Monday, September 30, 2013

(Not So) Visceral Games and Dead Space 3 are on my list

Good morning, my minions!

So, it's been a very long time (again), but I am not apologizing.  What I am doing, however, is reapplying myself to my writing once more.  I have such a love/hate relationship with writing, which is sad since it is my profession.  We're seeing a counselor.  I think it'll work out.

Today we are getting back on the horse and breaking the long silence with a moment of nerd-rage.  I'm not going to try to dignify this as anything else.  If you're being diplomatic, you can think of this as a review.  Bit of a late one, as Dead Space 3 was not high on my priority list.  However, I had become attached to poor Isaac, and wanted to see what this final (ha ha, right) chapter of his saga had in store.  So let us begin.

And the cover looked so promising.

Oh, it is worth remarking that this review/rant/whatever is going to be rife with spoilers.  Just so you know.

The game actually opens with a military maneuver on some far off planet.  Some poor grunt retrieves a "codex" from an exploding ship, only to be shot by the commanding general who then deletes the information in the codex before offing himself as well.  Terribly mysterious.

We then rejoin Isaac Clarke back on Earth, having survived two pretty horrific encounters with the abominations known as Necromorphs (during Dead Space and Dead Space 2).  He is living alone, in relative squalor, and you learn fairly quickly that his fellow survivor and later girlfriend, Ellie, has recently left him due to his inability to move past the previous events.  Can you blame him?  Really?

You're not there long, however, before John Carver (the co-op character) and his captain, Robert Norton, break into your crappy apartment and drag poor Isaac off to go fight the Necromorphs again.  All while being hunted down by Jacob Danik, the leader of the Unitologists (you know, the religious psycopaths from the previous games - like Scientology, only the higher ups actually believe what they tell the masses).  You dodge snipers and suicide bombers, and eventually make it off planet with Carver and Norton.  Oh, it is iimportant to mention that Norton obtains your cooperation largely by telling you that Ellie ran off on this mission first, and since Isaac still loves Ellie, you're going along.

So off you go!  Some thrilling incidents in space, and you eventually find Ellie!  Yay!  Oh, wait, Ellie is with Norton now.  He failed to mention that.  Begin Norton's career as a passive-aggressive douche with jealousy issues.  Well, you're here now, time to get to the planet and save humanity!  You might as well, right, they dragged you all this way and your ship blew up, so it's not like you're getting back.

And seriously, every time Norton opened his mouth, I felt like Torgue needed to pop up and yell, "IS IT JUST ME OR IS HE GONNA BETRAY THE FUCK OUT OF YOU!?".  The foreshadowing is laid on with a trowel in this game.

Now this is where the story actually gains some interesting details that really could have been utilized to make a great game.  They weren't, but they could have.  Isaac finds himself on the planet from the first scene of the game.  It turns out 200 years ago, the Sovereign Colonies Armed Forces were camped out here studying the Markers and the Necromorphs.  Isaac along with Ellie, Norton, Carver, and two non-military experts get to trek their way through a frozen wasteland in search of answers and a way to disable the Markers.  The frozen planet makes for an interesting, new environment.  All sorts of monstrosities pop up out of the snow, and you need to be concerned about your body temperature.  In the beginning, at least.  You eventually find cold weather gear after ransacking the SCAF buildings that litter this planet.  After watching one of the civvies nobly freeze to death.

This is the first of several scenes that are supposed to evoke pathos, and fail miserably.  The aging, somewhat hobbled Buckell, expert on all things SCAF, is found huddled in a building that has lost its doors with no power.  He is almost frozen when you find him, and manages to mutter something about volunteering to stay behind because there weren't enough cold weather suits to go around.  He tells you there are more downstairs, but the elevator isn't powered and it sounds like there are Necromorphs in the lower levels.  Then he dies.  I felt kinda bad about this, until we stepped into the next room and found the generator.  Which you can turn on and suddenly the room is heated and the elevator works.  Right there.  And we didn't have to do anything special to get to the generator.  Just step into the next room.  Sure, you need Kinesis to turn the generator on, but at least two other people in the previous group have that.  So really, Buckell died because a writer at Visceral went "Oh, shit, this is a horror game, we need to kill secondary character!  Sure you technically just met and so aren't really attached yet, but we need feels!".

And the award for most pointless death goes to Austin Buckell!

It's a shame these bits of the story are so weak and so poorly executed, because the game really needs them.  And it needs them because the horror element is, while not lacking, certainly not putting in as strong a showing as it needs to.  The first Dead Space was pretty scary and creepy as all get out.  It made me uneasy, and after spending an evening playing it I was glad I didn't have to go to bed alone.  Dead Space 2 jumps the shark pretty early in, and so loses some of its scariness (because when you see a guy's face melt off as he turns into a Necromorph RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU in the first twenty minutes of the game, it's all pretty much down from there), but was still creepy as hell.  Dead Space 3 is...well...horrific in concept but not as much in execution.  The secondary characters are basically picked off one at a time, but you don't really care because no time was spend building a rapport or fostering emotion.  Except when Norton dies.  I may have cheered.  Because he is a jealous douche-canoe, and he totally betrays us.

Also, you see every death coming.  At one point in the game, Isaac scales a frozen mountain to find an ancient winch in order to bring up the rest of the party.  As everyone is unloading, the last of the civvies, an engineer named Santos who is some sort of expert on how the Markers work, stays on the platform sorting her things while everyone else gets off as quickly as they can.  If that makes you immediately go, "Well, she's dead", then you and I have something in common.  And that something is called being right.

The last third to half of the game is spent digging through labs and an archaeological site full of alien technology and remains.  Which should have been awesome.  It was interesting, sure, but lacked detail and consisted largely off "go this way, kill everything, pick up artifact, go that way".  And sure, you can make the argument that lots of video games consist of that, but what I am trying to convey is that the action felt that dry.  There was no real suspense, you knew exactly what was going to happen (in this case, final confrontation with the villain who escaped death one too many times already), I just wanted to hurry up and get there.  There weren't even any fun alien secrets to learn, and the few that they give you have no use.

So, conflict with Danik, tearful goodbye with Ellie where Isaac shows that he has found closure and clarity of purpose (and I did actually like this bit, it felt good), and Ellie flees to a shuttle while Isaac and Carver go off to kill the giant ass monster.  We win (duh), and Isaac and Carver fall to their death on the broken, frozen planet below.   Ellie is shown flying away in tears, after having confirmed that the Marker signal has indeed been shut off.  Fade to black, roll credits.  And just as I'm turning to the Beasty and saying that while the game was kind of boring, at least it ended decently and we can all move on, there's a radio crackle on a black screen.

"Ellie," asks a very tired and damaged sounding Isaac amidst static, "Ellie, are you there?"

Now you're just fucking with me.  Seriously?  He survived a fall through atmo after being beaten to hell and having his helmet destroyed, I might add, which means he was seriously short on oxygen during that joy ride down.  But no, there's DLC, Dead Space 3: Awakening.  There is NOTHING I hate more in games than, "give us more money for the real ending".  Which, for the record, is why I'm not giving Capcom any more money ever again.  The irony is that reviews say DS3: Awakening actually contains the horror and tension that DS3 was missing.  I'm never going to know that, though, because I'm done.  That's it.  I'm taking my toys and going home.

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