What Dead Space 3 Did Right

I’ve finally done it. I finally beat Dead Space 3….the normal campaign anyway. After 2 years of procrastination.

In fact, the only Dead Space game I ever played that I did beat in a reasonable time frame was Dead Space 2. Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 3 took me extended periods of time, for axiomatically different reasons that serve to emphasize what types of games they are. Whereas I put Dead Space down after chapter 2 and didn’t pick it up for nearly a year afterwards because I was frightened to find out what was behind that med bay door, I put Dead Space 3 down because I knew what was behind the next door, and I simply did not care.

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Surprise, it’s an entire platoon of necros. Guys? Where are you going? You’re not surprised?

Dead Space 3’s failure as a Dead Space game, and as a survival horror game, can not be simplified any further than that sentence because after the first chapter, you will know almost exactly what to expect for the next 18. Fortunately it seems to be widely agreed that the game was a misstep, so it doesn’t need to be made any clearer than a simple sentence.

Let me take a step back and provide some clarification. I am not a little girl. I don’t scream in fright at any game – horror or not. You can rest assured I’ll yell some words, but they’ll be expletives, and not girlish cries. So Dead Space was never shit your pants scary, no. In spite of that, Visceral employed a great mixture of pacing and environmental design that allowed common gameplay tropes to exist, while still creating a brilliant haunted carnival house that was one of the most memorable and enjoyable horror experiences in video game history.

Isaac was vulnerable, he was essentially alone, and he was afraid.  As well as slowly going insane throughout the course of the game thanks to the red marker. Most importantly, he didn’t say a damn word for 99% of the game. It was just you, silence, your gun, and a haunted (basically) ship full of alien monsters trying to kill you. On top of that, innocuous heavy machinery would kill you too. Broken doors would slice you up, malfunctioning gravity plating would slam you into a wall and rip you apart, gyroscopic stabilizers would cut you in half, and most of the ship would try to suck you out into space.

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Also dude was newly single and out of shape too.

Dead Space 2 removed this vulnerability and feeling of isolation, but still managed to deliver a tense rollercoaster ride through a different haunted house with some slightly different tricks. Isaac could move more fluidly, guns seemed to be more effective, kinesis powers were more effective and he could use random objects to destroy enemies. He also talked a lot and often met up with living human beings, which made it feel like he wasn’t alone and thus like you weren’t alone. To make up for this, the game featured new enemies who were faster and harder to kill, and the first 6 chapters were basically a gauntlet of brutality for the player to survive. To be fair, you start the game in a straight jacket and the first living human being you meet dies a gruesome death within 20 seconds, and you don’t even get a gun until just before the first boss. The number of enemies also increased to compensate for Isaac suddenly being a badass. It seems his years in a straightjacket somehow magically turned him into a combat engineer, not just a systems engineer.

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He only wants a hug, Isaac.

So what did Dead Space 3 do wrong? Well, as it turns out, a lot of things. I’ll save those for another article for the sake of length. Right now, let’s acknowledge what it did right. The overall art design and sound design is still brilliant. This stands out more in the latter half of the game when you get to see vistas on Tau Volantis like the first approach to the research base, or when you reach the alien city and are introduced to their physical appearance as well as their architecture. Before this, though, you do get to see a lot of the flotilla in orbit of the planet and there are some cool shots like this one. The only negative thing I can say about the art design is that the death animations, while still varied, almost all seem to be too fast and result in the same thing – your body chopped into at least 2 pieces. Where Dead Space 1 and 2 took time to show you yourself being murdered, Dead Space 3 just blows you up every 5 minutes and doesn’t even have the courtesy to show you.

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On that note, the graphics are also much improved over the first two games. Moreso the first than the second, as Dead Space 2 came out this decade, but the graphics are better. Down to the fur and cloth on some of the outfits blowing in the wind of the frozen wasteland. Animations and character textures have been improved as well and overall the engine used for this game seems to have been tweaked with some more modern capabilities, especially when it comes to postprocessing.

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This is definitely a bullshot but with shader mods you can accomplish this.

Just like Dead Space 2, you start out with some living normal humans. And then immediately thereafter, the Church of Unitology shows up and kills the entire colony, turning people into necromorphs and I would think starting a convergence event. You are fighting necros and soldiers who shoot at you, in the streets and alleys and in shops. Whereas Dead Space 2 maintained an intentional pacing and didn’t give you the option of really looking around in the beginning, the sequel does not because there doesn’t seem to be any urgency after you clear an area of necromorphs. The only positive aspect of any of this is the fact that you got to see what “normal” human life might be like for a second. You didn’t really get to see it in Dead Space 2 because everything was dying and covered in blood by the time you saw it, but in 3 you at least get a brief glimpse. Which isn’t saying much, because it’s almost literally nothing. You see some cars, there’s a highway, and the Moon colony seems to be a pretty big settlement. Other than that and setting up the game’s villain, there is nothing notable to come from the first two chapters of the game.

Following that is your arrival in space around Tau Volantis, where you’ll spend the next 6 chapters, otherwise referred to as the Sovereign Colonies flotilla. This is the section of the game that seemed to be on the right track, and the section where the game shined. The ship corridors are tighter than most areas of Dead Space 2, and at most times it feels like a worthy tribute to Dead Space, though it admittedly doesn’t capture the same essence. You still have the vents and necromorphs coming out of them, and the creepy sounds, and the piece by piece backstory that you would expect, but the ships like the Roanoke or the Terra Nova just don’t feel the same.  What makes the flotilla cool is that it has sidequests where you can go exploring and learn the story of these ships, all while still being hounded by regenerators and lots of necromorphs. In addition to that, DS3 improves upon the zero g mechanics and takes them to a whole new level. Basically every zero g sequence is the cover of the game Dark Void, and it’s liberating to finally be able to move whatever direction you want in zero g.

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Unfortunately that all comes to an end somewhat quickly, depending on how you play and whether or not you do side quests at all. After that, it’s on to the surface of Tau Volantis, which is its own rollercoaster ride, but it’s just pure action and its downright annoying. The only good trick Dead Space 3 has left at this point is to employ some oldschool survival horror where you’re better off running away than fighting enemies, because it simply spawns too many of them on your face. Unless you have a ridiculously overpowered gun, which you won’t have until after multiple playthroughs, you are better off running.

It’s quite clear that EA tried to please too many audiences at once while really aiming this title at a different group of people than the group that wanted it. You simply can’t do that in a sequel, much less at the end of a trilogy. The third game in a series, where all the games are directly connected and still telling the same story, is not the appropriate time to try to remarket a franchise towards casuals.

Especially when that game only exists because the core gamers bought and supported the first two entries.

Fallout 3 GOTY Edition – PC

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In the eyes of some, Fallout is a franchise that lived its entire lifespan and died with Interplay in the 90s. As far as die-hards are concerned, this game is not Fallout -it lacks the sophistication in gameplay, the freedom, and most importantly it lacks the “dark” sense of humor present in the first two games. Simply put, these are nothing but the rose-tinted sight problems of nostalgics. Fallout 3 took one of the most popular cult classic games of the 90s and transferred it almost perfectly into a format that gamers can more easily appreciate

Whereas the combat in Fallout 1 and 2 was turn based, and consequently quite frustrating from start to finish, the Elder Scrolls 3+ type combat Bethesda applied to the game makes the gameplay much more fluid, and much more immersive. Rather than asking yourself why your vault dweller – a character who had no personal backstory even despite their character description and no overall narrative, beyond your quest to replace the Vault’s water chip, that you can become involved in emotionally – is willingly letting three radscorpions try to kill him/her without flat out running for their lives, you would frequently find yourself in a situation where you would get a random encounter map, then be forced to run one turn at a time for your life as they hounded you across the map and potentially killed you. While that wasn’t game-breaking, the fact that Fallout 3 puts you in control of your fight or flight instincts makes it far more user friendly. On top of this, it’s a hybrid FPS where you control your aiming, rather than generically shooting a radroach or molerat or what have you until it dies.

The one major flaw with the first person shooter style of combat in Fallout 3, lies in the V.A.T.S system which was introduced to try and retain some of the nostalgic, turn based feeling of the original games. Essentially, if you’re bad at aiming, you can enter V.A.T.S and have the game calculate your hit chance, based on what target zone you choose on an enemy, by crunching the skill numbers for your guns against the enemy’s HP and their stats, which are affected by level. Once you level up and approach level cap, much less once you reach level cap, shooting any enemy without using V.A.T.S becomes an exercise in tedium. Enemies will always die easier if you let the cinematic autoaim do it for you – even if your skill with that gun type is 100 and that gun does 300 damage or whatever. So, after a certain point in the game you’ll start using VATS more, and more, and more – especially if you use the perk that refills your Ability Point bar if an enemy is killed while in VATS mode. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a problem, except that with the DLC, you easily reach level cap before doing even a third of the content in the game.

Fallout 3 will make you kill tens of tons of enemies at every opportunity, at almost every location on the map. Combine that with the dreadfully short main quest line and some of the more accessible side-quests you’ll likely do along the way, and you’re probably going to hit level 30 before you even finish Broken Steel. In a game with so much content, it becomes somewhat frustrating that during the course of completing it, you’ll spend the majority of your time fighting the highest tier enemies possible – like Super Mutant Overlords, Deathclaws, or Tesla and Hellfire troopers. Broken Steel specifically has a bad habit of replacing most enemy types with the “new” enemies, rather than maintainng variety, so you’ll be using a lot of stimpaks and a lot of ammo.

One of the most common complaints about the new game is that the tone, the dark sense of humor is gone. The fact is, the game is just as dark as its progenitors. Nearly everyone in the Wasteland is a scumbag or will show a propensity for being one. Many NPCs will have requests or missions that seem innocent, and will turn out to be requests to kill themselves – or, for example, an NPC will ask for a drug you have and that they are able to get on their own. They’ll take it and immediately overdose and die. One quest will ask you to set off a nuclear bomb in a city and erase it from the map – just because an old WASPy bastard doesn’t like it being on the horizon when he sits on his balcony. You may even be manipulated into killing and torturing people just for an NPCs amusement. The writing and sense of humor are still there, as long as you play the game to actually find out.

Starring the talents of Liam Neeson, Malcom McDowell, and the now unforgettable Erik Todd Dellums , the storyline is a quite normal though solid tale of trying to save the world – in this case the wasteland – and then deciding whether or not to even do it once the responsibility falls on your shoulders. Ultimately, you need not ever even do the main storyline, and you only have a few choices what ultimately happens with the main story, However, piled on top of that are dozens and dozens of quests that reveal the post-apocalyptic world and introduce you to interesting dilemmas, characters, and adventures on the way. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun than finding a water chip.

My one and only feature complaint is regarding vehicles in this game. Admittedly it doesn’t make much sense to be driving a vehicle around the downtown area, not only because there is rubble absolutely everywhere, but because there’s so much to explore that you would miss it. However, Bethesda made the game that way on purpose. You have to follow all kinds of tunnels and convuluted routes to get anywhere in the downtown area, sometimes following a winding tunnel or sewer for a mile just to get to a building located literally 100 feet from that very sewer entrance. To that end, there are dozens of motorcycle parts laying around the wasteland – used for crafting weapons or just selling. There are even cars and motorcycles laying around that seem in perfect shape. What’s worse is that the majority of those cars will burst into a nuclear fireball if you shoot them – so clearly, they still work. Oblivion had horses and the game world was a similar size, maybe even smaller. It didn’t detract from you exploring everything. It would just be a nice option to have rather than only fast travelling or running across the wasteland.

Looks pretty functional to me.

Looks pretty functional to me.

As for this version of the game, on Windows, this is one of the reasons Bethesda has become infamous for buggy games. I first played this on PS3 and the game froze when it came time to take the G.O.A.T, forcing you to restart the game if you hadn’t manually saved before that. That pales in comparison to the amount of problems with the PC version. Fallout 3 was released in October 2008, eight months before Windows 7. It does not natively support multi-core processors and even if you manually edit the configuration file to use more than one thread, there are still issues.

Ergo, the game barely works on anything newer than Vista if you have the retail, original Games for Windows Live version. Even the Steam version, which is the same game with no changes, has plenty of problems. There was a bug, for example in the pre-patch game, where it would crash every single time the game auto-saved. You had to manually save always. In addition to various driver problems, the game has problems on Windows 7 where the audio codecs the game uses to play MP3 files – meaning all the music on the radio stations – cause stuttering and you have to use a mod to tell the game to use the .wav versions of the songs, which are what it uses for the actual set top radios. Add to this a lot of oversights such as a specific quest that you have to use console commands to access if you don’t do it before you finish the main storyline, and the game is nearly unbearable when it isn’t working correctly. Bethesda can’t be blamed entirely for the game not working on Windows 7, but considering even Vista supported multi-core processors which were the norm at the time the game came out (Core 2 ring a bell, people?), there was no excuse for the way the game was designed – which was for consoles first.

Despite those technical issues on modern Windows systems, Fallout 3 is one of the best games of the seventh console generation and its technical failures are nearly overlookable for PC gamers, when considering the available mod support and debugging options. The GOTY package is a must have, hands down.