In Space, No One Can Hear Your Bitter Disappointment
By George Denison on June 17th, 2012 (22 comments)
“In general we're thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space”, Frank Gibeau recently told CVG when talking to them about Dead Space 3. Those are difficult words to swallow for anyone who has invested in the Dead Space franchise over the last few years, and they come mere weeks after having to choke down another sideways pill: the announcement that Dead Space 3 will feature drop-in/drop-out co-op.
You can argue whether the Dead Space franchise is “horror” or just an action game in a horror setting, but the games have always thrived on the claustrophobic intensity of having one man pitted against a legion of relentless monsters in small, dimly lit corridors. Adding another person- and therefore another body of firepower- seems like a poor design decision that will neuter the game’s greatest strength.
Is it all really as bad as it sounds? Don’t worry; the game's executive producer Steve Papoutsis is here with 20 minutes of gameplay footage to allay your fears about the direction of the Dead Space franchise!
If nothing else, the new snow bound setting shows that Dead Space is being more upfront about its obvious debt to John Carpenter’s seminal 1982 film The Thing. Beyond that, the footage in the video doesn’t exactly fill me with excitement.
It’s full of bugbears that have started to infect action games like a virus. There’s a section between 12:25 and 13:00 that descends into frighteningly generic cover based shooting. How much of that will we be seeing in the final game? The characters swear profusely and pointlessly. There’s a boss battle with a huge, noisy cockroach thing that carelessly exposes its glowing yellow weak points, yet Isaac still somehow manages to lose against it and wind up in an awkward battle with its digestive tract.
Then there’s the issue of that dreaded co-op. I don’t have a problem with co-op play when it’s kept as an entirely separate entity to the single-player (like with Portal 2), but that’s not the case here. Papoutsis promises that players who have enjoyed Dead Space as a single player game will still be able to enjoy Dead Space 3 solo, but here’s the damning sentence about the co-op play: “What you’re going to see is actually some different dialogue, some changed around cutscenes, some new story details that you wouldn’t normally get. So you’re kind of getting two games for the price of one.”
Or how about one game you only half play when there’s no-one else around to share it with? Locking story details away in the multiplayer seems a bit unfair on the players who have come to appreciate Dead Space as a series of single player games, particularly when the multiplayer has been confirmed as “online only” by John Calhoun in an E3 interview with GameTrailers. According to Papoutsis, “There’s a motivation now to share Dead Space with a friend.” Sounds great from EA’s marketing perspective. 2 game sales for the price of 1!
EA and Visceral's justification for the new direction is all over the place. You’ve got EA's VP of marketing strategy Laura Miele telling Gamasutra that co-op was introduced because people were too scared to play the last two games alone. The idea that a horror game (or action-horror or whatever) failed because it succeeded in horrifying its audience is logic so twisted it could only have come out of marketing research. Then you have Frank Gibeau's miserably straight-faced line of reasoning: they are making the game more "broadly appealing" to make more money. Finally there's Papoutsis, who degenerates into some sort of unhinged teenager trying to hype up the game in the video, with its "super epic" "giant freakin' drill", which ends up "pulping" necromorphs, which is "super awesome" and "freakin' cool", but it can also "pulp you", which is also "cool" and "awesome." Is anyone else reminded of that cringe inducing "Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2" advert campaign? All it does is generate the impression that the game is made by the immature for the immature, and yet will end up with a Mature rating on the front of the box.
I would be the last person to suggest that a developer can't shake up an old formula simply because the fans don't like it, but my ultimate question is: why Dead Space? Is it painfully mutating like one of its necromorphs into the thing it has always threatened to become, a beige third person action shoot-em-up? Is EA's only justification for the game being so heavily co-op focussed that it wouldn't sell if it was any other way? They have gone to pains to make it clear that people who play for the singleplayer are under no obligation to play co-op if they don't want to, but they have made it equally clear that they have designed the game as a co-op experience from the ground up.
But who knows, maybe that experience, co-op or otherwise, will be fun. Maybe it will retain the panicky, sweaty-palmed thrills that helped set Dead Space and its sequel apart from the crowd, even when playing with company. Maybe it will be, in Papoutsis' words, "super awesome". From what I've seen so far, though, this direction for Dead Space looks like a dead end.
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