Opinion: Five Terrible Ways EA Have Screwed Dead Space 3 – And The Thinking Behind Them
From the very first moment I saw the reveal trailer for Dead Space 3, huge grade-A alarm bells started ringing. And with every subsequent footage release, gameplay preview and feature announcement, I’ve found myself more and more convinced that the third installment in EA’s once exciting and gripping sci-fi horror series is going to turn out to be complete and utter horsecrap.
The publisher wants to shift 5 million copies, you see. And in order to do this, they’ve attempted to broaden the appeal of Isaac Clarke’s next adventure by heavily altering the tone and emphasis of the experience, and introducing a range of new features that have – in my opinion – absolutely no place in a self-respecting Dead Space game.
Here are the five worst changes that EA have so far revealed, and the Triple A corporate logic behind them, starting with…
Out With The Horror; In With Even More Action
It’s true that the Dead Space franchise has always been fairly action-oriented. But it’s also been heavily defined by tense exploration of dark, claustrophobic environments, high levels of suspense, and moments of creepily tangible atmosphere.
Dead Space 3, on the other hand, appears to have completely chucked any remaining sense of subtlety out of the de-pressurized window. The 20 minutes of preview footage that has been released is absolutely packed full of wall-to-wall bullet-spewing carnage and huge set pieces in wide open areas, with nary an eerie, shadowy corridor in sight.
You know what the most gripping parts of the second game were? The unbearably slow-burning return to the USG Ishimura, and any tense journey through a deserted apartment building, school or similarly-abandoned location.
You know what the least gripping were? The tedious, blood-soaked last couple of chapters, in which you simply guided Isaac through a procession of Necromorph-infested chambers, blasting wave after wave of screeching enemies.
The Thinking Behind It:
EA have pretty much straight-up admitted they don’t want to alienate a potentially massive consumer-base by making the game ‘too scary’. As such, they’ve decided that they can sell way, way more copies if they tone down the horror elements significantly, and shift the game pretty much all the way over into basic action territory.
As far as they’re concerned, it’s far easier to market a title to a mass audience when it’s labelled an ‘action game’ or ‘action-adventure’, rather than a ‘survival-horror’. Which brings us on to…
Cover-Based Shooting! Against Human Enemies!
Yes, that’s right. In Dead Space 3 players will be able to experience the ingenious and completely original joy of diving behind chest-high walls to exchange fire with a whole host of bad guys, who will themselves be armed with ranged weapons.
Clearly, confronting Isaac with twisted, horrific, mutated monsters to fight and avoid has just got plain old – so now you’ll experience the joys of crouching behind crates and other conveniently placed scenery, popping up every now and then to blow the head off of a yelling Unitologist.
And hey, just in case you were in no doubt that Dead Space 3 really is shaping up to be a full-on generic third-person shooter, they’ve also added in the ability to combat roll. Thanks EA!
The Thinking Behind It:
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but shooters are apparently really, really popular. So popular in fact, that even decidedly rubbish shooters can shift millions of copies if they have a big enough marketing budget behind them, and a recognisable brand (we’re looking at you Operation Raccoon City).
In fact, there are colossal numbers of people out there who only play big-name shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo and Gears Of War: and EA are clearly hoping to snare some of that business. If they can make Dead Space 3 look and play a lot like Gears and a bit like COD, they calculate that a lot more consumers will check it out than would do otherwise.
Awesome Ellie Replaced By Wise-Cracking ‘Bro’
One of the very best things about Dead Space 2 was undoubtedly Isaac’s newfound companion Ellie – a tough, resilient, yet understandably traumatized pilot whose sensible distrust of the protagonist gradually ebbed away to the point where she swooped into save his ass from certain death.
The cool thing about Ellie was how free from cliche she was. A survivor, certainly, but not some hard-bitten, muscle-bound chick; vulnerable, yes, but definitely not some sobbing wallflower waiting to be saved. And she was damn sharp at times too. As a result, a lot of us were looking forward to seeing her kick even more ass this time around – but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be happening, sadly.
Instead, Ellie is now apparently in a spot of bother, and Isaac is on a mission to save her. So guess what? She’s now literally become the damsel in distress.
And who has Isaac now got to aid him on his exploits? Why, a wise-cracking, dude-joshing professional soldier by the name of Carver of course, with the two’s dialogue in the gameplay footage that has been revealed proving to be the height of sophistication and intelligence: “What the f**k is that?” “F**k this planet!” “C’mon! Are you f**king kidding me?”
At least you’ll only have to put up with that macho bromance bullshit in co-op mode, anyway. Oh. Yeah. That’s right. There’s co-op now…
The Thinking Behind It:
You don’t really want a strong, complex, intelligent woman at the centre of the drama if you’re aiming for the linear shooter crowd – especially if she’s not a straightforward love interest. No, if there’s one thing that Gears and COD have taught us, it’s that macho FPS and TPS titles relish the camaraderie between two butch ass-kicking heroes as they unleash testosterone-fuelled devastation upon everything in their path.
As for the action-centric co-op, it’s both a way of garnering more interest from the multiplayer shooter crowd, and a slightly sneaky ploy to increase participation through online passes and Origin, dealing with issues such as lending and the pre-owned market too. As plenty of exclusive content and achievements will be locked away behind this mode, it’s a sure-fire way of getting people to shell out extra cash if they don’t pick the game up new.
But for the love of God EA, if you were going to introduce co-op – at least let Isaac’s partner in action be Ellie…
Sweet Mary mother of Jesus. When this feature was announced we all thought it had to be some kind of sick joke. I mean, they wouldn’t actually introduce universal ammo in the third game would they?
Oh yeah. As it turns out, they totally have.
One of the most integral features for a horror game is that ammo be limited to some extent, or that its management must at least be paramount. In the previous two Dead Space titles, we can all remember experiencing that awful, gut-wrenching feeling when we’re almost out of ammo for our chosen few weapons, and the only pick-up we come across turns out to be…ammo for another weapon entirely.
This kind of feeling is essential for a game to have any feeling of tension at all. But not in Dead Space 3, apparently. Now, we have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to pick-ups, rendering the whole point of careful weapon selection – and inventory management – utterly redundant.
The Thinking Behind It:
In a word: accessibility. Almost every popular, mainstream action game out there now uses universal ammo and makes use of little or no inventory management, and EA want their new-found friends to feel right at home stepping into the shoes of Clarke and Carver.
I mean, having to actually keep track of what ammo you have for which weapons? And think about that shit? That sounds like a lot of work…
It’s A Dead Space Game…That’s Not Actually Set In Space
The first Dead Space took place on a stricken spaceship. The second took place on an overrun space-station. Dead Space 3 takes place on a frozen ice planet – and every piece of footage revealed so far shows not a single glimpse of Isaac going anyway near the cosmos itself.
The space setting has always been absolutely integral to the Dead Space experience. The Zero G sequences felt really quite groundbreaking and nifty, helping to mark this out from other series, and the backdrop has always been used to provide interesting objectives and impressive spectacle, as well as fantastic gameplay moments (shooting out windows to zap enemies into infinity, for instance).
Without this, Dead Space really doesn’t seem like Dead Space at all.
The Thinking Behind It:
Sci-fi is for geeks, right? And things like Zero G sequences, often paired with puzzles or technical jargon, just feel a bit too ‘out there’. So it’s got to take a bit of a back seat.
EA are doing everything they can to make Dead Space feel both familiar and welcoming to a wider audience, and therefore the last thing they want to do is make it seem in anyway niche or different (see above for other examples).
Kicking things off on a planet surface, and having the predominant locations be installations, labs etc., the whole idea is that the game will instantly seem straightforward and – quite literally – ‘grounded’, like a ton of other FPS and TPS games that provide shootout after shootout in a series of open spaces and rooms.
Once the game gets to a certain point, the Zero G sequences and space-based stuff will make a re-appearance, because at that point you’ve already reeled in your new audience. And then you can simply claim that the Dead Space fans were just crying over nothing all along. All while swimming in your considerable pile of cash…