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.

Alan Wake review

I actually played American Nightmare this Spring before I ever purchased Alan Wake – simply because the game was hard to find at an agreeable price for something I thought was a 360 launch title. I was not aware the game was actually kind of new, only 2 years old. So I was more prepared, somewhat, than I expected to be.

This game was shown to us for years, which is why I thought it was out earlier, and so my interest had been thoroughly piqued. Needless to say I am not disappointed.

First of all, I’m a writer. I don’t claim to be a great writer and in all honesty, I haven’t written a full page in my  novel in at least 4 months. I won’t claim to be a good writer and I often ignore grammatical issues or stupid spelling errors, such as improper usage of apostrophes when it comes to posession. You judge, I don’t care. . I’ve been writing for nearly two decades, some amateur work, some freelance work, some for actual publications. It’s what I like doing, I’m narcissistic that way.

Naturally, a story about a writer appeals to me – especially when it’s in the form of a horror video game on the console I cherish above others. Having said that, I admit to not having collected or read the full manuscripts in either Alan Wake title. I’ll do it eventually, but the manuscripts are kind of ancillary to the narration of the story in the game.

Many people argue that the writing is horrible, so I once again direct you to the fact that gamers and all people who express their opinions are conceited, blind assholes. You try and write a better story. I’ll wait. I’ll proof-read your dreck and in all likelihood, immediately throw it back at you because I couldn’t overcome your first grade English in order to even try to get to the point. The writing is not horrible, at all. The narration is not horrible, at all.

There is one qualm I have with the game insofar as the actor for Alan Wake and the narrator are concerned though. I believe Noah Wyle would be a perfect match for the character of Alan Wake. Yes, Noah Wyle. What’s he going to do, turn it down? He’s not exactly an A list actor (though I like all of his movies and Falling Skies.) I think he portrays a history professor quite well, and so I could see him as a writer.

The story essentially revolves around a very successful thriller/horror author who goes, with his wife, on a “vacation” to upstate New York in order to take a break after his most recent book tour. Obviously they need to spend some time together, alone, somewhere quaint. He is plagued by nightmares and the story pretty much collapses into psychological horror as he loses his grip on reality and his wife.

Alan Wake plays like Resident Evil 5, more or less. It’s a third person survival horror game, with equal parts action and equal parts jolt scares or creepiness like poltergeists and taken, in addition to a lot of townies who are plain creepy. The game dotes on a very tired subject, the light and the dark, where the light keeps the dark at bay and the darkness is malevolent, if not downright evil. People often cite this as a thin excuse for not liking the game or not respecting the story, which is simply a sign of ignorance – you can’t expect everything to be original. Any thought you could possibly have, at least 17 people have already had that idea or something very similar.

In order to combat the darkness, you have a flashlight, and a gun. You also have checkpoints in the form of streetlamps, though sometimes they are irrelevant because you can run from a pack of taken – right into a checkpoint – and they’ll follow your ass and murder you. You get increasingly powerful lights throughout the game, and of course, lose every single one of them, every time you get a flashlight; You cannot kill an enemy without weakening them via flashlight. Some enemies like poltergeisted bulldozers can only be killed by a flashlight, flashbang, or flare gun. As you would expect, you need batteries to power these flashlights, and your batteries will run low if you charge the light beam too long. Overall, the flashlight adds another layer to what might otherwise be copy pasta third person shooter combat.

In the arms department, the arsenal is far more sparse than American Nightmare or Resident Evil. You get a revolver, a double-barrel break action or a pump shotgun, and a hunting rifle. For your grenade launcher you get a flare gun, and you get road flares. You also get flash-bangs  which are lovely. In comparison the choices are much more limited, but the revolver will almost always do the trick. When it doesn’t,  you have a hunting rifle or shotgun – when you need to disperse a major crowd, there are the flash-bangs and flare gun.

Alan Wake shares many similarities or familiar situations with survival horror games, such as the fact that you need finite supplies in order to survive, or the fact that Alan Wake is a writer, not a Navy SEAL. Often times you will have more supplies than you can possibly carry, but many times you will find yourself low or empty on them and cursing your carrying capacity. When this happens, the game becomes survival horror – and unfortunately, Alan Wake isn’t an Olympic athlete so he sucks at running. A lot of the time you will run for your life if you don’t have the ammo or batteries, or flares, and sometimes a flare will only slightly increase your chance of survival.

As far as bosses go, there aren’t really any. Every now and then you’ll have to fight an extremely annoying enemy who moves at what is apparently the speed of shadow, which is faster than the speed of light it seems. It’s so fast you can see it moving. More often, you’ll have to blind a possessed piece of construction equipment to death, like a combine, a bulldozer, or what have you. You may have to fight a tornado or two.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and I believe it’s a must for horror fans. The combat does get redundant in the latter stages of the game, as you will fall into a cycle of “Do Event A. Fight a ton of dudes. It’s safe, run to Event B and do that all again.” but I would hardly say it detracts from the point, which is the story. Pretty much every third person shooter or action game these days has de-evolved into the Uncharted “Safe Room, Rape Room” game-play that I just described, so there isn’t much you can do to change it.

If you don’t own it and do like this type of game, it should be $9 at a GameStop somewhere (Yes we all hate GameStop, just be economic and do it anyway.)

Atmosphere/Environment: 10/10

Story: 10/10

Gameplay: 9/10

I’ll just round my score up to a 10 out of 10.

Resident Evil 6: Post Gameplay Impressions

Yesterday, for those of us who do own a 360 and bought the Resident Evil 6 demo in April (Hey, it came with a free copy of what was actually one of the first good Capcom games in a long time: Dragon’s Dogma), yesterday, July 3rd marked the first early access to this small glimpse of this Autumn’s new “Resident Evil” game. Quotation marks necessary, I’m afraid, because as I have said many times; Resident Evil, as long as it is legally in the hands of Capcom, is irredeemable, and thus does not deserve the title.

People will argue with me that Resident Evil 4 did not ruin the franchise – by saying things like “The game had to evolve to keep up with modern trends. People wouldn’t want to shoot slow ass zombies now.”  In that respect, they’re right. The camera angles, the controls, the enemies from the old games: all of these things were the idiosyncrasies that defined the first 6 “canon” games. Again, I use quotations in lieu of visible air quotes, mostly because I am shirtless and have no interest in putting on a shirt for the purposes of doing a video blog. If Resident Evil 0 canonically makes any sense, then I’m the POTUS. The remake fits in those air quotes as well, but for the most part the changes are legitimate.

However, this is nothing but a third person shooter. It doesn’t even belong in a sub-genre. Any game that doesn’t belong in a sub-genre or merit its own, isn’t distinctive enough to be worth it.

So, I downloaded this demo pretty much immediately when I returned home (don’t worry where I was, just gone for a while) and like many other people I had mixed expectations, most of them leaning towards the fact that this game is going to be equally, if not more, terrible than Resident Evil 5. Suffice it to say that my opinion is largely unchanged and I am not impressed with such a small demo. There are a few things I will touch on, though.

1) Laser sight vs laser dot:

This is the laser sight and dot combination from RE5:

Hey look, I can see what it’s pointing at

Makes sense, right? Well, in RE6, you have two options: You can have a laser sight, which shows the entire beam like RE4 and 5 did, or, you can have a dot, which only shows the dot. And also very annoyingly shows the reticle, which is probably disable-able when the game comes out, or I’m just too stupid to find that option. In my experience, and I apologize because playing the demo for more than 25 minutes was a task because it didn’t last more than 15 (had to throw in some co-op), with the full beam on, you pretty much can’t see the actual dot. I suppose this isn’t a big issue but I personally like to see the beam just because it makes it feel more like the last two games. Sorry I can not find a good RE6 beam picture because there isn’t one, and I don’t feel like hooking my crap back up to take a bad Droid photo of what I’m talking about.

Here’s the RE6 dot, I think:

I can...kind of see it

I can…kind of see it

2) Ada Wong.

She’s not even in the demo but, are you kidding me? Look at this trash. 

Now, look at her in Operation Raccoon City (far from the pinnacle of artistic examplefor Resident Evil but it’s still illustrative of the point). If you only compare them for about 2 seconds, they do look kind of similar. It may just be the texture and lighting difference but please tell me how Ada Wong looks remotely as sultry, or badass, in the new game. I just don’t see it. That is aside from her sudden  apparent descent into a full-fledged villain rather than just a nuisance in RE2, ORC, and RE4.

3) Headshots.

Now, see, Capcom was all “We’re bringing back the horror!” and it looked as if Tall Oaks would actually deliver on that promise. Trust me when I say that it doesn’t. However, that judgement may be premature because the Leon section of the demo was just terrible and shouldn’t have even been in the demo, if they really wanted to sell their actual fans. Ninety-nine percent of the Leon demo section is you being forced to creep through dark hallways with absolutely no items, no threats, and no scares. Only in the last 15 seconds do you actually encounter a zombie and even then, you hardly have to shoot any of them. Anyway, I have digressed.

The point of bringing back T-virus zombies was to be old-school. Everyone who played old-school thought “Sweet, I can finally shoot them in the head!”. No. You can’t. When you played the old games you had to shoot some of them 11 or so times because you just couldn’t aim at their head. Well, don’t worry folks. Shooting them in the head still does not kill them instantly 100% of the time, despite Leon telling Helena not 2 minutes before you encounter the first zombie to “Shoot them in the head.” I shot some of them in the head, they looked at me and said “Whatchu doin!?” and then I shot them in the head a few more times.

Here’s the kicker. The juevos (Spanish for balls, I know, I don’t care what they’re called in this game) can take one headshot and die instantly. They aren’t even T-virus. These guys can’t? Poppycock.

4) Controls.

My second biggest problem with this “game”, aside from the obvious story/character rapage and the blitzkrieg strategy Capcom thinks is going to distract people [Three mediocre campaigns isn’t going to equal one good game, buddy. You should realize that.], is the control scheme. In order to fit in these “modern” Gears of War/every other 3ps conventions into an old format, Capcom has raped the controls. Listen Capcom, I’m not 12 anymore. My reflexes and my muscles and my memory are getting suckier by the week here in the late 20’s. Running is pretty much the same controls. Dodging, three button combo. I’m sure I’ll get used to these controls but, compared to the cut and dry and contextually appropriate controls from RE5, they’re kind of daunting. This of course comes with being able to dual wield, mobile shoot, take cover anywhere, and do a lot of things you couldn’t before. Time will tell.

5) GUI.

We all know that innovation is necessary for every single game that gets made, otherwise who would buy shit that is based on a tried and true, solid formula? No one, obviously [See: sarcasm]. The first 7 or 10 Biohazard games (excluding the rails and FPS) used the same inventory system. Nothing was wrong with it, at all. It worked. RE4 introduced the next best thing, which was to lug around an attache case bigger than your character, at all times, with all your items. This worked perfectly as well, in the context, because RE4 was an action game and didn’t require puzzle solving or strategic acquisition of items the way the old games did (I often refer to the older games as Super Subspace Item Management Simulator…with Zombies). RE5 went a little more old-school in that you only had 9 inventory slots, much closer to the old 6 or 8 slots you could have.

Evidently, RE6 has gone with the RPG “Pick up all the things” element, and put in an abysmally shitty inventory GUI [at least in appearance] to handle this . It looks like it belongs in Deus Ex. The GUI is all digital-y and just looks completely out of place. Navigating it correctly also has a slight learning curve, as does switching between the three stories because the controls are named somewhat differently. For example, I picked up a green herb once as Chris and had no idea where it went, as it wasn’t in my inventory. I would far prefer either the RE4/oldschool inventory where you had a space limitation and had to actually manage the items yourself, rather than go through a horizontal list. I would even prefer the RE5 inventory that you had to use while being attacked in real time. This one is just weird.

This is the least Deus Ex part.

Call me resistant to change or whatever – of course I am. There are things that don’t need to be changed. Supposed innovation for the sake of arbitrary innovation is not only unethical and pathetic, it’s annoying. Resident Evil got where it was by repeating the same formula over and over – not by being new and fresh. There never would have been an RE4 for all these new kids to worship if not for the eight exact same games that came out beforehand.

All in all there is one overall thing that is just thoroughly disappointing, and I’ve seen other people say this as well.  Chris’s campaign, as the demo makes it seem, is so far the best overall experience. It’s entirely a shooter. There is no survival horror whatsoever in it, and that is bad. If the most successful part of this title is the part that is pure shooter, well then, Resident Evil officially no longer has any component of survival horror.

I’ve also seen and heard a lot of people walk away from E3 with the impression that this game is too much like ORC. It isn’t. There are some differences: ORCs movement is very smooth. That’s one of the few good things you can say about it. RE6 still has tank crappy movement like RE5 and 4 and the other 10 games before them. It’s just improved to be about as shitty as Gears of War. Unlike ORC, however, when you shoot things, they do seem to die more or less (other than flyers and bosses like the Gears of War nemesis in Jakes campaign.) You can’t say as much for ORC. While ORC was fun, it was by no means a solid, or even really playable game. As BrokenGamezHD said on YouTube (I removed the link, because they axed his account for some dumbass reason and it’s not on his new account), the game is a technical failure.

The game is just a technical failure. All the right pieces are there, they were just put together wrong. The most obvious flaw is that the guns just do not work – you can shoot a human in the head 8 times with a .50 Barrett and they will survive. If a .50 Barret round came within FEET of  you, it would rip your arm or your head off. Forget actually hitting you, in which case your head would explode just like the skitter heads exploded this week in Falling Skies when they got sniped with a Barrett.

So, fortunately, RE6 is not broken like that game is, which is the least you can expect from Capcom – as shitty as their games have been, they are better than Slant Six.

There is also one great feature that you can find in some modded L4D games – when you fall over and are dying in RE6, you can crawl and shoot. Default L4D games do not let you move when you are down, but many modded games do, and this is a great feature Capcom didn’t overlook. It’s not much, especially in L4D when 13495060428 zombies and specials are pounding you, but it’s something. It lets you feel like  you’re playing.

Overall I am unfortunately going to go so far as to buy the collectors edition, but I have no hopes that this game will be worth even a 10th of that price. I feel that Resident Evil should have just died in 2005. Capcom repeatedly said they wanted to replace it with Dead Rising, which is by no means a survival horror game, but the fans wouldn’t let that happen because Resident Evil has a 15 year, 20 or so game history compared to boring Frank West. Meanwhile, Alan Wake and Alan Wake American Nightmare, not to mention Silent Hill and Amnesia, have completely blown Resident Evil out of the water. Alan Wake may be a “psychological horror” game but it is far more survival horror than Resident Evil at this point (though technically the defining principle is the availability of supplies, which Alan Wake often gives you too many of, but gives you absolutely none just as much of the time.)

I’m sorry to say but Alan Wake, as a horror franchise, has impressed me in 2 short years far more than Resident Evil has in the same amount of time. This is coming from a rabid RE fan who has defended this series for 15 years and enjoyed most of them. Capcom needs to turn to people who actually know what they’re talking about, from experience – the fans. They aren’t doing so, and probably never will.