I recently started up a new game of Dead Space. Overall I recall having an enjoyable time the first go around and thought I’d play the role of completionist and pick up a few extra achievements. The first time I played Dead Space, it took me about 11 hours to beat the game, but I poked in ever corner and picked up just about every item I could along the way. I also played the entire game with just the plasma cutter; using the ammo from the other weapons as sale items to help feed my need for power nodes. I suppose this was made easier by the download for the Elite Suit on Live. It felt kind of like cheating to start out with a level-5 armored suit but it was free and I guess that means they wanted me to use it =). There were a couple minor flaws in the game, like not knowing the subtle distinction between fear and anxiety… The constant loops of pipe banging were more nauseating than fear inducing. They often left me muting the game; especially while in a menu. Fading the environment sounds while navigating through the store or upgrade kiosk would have been a much welcome addition. Other than that little nuisance, I’d almost call it a perfect 5/5 game… Almost… which leads to the point of this post! Games should not try to be something they were never meant to be; they should focus on what makes them fun and exploit that nugget of goodness.
There is fine line that we have to dance as developers; how do you make a game that is 6+ hours and keeps the player involved? Some may argue that variety is the spice of life; and in life I would agree, but in games it removes us from what we’ve been trained to believe as reality. Dead Space for example, is a game that requires you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your character. This is something that you slowly develop over the hours you spend playing as that character. You learn that he is clearly never meant to be a bare knuckled fighter, but instead a dead shot gun slinger. You learn the limitations of his mobility and adapt to them as the game progresses and enemies become more bountiful. You develop strategies over time once your knowledge of his alternate abilities become second nature. Hitting an enemy with Stasis then Force pushing them into an active air vent simply becomes another weapon in your arsenal. So why, after all that time training; honing your skills, would you throw it all away for one of the most nonsensical pieces of game play?
I was extremely annoyed by the obligatory “I’ll drive, you shoot” sequence that was shoe-horned into the game; it would have been a better game without that mandatory plot part. I don’t see how they could have justified it in their heads that it was a good idea to go from a suspenseful horror game to an arcade style 3D Asteroids and think, “perfect, ship it!”. It was the one time I seriously questioned if i even wanted to continue playing. Beyond the fact that the sequence had no reason for being there, most other problems up to this point were resolved with simple puzzles, button presses, or clearing out any enemy threat with an iron fist. I had to forget everything I learned up to this point and basically try to play a new game that I had no interest in. Instead of simply hitting a button to, “manually reboot the weapon systems”, and fight off a few bad guys, I was forced to play a game where I battled the perspective matrix from Hell. Things flying directly at you in first-person is never a good idea.
To contrast this point I tried to think of other games I enjoyed that broke the pattern and still kept me in the game. Halo came to mind. The first time I jumped into a warthog it was the gunner seat. I learned that this was a bad idea and promptly kicked the driver out; taking control of the game again. I now had the freedom to completely abandon the warthog if I wanted to, or keep driving. Either way, I was in control of my own destiny. My teachings to this point still applied since I could have easily jumped out and gunned down an enemy if I felt it was the best way. Master Chief wasn’t strapped into a chair and forced to shoot rocks for 5 minutes.
I had almost forgotten about this frustrating experience. It took me this long to purge it from my mind and here I am again, standing at the front door of an asteroid theme park in the middle of a pet cemetery in space; debating if I really want to go through the numbing pain again… It’s amazing how 5 minutes can ruin the next 5 hours of a game, isn’t it? I’m only this upset because it could have been a great game and this tiny barricade between me and the rest of the story has devalued my experience to just, a good game.