Archives for posts with tag: Dead Space

A few days ago, we got our first look at this year’s Call of Duty. I know, I know, we’re all shocked that there will be another one. But at least it looked a bit different, moving out of the, in my opinion, somewhat tired ‘modern warfare’ template to offer something a bit more near-future.

The trailer seems to hint at a more vertical Call of Duty experience, showing characters in powered exo-skeletons leaping around like The Incredible Hulk and climbing walls like Spider-Man (ok, in a more power-assisted, mechanised manner). Putting aside the inevitable comparisons to the recent sci-fi-flavoured shooter Titanfall, my first thoughts were, “I wonder if those moments are scripted?” Because if they’re not, that surely turns the entire Call of Duty formula on its head.

The series as it stands places heavy emphasis on constant forward momentum. Enemies spawn from fixed locations and simply continue to pour forth until you hit an invisible line that switches those off and turns on the next encounter. Generally, this means there’s little room for exploration – it’s hard to enjoy the scenery when you’re constantly being shot in the backside, of course. Yet if in Advanced Warfare we can jump around the environment or climb walls at will, how will that enemy spawning system cope? Surely you could just bunny-hop your way clear through a level?

I’ve always been a massive fan of Halo. A large part of that is the freedom it offers; you can jump all over the environment, either finding secrets or simply having fun trying to clamber up to places you’re not supposed to be, and you can do it all at your own pace. What makes this possible, really, is that you can enter a new area, clear it of all enemies, and then spend as much time as you like poring over the environment. Gears of War is the same, that distinctive power chord telegraphing that now you’re safe to explore. While this means combat makes up a portion of the game rather than the entirety, engaging battles against intelligent AI make those fights fun, whereas Call of Duty often feels like five hours of heavily-armed Whack-a-mole. That’s great for propelling you ever forwards through one of the series’ typical ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ campaigns, less so for gameplay diversity.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favourite aspects of gaming is being able to experience new worlds that teams have spent hundreds of hours creating, just so we can play around in them. I like to look around and drink in the atmosphere, admiring the creativity and artistry that has gone into bringing a world into existence (and this is the reason games take me so much longer to finish than is necessary!), but I’ve always felt like all that work goes to waste to a degree in a Call of Duty title, as you’re quickly funnelled from one area to the next before you can even appreciate it.

So I’m hoping Advanced Warfare is a little more dynamic with both its combat and environments. I want to be able to jump around at will, I want to be able to climb up to places that aren’t strictly necessary to advance the mission. And I really want to be able to clear areas out so that I can then jump and climb and explore at my own pace. And with this being the first full title from Sledgehammer games, it’s a distinct possibility. The studio was formed when ex-Visceral pair Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey made Activision an offer to replicate their previous success with Dead Space – a game that offers something closer to the mix of combat, exploration and environmental immersion that I’m looking for. Moreover, moving the franchise to a three-studio, three-year development cycle gives us hope that the development teams will have more time to spend creating (hopefully) more adventurous, inventive games. I expect we’ll see what Sledgehammer and Activision have in store for us next month at E3.

You can see the reveal trailer below. What are your thoughts?

ds3The Dead Space 3 demo is finally here (though it has been available for about a week for anyone brave enough to sign up to EA’s Origin service), so as a massive fan of the previous two games, I was eager to try it out. I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been quite wary regarding Dead Space 3; the initial reveal showcased a number of things I didn’t want anywhere near a Dead Space sequel, like human enemies, bro-op gunfights and cover. It’s not that I dislike these elements, but I have other games to deliver that kind of experience for me.

I thought I’d be massively hyped for a new Dead Space by now (the last one ended up being my favourite game of 2011, after all), but instead I’ve found myself worryingly indifferent to the game – everything I saw of it seemed to be moving away from what I wanted, so I just stopped paying attention and decided to ignore everything until I could play it myself. While this had the intended effect of allowing me to bypass both the hype and the inevitable internet hate-storm, it also meant I began to care less and less.

But it’s almost upon us, and I can ignore it no longer. Luckily for me, the demo downloaded nice and quickly from Xbox Live and I was able to try the game out for myself and at least attempt to come to some kind of conclusion…

The demo opens with our haunted former space mechanic Isaac Clarke regaining consciousness, seemingly in the cockpit of a ship. Seeing as he wakes upside-down, it’s safe to assume he’s crashed that ship. Isaac frees himself and crawls out of the wreckage to find himself in an arctic waste with metallic debris all around. Fires rage from the wreck as cold winds blow flurries of snow all around reducing visibility to a few metres. I’m initially struck by a comparison to the snowy mountain level in Jake and Sherry’s campaign in Resident Evil 6, except not as awful – while visibility is low here, we can still actually see enough of what lies ahead to not be completely snowblind. Isaac resolves to find rest of his crew. His crew? We know Dead Space 2‘s Ellie makes a return and we certainly know about soldier new boy Carver, but could there be more companions for Isaac this time around? Hmm…

As we make our way through the snow-covered heights, Necromorphs make their first appearance early on. It’s no big surprise or shock when they do arrive, and due to the amount of ammo the demo loads you up with, they’re no match for Isaac. As I reload, I notice the ammo seems to be universal, usable for all weapons. I’m not sure what to make of this just yet – it could be a rare instance of streamlining that proves useful, but it could also erode some of the inventory management you expect from a survival horror. I mentioned Resident Evil 6 before, and I’m reminded of that game yet again as we make our way around a cliff edge. As Isaac tries to clamber over a truck that hinders his path, it unsurprisingly starts to fall over the precipice. Isaac survives the section with some QTEs which seem a bit more heavy-handed than I remember seeing in either of the previous Dead Space titles – wasn’t the only use of QTEs before to shake off the Swarmers? Perhaps there were more and I’m simply forgetting them? Either way, the prompts here aren’t terrible, but the section could just as well have been a cutscene.

We eventually find ourselves in a large snow-blanketed courtyard area with a large metal platform creating a wall to our left. Carver appears above and shouts for Isaac to make his way to the command centre before spinning to fire as necromorphs converge on his location. Ducking into a small room to power the generator, Isaac activates a lift to reach the platform Carver was on. As we slowly ascend, we are attacked by a large, insectoid monstrosity with spidery legs that tears the lift from the wall. Flinging Isaac back down to the ground, it shapes for a fight, and a few throws of stasis and a few shots at its glowing orange weak spots see it off, but not before it helpfully creates a path up to the platform. Thanks, undead spider freak. On the other side of the wall is a monstrosity of a different sort; our first glimpse of human enemies. Ok, so it’s not that bad – it’s actually a three-sided battle between Unitologists, Necromorphs and Isaac, and the Necros convert our human foes into their own kind very quickly, meaning we don’t really get a feel for fighting human opponents.

As Isaac makes his way through the mining facility, we come face to face with a (hopefully) dead example of the spider creature we fought a few moments ago, suspended from the ceiling and numbered, and from the trench painstakingly dug out beneath him, it seems someone has been engaging in a spot of archaeology. What are they looking for, I wonder? Not a Marker, the pit is far too shallow. Hmm, mysteries… But mysteries we don’t have long to ponder, as we face a new enemy. This one is a… well, it’s a head. An evil bloody head that screams like a banshee and attaches itself to any chunk of flesh it can, regardless of limb capacity. It’s certainly an annoying little bugger; by the time you’ve reduced the body it’s in to a limbless torso, it’s already jumped to another, so you’ll have to catch it out in the open and finish the parasite off for good. Do NOT let these things jump at you, unless you wish to see Isaac’s head replaced with a new one.

After this encounter, we stumble from the darkness out onto the snowy cliffs again, in time to witness a beautiful yet incredibly creepy vista of the bright, orange sun setting over Tau Volantis, with an enormous bony Necromorph structure that looks to be about the same size as the final boss from the original Dead Space. It looks like a great, grotesque bone dragon, like some twisted, mutated dragon skeleton from Skyrim, only hundreds of times bigger, though thankfully it appears to be frozen in ice and snow. This towering monument serves as the backdrop to our second three-way battle, as a squad of Unitologists retreat from the Necromorph onslaught. This time, it’s easy to stand back and wait for a winner (that’ll be the Necros, then) to be decided before picking off the stragglers and making your way through the door that the hideous mutants burst from.

Inside, we find a large circular hall, and a huge drill that is being obstructed by two security gates that we need to free with kinesis. The idea is to move the gigantic drill bit so that we can get through to the passage beyond it, but of course, nothing ever goes to plan in Isaac Clarke’s world. As we set the drill free, the circular pit enters lockdown and the drill spins up murderously, following Isaac in a wide circle around the room. Obviously, we need to escape, and to do so we’ll need to hit the drill with stasis a few times to have an opportunity to take out its fuse, hidden in the centre of the whirring drill blades. Of course, while we’re trying to slow the drill and get a few shots off, we’re assaulted by wave upon wave upon wave (no exaggeration) of clawing undead mutants. They certainly know when best to strike, the clever bastards! It’s best to thin the herd a little before taking a pop at the drill, lest the variety pack of Necromorphs keep clawing at both your face and attention. We need to hit the drill three times, degrading its condition further each time, to open up the path before us, and it’s a pretty frantic, enjoyable section; you need to stay out of the path of the increasingly erratic drill bit, evade or take out necromorphs, and try and hit the fuse all at once. It’s good fun, and brought back positive memories of the Event Horizon-influenced engine section that was featured in the demo of Dead Space 2.

As we make our way outside, pulse steadily dropping from the frantic scenes beforehand, we find Carver outside crouching infront of us in a rather peculiar way. There’s a battle going on that he seems to be uninterested in – a bug perhaps? Ignoring Carver’s strange crouching, we notice that there’s another guy too, and he’s on our side. Who the hell is this guy? Well, we have no time to ponder Mystery Dude’s identity, as a sleek dropship swoops in to land troops, and Unitologists take up positions. This time, there are no Necromorphs to distract either side, so a cover-based gunfight erupts. I pull the left trigger to hug a wall, click right stick to crouch behind a crate and start to return fire. Dimly, I realise that I’m not hating this, but I’m not particularly enjoying it either; it’s just kind of… happening. It’s not that the cover shooting is poorly implemented here, but my idea of Dead Space is not hiding behind a box taking potshots at other people hiding behind other boxes on the far side of an arena – it just doesn’t work here, not for me. The untilogists also seem to take a good few shots – I headshot one three times with the Plasma Cutter before he goes down, which just seems to go against everything we expect from Dead Space. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate fighting unitologists.

Blessedly, the gunfight doesn’t last long as that enormous bony ice-dragon thing we spied from the cliff earlier appears to devour all of our pious foes. It almost gets Isaac too, and as our protagonist scrambles to his feet to face the nightmare, the demo draws to a close.

I wish I could say for sure whether I liked or disliked this demo. I’m struggling to work out quite what I thought of it. The setting feels pleasingly in-universe, in that it feels like a place that might exist in Dead Space‘s canon, but I just don’t really like the snowy setting very much – I’ve always been a fan of Dead Space‘s dark, gritty industrial settings, though the more ornate areas in Dead Space 2 also impressed, such as the Church of Unitology’s place of worship on the Sprawl – that worked because the church itself was incredibly creepy, a strange amalgam of gothic architecture and HR Giger, and the primary school was just all kinds of wrong. But a snowy planet with some mining equipment doesn’t unsettle me in quite the same way. I’m hoping that it’s just poor choice for a demo section, but the second game’s demo started off incredibly creepy, in the frosty, cramped cryo bay area. As things stand, I’m a little worried that the snowy wastes of Tau Volantis will make up the majority of the game.

As I said above, I know for sure that I hated fighting the Unitologists, at least in this demo – it remains to be seen if the full game will differ in this regard. Hiding behind boxes and taking pot shots at distant enemies just feels too out of place for Dead Space, and the experience undermines what we expect from our weaponry; Dead Space fans know the Plasma Cutter as a deadly tool of strategic dismemberment, so seeing it take three headshots to down a human foe immediately downgrades it to futuristic pea-shooter. I don’t recall seeing any dismemberment from human enemies either – from what I could see, they just dropped dead, all in one piece. This doesn’t disappoint me because I’m a bloodthirsty maniac that needs to see limbs flying off in all directions, but because it doesn’t feel right within the gameworld.

Having said all that admittedly negative stuff, there are positives. The mini-boss battle partway through the demo gave me hopes that elsewhere in the game we might see some heart-in-mouth encounters like the necromorph boss in DS2 that tries to kill Isaac on the train, and boss battles have long been a Dead Space highlight for me. Likewise, the use of both kinesis and stasis are as enjoyable as ever, and the drill set-piece was a fantastic few minutes of frantic, slightly panicky fun. I didn’t mention the new Bench that allows you to create your own gun combinations (I welded a Line Gun to a Plasma Rifle, both of which can be operated independently), which should open up more avenues for personalisation and tactical play. The issue of universal ammo, I’m not sure what to make of – it should mean never running out of ammo for your favourite gun, but will it detract from the inventory management minigame at the heart of a good survival horror? Only time will tell.

I think it’s a given that I’ll be buying Dead Space 3. I like the story, the universe and the mysteries too much to just ignore it completely. But I’m undecided whether I’ll be buying it on day one. I’d hoped this demo would sway me one way or another, but I just can’t make up my damn mind about it.

ds2s
Yes, it’s a new year, but I still have a ridiculous backlog. Worse, in fact, thanks to receiving games for Christmas, as well as sales on the likes of Steam and GOG.com. As always, the first few months of the year are again jam-packed full of new releases that will also be joining the growing list, while I fruitlessly try to whittle away at it.

And it is one of the upcoming releases that’s on my mind today; Dead Space 3 launches in a little under three weeks, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. The original Dead Space was one of my favourite games of 2008 – I absolutely loved it. Contrary to popular internet opinion, I thought 2011’s Dead Space 2 bettered the original in every way (except for that frustrating monster-rush near the end), and it ended up being my favourite game of 2011, ahead of Skyrim and Sonic Generations.

But Dead Space 3? I don’t know what to make of it. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of it, which is likely to its benefit, but I didn’t much like what I did see – series protagonist Isaac Clarke running around a bright, Hoth-like world called Tau Volantis engaging in third-person shooter battles with human opponents with an AI companion in tow.

At first glance, these sound like the exact same issues that most people had with Resident Evil 5 back in 2009. The demo and the overwhelmingly negative reaction that I noted online put me off playing that game until last year, and when I did I loved every minute, so perhaps I am giving Dead Space 3 short shrift. I can say that I’ve been curiously uninterested in the game since that initial unveiling, yet as it creeps closer to release, I am unexpectedly starting to look forward to it. And I’m quite glad to feel that way – I do love the franchise, after all. I even read the thoroughly mediocre book about Michael Altman and the origins of Unitology…

So, I said I loved Dead Space 2 (and I really did – I feel like it didn’t get enough praise – certainly for the visuals, which I believe are among this generation’s best). When I spied the DLC mini-campaign Severed on Xbox Live for a cheapo price more than a year ago, I snapped it up eagerly. There it has since remained, unplayed, on my harddrive. But as Dead Space 3 began to gently tug at my attention, it occured to me that playing through Severed might be a good way to get back into the franchise before the sequel arrives.

Dead Space 2: Severed is a two-chapter mini-campaign, featuring characters from the enjoyable lightgun spin-off Dead Space: Extraction (and set three years after that game) and is a side story to the events of Isaac’s own traversal through the Sprawl. As far as I’m aware, the gameplay is broadly comparable to the main campaign (though I imagine suit and weapon upgrades must be either excised or handled differently), and I hear it’s just a couple of hours long – perfect for someone who’s trying to clear items from a backlog!

Of course, the fly in the ointment of this plan is that tomorrow will see a Dead Space 3 demo arrive on XBL and PSN, so that will get all my attention (and I’ll most certainly be doing a write-up, you can count on that!); if it’s good, I’ll probably be salivating over more Dead Space content and immediately load up Severed. If it’s bad? Well, I’ll probably be sitting in a corner crying and rocking back and forth whilst holding onto my knees, lamenting what has become of one of my favourite new franchises this gen.

Let’s hope for the former, eh?