiting there when you backtrack, ready to resume your fight, because they can't pursue you through doors. And the puzzles, dear sweet Jesus the puzzles... they are an insult. They felt like the tasks you have babies do to teach them about patterns and whatnot. "See that blue dot on the screen? Move your cursor to follow the blue dot ten times! Wanna open this door? Just make sure the three symbols match the symbols RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Yay, it matches!" Of course, almost every time you're doing one of these dumbass puzzles, enemies will come after you to hinder you opening a door. That's a big problem with Dead Space 3 and why I feel the assertation that it has a focus on action is false: The enemies are there simply to inconvenience you, to slightly delay your progress. Not to challenge you. The core game for me seemed to revolve around opening doors that took much more work to open than they should have.
As for the plot - well, the intro and ending are good. The intro got my hopes up, while the ending does its best to salvage all the extremely stupid decisions the characters made along the way. In between, the plot is bad, but the love triangle subplot put the lid on. We're gonna head into minor spoiler territory here, so skip ahead a few paragraphs if you want to experience it for yourself. I love romance, but make no mistake: this isn't a romantic subplot, it's fucking evil.
We learn that Ellie left Isaac before this game started because he can't deal with his demons - and since we don't see even a second of their relationship onscreen, we have no idea how close they were. Turns out she's with this new guy, whose name I don't even remember anymore. This relationship is introduced as a small plot twist, a subversion of our expectations, but it feels cheap because at the start of the game the new guy talks about Ellie like he doesn't even know her.
I think his name was Norman. Don't quote me on that, though.
But! Isaac gets upset even though what did he expect? When Ellie asks him for help when they're in danger, he says, "Guess I don't have a choice." Holy shit Isaac. I used to joke about you being a psychopath because you were silent in Dead Space 1 and I made you dismember dead bodies. I had no idea you actually were one. Here you are, in your late 30s, with a bunch of people on a mission to save the world from hentai aliens, and you're saying the only reason you're not leaving your ex and her new boyfriend to die is because you don't have a choice? All because she's banging someone else who obviously has a healthier relationship with her? What the fuck man.
It gets worse. The new guy turns out to be a traitor, and Isaac kills him. Ellie is understandably upset. Five minutes after she's started the grieving process and telling Isaac she hates him, he starts making his move on her, telling her, "I'm here for you if you ever need someone." Ten minutes later, she forgives him and they're all lovey dovey again. This entire subplot felt like fanfiction written by some guy who wishes his ex's new boyfriend would die. It's just laughably immature.
It's a shame, really, because Dead Space 2 has a great story and Isaac used to be a very well-written PTSD character. Even the voice acting sounds stilted for most of the game because it feels like the actors themselves can't believe what they're saying. For the parts that are actually well-written, they do a great job as they always did.
I did like some things about Dead Space 3. The intro and ending, as I mentioned, were solid. The last act and final boss are visually spectacular. The Awakening DLC completely blew me away, it's unquestionably superb in every department - gameplay, story and writing. If only the whole game had been more like it. As a whole though, Dead Space 3 is pretty disappointing. It's an AAA game with the sensibilities of a mid-budget PS2 action game. You know, the ones you dug up at the bottom of the bargain bin.
Games that undercut their own playability through bad design choices seemed destined to be a problem for me this past week. I also played Code of Princess, and Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr's Journey, which is the last game I ever bought for my 3DS.
Don't get mad, Bowser's Inside Story is a great remake and a well-written RPG that made me laugh aloud several times. Bowser Jr's Journey, on the other hand, absolutely sucked. The strategizing - which is basically just changing your formation and swapping a few characters in and out - is all done before the battle actually starts, and after that 99% of it is just watching the game play itself, occasionally pressing a button which annoyed me even more because if it was going to be non-gameplay, it might as well take out those occasional button presses and let me do something else while it grinds itself out. Since everything is automatic, the goal is to stop your team's stupid AI from being killed before the enemy's stupid AI. There's less strategy to it than it pretends, because lots of times there's only one right configuration for winning a battle which the game tells you after you lose it the first time. I'm glad it spells those configurations out for you, because I can't look up a walkthrough even if I wanted. I'm one of the 10 people in the world who bought this game, so there is no walkthrough.
Code of Princess had the potential to be an excellent beat 'em up, but its mission-based structure really hobbles it. Each mission is in itself absolutely tiny, often taking around 40 seconds to beat. Why not just make a free-flowing, long-form regular beat 'em up? Beats me.
Still, I found Code of Princess somewhat more enjoyable than Dead Space 3, for reasons that I meant to discuss earlier in the blog post but I got too carried away criticizing the latter game. For one thing, I mean, fucking look at this character design. She's completely naked. I don't have the foggiest notion how this got past censorship and Nintendo censorship at that, but I love it.
Alongside that, Code of Princess has a fantasy setting.
I've spent this year going through lots of video game series I like. Playing/replaying all the main entries and spin-offs, watching the movies/animes if the series had any... basically educating myself on the series and all its supplementary material before I was done with it. Off the top of my head, this year I've done:
Currently I'm doing the Batman: Arkham series on PC, while also playing the Fire Emblem games I have on my 3DS (Sacred Stones and Awakening).
Still on my to-do list are Tomb Raider - a series I've loved since childhood and want to go through again - Final Fantasy (yes, all 15 of them and the side games - I anticipate this project to take a year on its own), Tales, Persona, and more.
But I was done with Dead Space after the three main games, and didn't bother with the Extraction spin-off or the movies. I figured the Isaac Clarke saga was enough for me.
You see, I've never been a big sci-fi guy. Don't get me wrong - Starship Troopers is one of my favourite movies of all time. I will never get tired of it. But I've never been quite as fascinated with space as some other folk I know. Before watching the first Star Wars movie this year, I'd never consumed any Star Wars media either. I still haven't watched any of the sequels. Neither did I ever get into Star Trek.
The world I prefer has always been that of fantasy, of lush green fields and hobbits, of JRPG characters in a romantic medieval world where dragons exist. But if you look at it, sci-fi and fantasy are rather similar in a lot of ways. My favourite example is how both of them use jargon for stuff that they can't explain. What's the difference between a "shockpoint drive" and a "dark crystal?"
Maybe because I'm baby and have a tiny brain, but sci-fi feels a bit patronizing by acting science-y when it's not, whereas fantasy is more honest with its bullshittery. I know I'm supposed to suspend my disbelief, but too often sci-fi media feels it wants it viewers to feel high-IQ - and some viewers actually do think it makes them more men of science than us lowly dogs who like bishonen knights in clanging armour. No offence to most sci-fi fans, if you guys enjoy it that's great and I don't hate it either, just that I didn't get into it much.
There's also another reason. I always feel a sort of yearning for fantasy worlds. Sci-fi is often cold, sterile, efficient. The fantasy world that Tolkien blueprinted was pre-industrial, warm, and just that - a fantasy, for someone like me who can barely remember the last time he saw something green.
Rock fans will recall how bands in the 70s were obsessed with Lord of the Rings, none more so than Led Zeppelin and Rush. I always think of what Rush bassist Geddy Lee said about the song 'Rivendell.'
"Back then, a lot of rock bands were hippies who wanted to save the world. We wanted peace and love, an end to the Vietnam war. No wonder we sought solace in the beauty of a place like Rivendell."
Geddy, my boy, you said it better than I ever could have.