Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dead Space: More...

So now I'm about a third of the way through the game and I'm starting to enjoy the claustrophobic atmosphere even if the combat and econ/upgrade system seem lacking.

The econ system feels derivative of Bioshock and Ratchet & Clank -- except it feels older and more tired. There was nothing ground breaking about the econ in either of these games (they are similar to many other action-adventure w/ light RPG elements games) but they seemed cooler because of the sense of humor and the fact that some of the upgrades and new powers were pretty original and fun. Dead Space is much more like Mass Effect (and many other RPGs) where bonuses are a lot of "X% faster" and "1 point more" upgrades that just don't seem cool to me because they make me think about spreadsheets (I've talked about this before).

Combat is interesting but not very visceral or engaging. Even though aiming is required to be effective, I don't seem to be able to do it very well. Part of me would prefer a smarter aiming system (it's not a MP game, right) that maybe I could upgrade over time. I think that Crackdown has a pretty cool system for making limb/head shots interesting and fun without requiring pinpoint accuracy out of a third person shooter.

Where combat gets most visceral is when in close quarters with an enemy or during several canned sequences that are a lot like quick time events in God of War (and other games). The idea is to mash the buttons in the correct directions (or aim your weapon while you're being dragged on the ground) to try and let you experience much more up close and personal combat as opposed to always having ranged shooting. It's a great idea when done well. The problem with its implementation in Dead Space (at least so far) is that it's hard to tell when you've gone into a quick time event (I died twice mashing buttons during one sequence before I realized I was actually supposed to aim instead of mash buttons like in other sequences) and the control sequence is hard to figure out. When I'm being mugged by an enemy, an A button icon appears. But pressing A -- and even mashing A -- doesn't seem to do anything. I now mash the left stick and A button and it seems to work most of the time. That said, I have no idea how the mechanic is supposed to work.

In terms of pace, I'm torn. I get the scary claustrophobic ambience. I realize I'm in a special suit and can't just run and jump around (except in zero g, which is kind of fun). But it still feels a little sluggish and breaks the immersion when I can't just hop up or down on something waist high.

In terms of in-game controls and UI, it's a bit of a mess. It's super hard to access your inventory when you need to (for instance, to use another air cannister), the map is pretty complex and can be hard to use if you veer too far from the default setting, and the button mappings make it a lot harder to perform combat maneuvers than is necessary. 

Regarding combat button mappings, I expect LT to either (a) lock on an enemy (that I could then sub-lock onto a limb/head) or (b) sight my gun (where I get a reticle and a slightly zoomed in view. Currently it's option B, but without the reticle. It also feels extra wonky to pick stuff up and hurl it -- I feel like I need to press and release triggers and buttons in the right order or else it fails in unexpected ways. I feel like some of these decisions were made in order to have RT be both melee (alone) and ranged attack (with LT), which sort of makes sense (because you can't press a face button to melee attack while aiming the camera with RS) but ends up making default attacks (ranged, special powers) more complicated to execute.

I'm definitely torn on this game. I want to like it more and forgive it the flaws it has, like I did with The Darkness. But I loved the story and character development in that game. I'm not sure the ambience is enough to keep me going until the end -- and the story really does seem like a hodge podge combination of Aliens, Halo, and various other sci-fi movies/games.

I'll give it a couple more levels and see if it surprises me. Otherwise it's back to Midnight Club: Los Angeles.

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