I Am Boring and Vague

When you want to keep the player’s attention, sometimes it is a good idea to have a bit of mystery. I Am Alive seems to think that mystery should never really be resolved.

As you start the game, you’re walking into your home town, having spent the last year walking across the country after “The Event” caused society to collapse. I’ll spoil it right now: “The Event” is never explained. It is the fundamental core of everything that is going on, but it is treated like the noodle incident. It seems especially strange given that all of the strangers in the game refer to it as “The Event” as though this common language sprang up everywhere despite the post-apocalyptic nature of the world. However, this “Event” is the only explanation we have for the story.

Our intrepid main character has come home searching for his family. Instead, he finds his home deserted and the city is mostly populated with smatterings of violent and paranoid survivors. Oh, you’ll be killing most of them too. Worse, “dust”–dangerous, sand-like fog  that seems to have started showing up after the “Event”–starts blowing into town. Of course, this can only mean one thing: your character must wander around the dangerous environs doing fetch quests for various entitled survivors and trying to the lives of a child he randomly met on the street and a woman that he’s never met at all.

If it wasn’t obvious, the entire structure of the story is basically a sad joke: characters’ motivations make no sense; important backstory is left unexplained; and the ending is nothing short of a slap in the face. If not for the fact that everything is taken with a deadly seriousness, I might honestly think that it was a parody of post-apocalyptic stories. It really is that bad.

Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t much better. Most of the game consists of exploration–which seems to be trying to invoke Silent Hill (They even color in the map with red annotations!)–or climbing sequences of the kind you might see in an Uncharted game. These are both rather frustrating due to the game’s stamina mechanic. Much of the explorable areas of the game are full of “dust” which both dramatically reduces vision distance and causes constant stamina loss. The main way to restore stamina is to rest in an area without dust which is usually done by climbing up the side of a building. Oh, did I mention that  climbing reduces stamina, too? Exceeding the end of the stamina gauge reduces the size of the gauge and can only be fixed with consumables. These two things coupled together basically mean that the game punishes you for exploration or for not knowing exactly where to go.

If the game has any redeeming value, though, it is in the combat. There are survivors throughout the game that you run into. The vast majority want to kill you. Here, I Am Alive really channels its post-apocalyptic setting by showing how rare and valuable bullets are. You start the game with zero bullets. Over the entire span of the game, there was never a time that I had more than 4 of them. This constant resource shortage meant that every encounter had to be considered before being handled. Even on the normal difficulty, shooting your way out of a situation was almost never the right decision and trading health (as enemy damage) for ammunition was usually a reasonable strategy. That said though, the game didn’t actually offer that many unique scenarios–two gunners and a machete dude, three machete dudes, gunner and a machete dude–maybe a half-dozen in total. This meant that once you understood how a particular fight scenario needed to play out, it mostly became a task of applying the optimal strategy for the group.

Ultimately, I can’t recommend the game. The abysmal excuse for a story would be enough of a reason to reject it on its own. Coupling that with the frustrating exploration leads to a game that can be safely skipped.

I Am Alive: 0

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And She Will

Cats are evil and responsible for the Thermomewclear holocaust.

Cats are evil and responsible for the Thermomewclear holocaust.

When I play Metroidvania games, I tend to prefer the Metroid part of them–exploration, finding upgrades, etc. The ‘vania bit tends to focus more on proficiency which might otherwise be called “punishment for failure”. Bunny Must Die! Chelsea and the 7 Devils is a game firmly entrenched in the ‘vania camp.

Bunny has an silly, excuse plot. Our protagonist–a girl in a bunny suit–was cursed to have cat ears (in addition to her bunny suit ears). In order to remove the curse, a different magical bunny whisks her away to a dungeon where she is supposed to be cured, but instead the magical bunny gets stabbed by a bull (who is never seen before or again) and bunny is left trapped in the dungeon alone.

A typical puzzle room: completely full of deadly, deadly spikes.

A typical puzzle room: completely full of deadly, deadly spikes.

Bunny feels like a game out of time. Though only published in 2006, the controls feel like they are straight out of the original Metroid–rough, limited, and sloppy. For instance, the game has two “jump modes” you can either jump up, which is a slightly higher jump, or you can jump at a 45 degree angle. There’s no gradation in between. After much play, the difference becomes clear, but this sort of control scheme isn’t what I would expect from a modern game. Similarly, our protagonist will eventually unlock wall jumping which is just as frustrating with its narrow timing windows and arbitrary failures to activate.

The game's internal screenshot button makes Bunny give a peace sign. She is unworried about the boss mere inches away from her.

The game’s internal screenshot button makes Bunny give a peace sign. She is unworried about the boss mere inches away from her.

Frustrating gameplay and a barely existent plot make if impossible to recommend Bunny Must Die. Though the game has some occasional moments of humor, they couldn’t make up for forcing me to spend hours becoming incredibly efficient at the broken controls just in order to advance.

Bunny Must Die! Chelsea and the 7 Devils: 0

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It’s the Stupid Humor

The Borderlands series has always built itself on two principles. First: high-speed frenetic combat. Second: clever, if somewhat lowbrow, humor. While the Pre-Sequel manages to continue the tradition of the first, the latter falls short this time around.

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Don’t mind me, just flying over some moon lava.

In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, we’re following the story of Handsome Jack’s rise to power. For those not paying attention, Handsome Jack was the villain in Borderlands 2 who called you up and mocked you or talked about his diamond horse that he named after you (“Butt Stallion”). In fact, I would wager that Handsome Jack’s mocking in Borderlands 2 was the source of much of the game’s humor. He is certainly far more memorable than any other character in the game (with the possible exception of Tiny Tina). It would seem, in that case, that building another game around Jack would be a no-brainer. The trick, of course, is that he was killed off at the end of Borderlands 2. Thus, we must go back in time if we want to see more of him.

The original founders of Hyperion: Crazy Cat Lady, Gendo Ikari, and Dude Taking Selfie

The original founders of Hyperion:
Crazy Cat Lady, Gendo Ikari, and Dude Taking Selfie

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out very well in practice. Rather than letting Jack channel his inner comedic sociopath, we instead are forced to learn how Jack evolved from a relatively heroic man (at least by vault hunter standards) who was just trying to save the moon into villain we see in BL2. In order to do this, the writers gave the main plot arc a much more serious tone. The gameplay and the sidesquests, however, were left with the same aim toward humor which gives the whole thing a feeling of constant mood whiplash. The game as a whole thus suffers greatly.

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The Most Important Gameplay Addition — The Grinder

Interestingly, I think the gameplay itself has been somewhat improved over the previous iterations. Specifically, the addition of the grinder–an object which can convert three items that you don’t want into a new random item–may be the greatest improvement. All too often during Borderlands 2, I felt as though I was searching for weapons without finding what I needed. Worse, it seemed like every rare item drop I found didn’t suit my playstyle. The grinder addresses both of these issues by giving a useful way to “re-roll” the random drops. Even better, you can use the grinders to upgrade items by spending moonstones (the Eridium replacement) which makes finding orange drops (the rarest available) much less of a chore.

The grinder also neatly solved a problem that I had in Borderlands 2–the large difficulty

Nisha

Nisha

spike at the beginning of True Vault Hunter Mode. TVHM is the “hard mode” of the Borderlands games and in Borderlands 2, the sudden increase in difficulty when I started it caused me to stop playing much sooner than I probably otherwise would have. The Pre-Sequel, despite being a worse game, was able to keep me engaged into a second playthrough because that difficulty spike was smoothed out. (Of course, it also let me get back to a golden chest more quickly so that I could spam golden keys until I got a usable weapon, but I would also consider that an improvement).

Ultimately, I think the plot problems with The Pre-Sequel outweigh the niceties that have shown up on the gameplay side. I bought this game expecting laughs and found far too few.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: 0

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You Can See It On Your TV Screen

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It wants to lick you…

Despite owning every game in the Persona series, I had never gotten around to playing any of them. I can probably chalk this up to obtaining the first two once the original PlayStation was on its decline after the PS2 release. At that point, it seemed like I should try to play the first two before beginning the third one–it being a series, after all. And thus, another part of my game collection was stagnant. However, in discussing whether or not I should buy a Playstation Vita, a friend suggested to me that Persona 4 Golden was reason enough on its own to buy a Vita. With that kind of recommendation, I had little choice.

2013-07-16-011750At its core, Persona 4 is a mystery. A small rural town is beset by inexplicable murders not long after our silent protagonist arrives in town. Bodies are left hanging from structures with no obvious cause of death and no clear physical evidence to tie them to anyone. The only clues seem to be that the victims showed up on “The Midnight Channel”–an equally bizarre supernatural occurrence where people appear on deactivated televisions at midnight during heavy rain. The protagonist gets caught up in situation when he discovers his ability to take himself and others into an alternate world, by going through television screens.

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Being an ass is not a good way to build relationships…

Therein we find the split between the two main portions of the game. Outside the TV, the game is a time and relationship management puzzle. The clock is relentlessly advancing as people disappear and need to be saved, if you don’t go into the world of the TV and save them, then it’s game over. At the same time, however, you need to spend time building relationships with other people in the real world so as to make yourself stronger in the TV world and in order to help determine who the true culprit is.

The world of the TV, however, is a more traditional JRPG environment. We see turn-based battles à la Final Fantasy, visible enemies on the map, and procedurally generated dungeons. I should stress that while the dungeon crawling and battles will be familiar to any seasoned JRPG player, the battles don’t degenerate into “jam the attack button”.

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Enemies Down!

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Keep it up.

Combat rewards players and enemies for targeting elemental weaknesses with attacks. Hitting a weakness knocks a target down, lowering its defense and giving the attacker another free chance to attack. For the player party this means that they want to target enemy defenses early and often. At the same time, though, this system applies equally to player characters, so it is important to mitigate and minimize the chance of elements attacks hitting your own party’s weaknesses. Lest it be assumed that this system is largely ignorable, it is very difficult to become so overpowered that simple physical attacks can carry you through the game (at least on the first playthrough), and being engaged with this dynamic is essential for being successful. Being forced to think and assess enemy make-up and defenses about every single combat made the game feel far more engaging than many JRPGs that I’ve played.

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Remember kids, skipping class is fun.

My one complaint about the game it that it is nearly impossible to get the best ending in a first playthrough. There are many things that you can spend time doing–raising social stats, fishing, reading books–and without proper prioritization, it’s impossible to meet the requirements. Subsequent playthroughs make it easier since you can carry over money and social stats and, most importantly, have a good understanding of what needs to be done to succeed.

Despite the guide dang it of the best endings, I still think that Persona 4: Golden is worth playing. It probably isn’t worth buying a PS Vita for, but if you’re on the fence, it is a solid JRPG.

Persona 4: Golden: 1

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What kind of protagonist would I be if I didn’t have big goals?

 

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Show; Don’t Tell

There is a piece of advice that has been applied to media for years: “Show; don’t tell”. The idea is that, if something happens and is worth being relayed to the viewers, it should be shown in detail rather than merely being described. Of course, there are always exceptions, but in general it is useful advice. Gaming has its own equivalent which is “Play; don’t show”. The idea here is that it is important to give players agency–let them carry out the actions–as it provides a more immerersive experience. NIS, the creators of Mugen Souls, doesn’t seem to have learned the first bit of advice, much less the second.

Mugen Souls’ plot is a bit thin. The main character–Chou-Chou–wakes up, see some pretty things in the sky, and decides to make them hers. Of course, it turns out that she is the (self-proclaimed) absolute god of the universe, so she may actually have a shot at it. She carries out her ill-conceived plot by using her power to turn things into her “peons” to capture a spaceship (which is inexplicably always called an airship) and going from world to world turning the two most important people in each–the demon lord and the hero who fights said demon lord–into her peons. Since she controls the most powerful  people and those people presumably control the worlds, she presumably controls the planets (by the transitive property of intergalactic conquest). The whole thing is rather tongue-in-cheek with characters routinely pointing out the lack of sense that Chou-Chou has and the insanity of the actions that occur. Sometimes the more set-upon characters even make comments about their lack of screen time.

Of course, the real problem with Mugen Souls is that nearly every important interaction is carried out without stimulus. An airship crashes? Rumble the controller and do a fade to black; don’t bother to show the aftermath. Final Fantasy VI provided more  on the SNES for the same situation! Main character turns a hero into a peon? Fixed image with voiceover. One character physically assaults another? Let’s just show their usual dialog pictures and have some text and/or voiceover describing the scene. Of course, we have less than a dozen images for each character, so they’ll never be anything more than vaguely similar to the situation at hand. Mugen Souls isn’t even meeting the standards that one would expect from modern film or television. Forget having anything like agency when it comes time for the plot to happen. All the player is expected to do is carry out the battles and of course to grind.

Therein lies the problem of so many JRPGs, including Mugen Souls: their developers seem to think that the kind of grinding that was acceptable back in the PS1 and PS2 is still appropriate today. Perhaps it is unfair of me to say it about Mugen Souls since it is coming from the creators of Disgaea (The Industry Leader in Obsessive-Compulsive Grinding™). They’ve made over half a dozen games in which grinding was a primary focus.

The gameplay itself is rather similar to the Star Ocean series. There are world maps to explore with enemies on them. When you run into an enemy, you get dropped into a battle mode. This battle mode is turn based, unlike the real-time battles preferred by the Star Ocean games. The battles can be a bit of an over-the-top spectacle, especially early on, but they quickly become tedious. By half-way through the game, I’d turned off the battle animations entirely just to speed things along. It turns out that if everything is made into a spectacle, then nothing really surprises anymore.

I’m sure that there is someone out there who Mugen Souls will resonate with greatly. However, I think most people will find it to be more of a chore than anything else.

Mugen Souls: 0

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Outtatime

There have been many games based on the Back to the Future franchise. Most of them have suffered from the problem of licensed games. TellTale games, however, has managed something that few developers have: make a game true to its license.

Back to the Future: The Game is an adventure game à la Monkey Island or The Dig. Since it was originally released as a series of five short episodes, though, it manages to avoid some of the more troublesome things that plague the genre: such as the flashlight that you have to pick up in the first room and carry the whole game.

BttF:TG starts two years after the movies in 1986. Doc Brown is nowhere to be found and his belongings are being sold to pay off his debts. Inexplicably, the Delorean reappears containing Doc’s dog Einstein, and a message that the emergency recall system was activated, but no Doc Brown. Thus begins Marty’s quest to save Doc from the past.

The writing in BttF:TG is both sharp and true to the original movies. Characters are well defined and the dialog is well executed. It doesn’t hurt that the original Doc Brown–Christopher Lloyd–comes back to do much of his own dialog. The game’s episodic nature also allows it to have the sort of cliffhangers that the movies have, this time between each episode. Even though its very much a cribbing of the source material, each one feels reasonable based on the time travel shenanigans that are carried out.

My biggest complaint about the game is probably system related. I played it on the Playstation 3 and it doesn’t feel like a native there. The walking controls are a bit wonky, especially when there are camera transitions. There are some noticeably (and consistently) laggy bits. The object selection system is also a bit cumbersome. Given that, I’d probably recommend avoiding it on the consoles and to pick it up on the PC or Mac (I imagine the iOS version is also decent, but can’t vouch for it personally).

And I do recommend picking it up. Adventure games died for many reasons–some of them fair. This adventure game is one worth playing though, especially for fans of Back to the Future which, as far as I’m concerned, should be the entire human race.

Back to the Future: The Game: 1

 

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Where’s the Horror?

The Resident Evil games have been changing for the last few installments. The earlier games were concerned about resource management and puzzle solving as their primary focus. Beginning with RE4, the games started to become more like action games. There were still puzzles, but they were fewer. This also coincided with a general improvement to the games controls which made action segments more reasonable. Resident Evil 6 brings us to the completion of the transition: a survival horror game in name only.

It’s true, of course, that Resident Evil 5 had started the actiony trend, but RE6 seems to be going even further. Rather than claustrophobic spaces, the game lavishes on huge set pieces. It almost feels like the creators were trying to emulate the Uncharted games. There’s a problem with this though–the writing of RE6 isn’t tight enough to make me suspend disbelief for the crazy action sequences. Sure, fleeing from an avalanche over collapsing glaciers may sounds awesome and fun on paper, but when the former lacks anything like a cause and the latter was never mentioned even in passing, the whole thing feels like a writer ticking off a check box which reads “spend no more than 20 minutes between action segments”. In fact, much of the game feels like inexplicable locales strung together by the need to have something, anything going on constantly.

The plot of RE6 is rather standard fair: zombies threaten the world and only our intrepid heroes can save the day. That’s not really a surprise and it was what I expected going in. The story itself is divided up into four interweaving campaigns–each of which involves two characters: one is a returning character (Chris for RE1, Leon from RE2, Sherry from RE2, Ada from RE2) and the other is a completely new sidekick, here to fill the roll of co-op buddy. This interlocking campaigns may be the most interesting point of the whole game.

Each individual campaign can be played solo or co-op. Like in RE5, the companion is always there, unlike in RE5, it is relatively easy to allow anyone to drop into the co-op slot when you’re playing. Sometimes this can be annoying–such as the companion with the infinite ammo grenade launcher continuously knocking you down–more often though, it is nice to have a truly useful partner. While that isn’t interesting in-and-of itself, what is interesting is when two of the campaigns have an overlap. At that point, the game searches for another set of players who are also about to play the overlapping section and has them join as well for a real 4 player experience. It isn’t quite perfect–some campaigns don’t have the greatest timing–but it is an interesting idea.

And therein, I think, lies the problem: even its most interesting idea is imperfect and lacks polish. I’m not sure if the plot itself can be blamed on a lack of polish–the problems feel deeper–but I do know one thing that can: too many screens. Just going from the PS3 dashboard to in-game play requires almost a dozen button presses: “Loaded data, press X to continue”, “Press Start”, “Play game”, “Select campaign”, “Choose character”, “Choose settings”, “Configure game mode”, etc. Just getting through the menu system should give you an achievement. There are so many things here that should have just been hidden or auto-completed. The fact that you have to go through a substantial subset of these things every time you want to play makes them all the worse.

Once you actually get into the game, most of it is pretty solid: the controls are mostly suitable and the movement is smooth. There are, however, two glaring flaws in the game. The first is the lack of a legitimate dodge move. Action games, especially games where taking any damage is a bad idea, need a spammable dodge move. While RE6 has a dodge, it is mostly single use only and is more likely to get you killed than to help you. Secondly, there just isn’t enough feedback on when you’re hurting enemies. I tend to like knowing if the giant monster is taking any damage at all from my constant barrage of fire, but without any flinching or health bars, its impossible to tell. This problem is compounded  twofold by the fact that some creatures seem to have weak bits but actually take damage anywhere and that pretty much everything at all boss-like has far too many hit points.

So there you have it. Resident Evil 6: inexplicable plot, lousy enemy design, terrible menus. How did you fall so far, Capcom?

Resident Evil 6: 0

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That Olde Tyme Religion

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It’s like Mount Rushmore. Only sinister. And missing Lincoln. And with Franklin. And also missing Roosevelt. Also, surrounded by sparking lightning. Though, to be fair, that might also happen on the regular Mt. Rushmore, I’ve only ever been there the once and might just have missed it.

The Bioshock series has spent three games delving into a specific idea in each. The first dove into Objectivism and was very successful at it. The second game dug into something like Collectivism and was less successful at it. Bioshock Infinite, however, digs into something more amorphous.

At first, it seems like Infinite is going to be about religious fundamentalism as a governing philosophy. But, that it quickly becomes clear that religion is just part of a greater whole. In truth, much of the beginning of the game is about showing the inherent hypocrisy in the American mind at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. We see a happy, religious, and invariably white cast of Real Americans.

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Good old-fashioned American racism. It’s just like your grandma used to make.

So real are these Real Americans, that they’ve begun a sort of idol worship of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. We’re quickly shown how this veneer of a happy society has underlying troubles. Racism is rampant and blatant. Blacks and Irish are an oppressed lower class who exist only to perform the menial and low skilled work that keeps the economy of the floating city Columbia humming. There are even nods to the worker’s rights movements of the period. Eventually, there’s even open warfare between the “Founders” and the revolutionaries seeking equality.

Bring Us the Girl Wipe Away the Debt

Bring Us the Girl; Wipe Away the Debt

But even that conflict isn’t what Bioshock Infinite is really about. When you dig deep down, what you find is a story about fatherhood and redemption. Booker DeWitt, our protagonist, is sent to “bring [them] the girl and wipe away the debt”. He finds Elizabeth–the girl–kept locked away by her father. As the game progresses, Booker reveals that he lost his wife in childbirth and has no children. Perhaps because of this, he slowly grows to become something of a father figure to Elizabeth–protecting her and fighting for her–even as his original mission slips away from him.

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I’m sure he’s friendly.

There are some things that have been mainstays of the Bioshock series since its inception. The Big Daddies and Little Sisters are the two most recognizable and iconic elements–especially visually–of the series. Both are absent here, but they have their spiritual successors, I think. The endless progression of Little Sisters has been replaced with Elizabeth–your charge. The Big Daddies meanwhile have been replaced by the Songbird, her protector. While there is visual similarity, especially in the Songbird, I think this break is largely a good decision for the series. Bioshock 2 seemed to lean too heavily on the original for its plot and setting. This made it feel bolted on due to how complete the story of the original Bioshock was. The clean break that was made with this installment liberated them from some of the burdens that they had been carrying since the first Bioshock.

2013-03-26_00003As a game, there’s truly little to say about Bioshock Infinite. The combat is competently executed, just as it has been for the last two games. The encounters are mostly well designed and the difficulty progression is reasonable. The weapon and plasmid vigor combinations are mostly unchanged, though they are a bit unbalanced. Most notably, the very first one unlocked can quickly become a one-attack kill on most non-elite enemies, even on the hardest difficulties. All this is not to say that there’s anything bad about the combat, just that the changes are mostly evolutionary.

2013-03-26_00008The real strength of Bioshock Infinite is its story. Watching the evolution of Booker and his relationship with Elizabeth is worth the cost of admission alone. I would say that Bioshock Inifinite is certainly better than Bioshock 2 and may even be better than the original Bioshock. It is certainly not a game to be missed.

Bioshock Infinite: 1

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More Action, Less Horror, More Microtransactions

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It’s tough when your buddies turn into tentacle monsters and attack you.

Isaac Clarke’s life hasn’t been good for the last few years. One girlfriend was killed and turned into a shambling undead. Then Isaac was kidnapped by the government and forced to build undead creation engines while his dead girlfriend started showing up as a hallucination trying to convince him to destroy all humanity. His new girlfriend then decides to go charging out to save humanity, but Isaac’s had too much and ends up single again and still more than just a bit mad. And then, of course, religious fanatics decide to try to kill him and destroy humanity. He’s really not having a good decade by the time Dead Space 3 starts.

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Go on, little scavenger bot, scavenge for loose bits. Just ignore that corpse nailed to the wall–it can’t hurt you.

If the Dead Space games have a moral to them, that moral would have to be “it gets worse”. In the first game, we have just one planet threatened. The second game gives us the thread of the spread of undead to many planets due to the evil/incompetent government. The latest installation gives us the undead breaking loose through human space due to the evil religious fanatics. This plays out within each game as well: situations get worse even as Isaac seems to be making progress, every success is met by the realization that things are even more difficult than they originally appeared. In a sense, this progression is the hallmark of the Dead Space series. Even the endings of each game are, at best, momentary victories with dark overtones.

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No, no, scavenger bot, I’m sure the semtex is fine. There’s no reason to worry about it. I’m just going to go ahead and continue onward, but you should totally keep scavenging here.

Dead Space 3, as a game, is very similar to its immediate predecessor Dead Space 2. There are some minor improvements this time around, though. The ammo management game is no longer necessary–all weapons use the same type of ammunition. Weapons can now be created and customized allowing for a more diverse set of choices than was previously available. Unfortunately, this weapon creation system is where the first cracks of an insidious Electronic Arts driven money making system appear.

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Oh good, the science facility. I’m sure that nothing dangerous or nefarious has ever happened here.

The weapon creation system in Dead Space 3 requires you to find various bits and pieces scattered throughout the game–tungsten, transducers, and other materials. These materials are dropped by enemies and found in boxes, but there aren’t a great deal of them. Some grinding and a bit of bug exploitation can get enough, but in reality their prevalence is very low. Of course, EA has a solution to this: downloadable content. For a few dollars here and there, they’ll give you a large supply of these consumable items. Oh, and if you pre-ordered the game, you’ll also start with a few weapons that are vastly superior to those that are available in the early game and are largely viable until the end game. It is “buying your way to victory” in its worst incarnation.

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Who keeps nailing these corpses to the walls? I mean, that doesn’t seem like a good use of your time. They just rot and then you have to nail another one up. Maybe someone should take up taxidermy.

The money grab in the weapon creation system is bad enough, but even worse than that is the first set of actual story-based DLC for the game. It is set immediately after the apparent end of the game and follows the story to its real conclusion. I say real here because the game’s original ending is, in no way, an ending to a Dead Space game. It lacked all of the gloom, hopelessness, and sense of Pyrrhic victory that we’ve come to expect. What does that mean then? We have a $10 mandatory add-on in order to get the experience that we’ve come to expect from the series. And of course, that $10 gets us less than three hours of gameplay.

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I’m sure that this bit is supposed to be glowing green. Yeah, green is a good color, right? Right?

There’s a lot that I liked in this iteration of Dead Space. The idea of a final confrontation and a race to finally make real progress against the necromorphs was compelling, but it ultimately felt like things were pulled down by the nagging attempts to gather real-world money from players. Even though I didn’t succumb to that temptation, the grinding and farming necessary to make up for it distracted from the game itself. And the ending–the one before the DLC–was wholly unsatisfying. I see in Dead Space 3 a good game hampered by the environment in which it was raised, and that foul influence has made it less than it should have been.

Dead Space 3: 0

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Fates Worse Than Death

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The Empress and her daughter enjoy Corvo’s welcome home.

Whenever I’ve played an Assassin’s Creed game, there’s been one thing that I wished that I had: the ability to teleport. It seems that someone else was thinking the same thing when they decided to make Dishonored.

Dishonored follows a rather straightforward premise: Corvo, the mute bodyguard to the queen, is framed for her murder. Following a show trial, unknown allies help him to escape from prison whereupon he is pulled into a scheme to topple the new rulers and find revenge. Along the way, of course, he is first given state of the art weapons by a discredited scientist and magical powers from the mysterious supernatural being called the “Outsider”.

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So, we need to cross the bridge. Options: 1) go across the main deck, fight past guards and automated defenses; 2) sneak under the bridge and reprogram the automated defenses to attack the guards; 3) teleport on top of the nearby buildings and run across the outlying support wires; 4) possess a guard and walk out to the other side

Magic and weapons alone don’t make an interesting game. Interesting games are about choice. Here, I am of two minds about Dishonored. The main plot drags you along with very little in the way of choice: go to that place, kill that man, etc. At the same time, though, you’re often given an exceptionally large number of ways to carry out those tasks. In a sense, it reminds me of the original Deus Ex just in the sheer number of options. This is probably where Dishonored is at its best.

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Tesla coil death traps. Why’s it always got to be lightning? Also, I’m pretty sure OSHA doesn’t like having these installed in the stairways.

Working in beautiful symmetry with choice is the writing. Although you are nearly always cast as an assassin and sent out with murder as your objective, killing is never a necessity. Every mission offers a non-lethal method of neutralizing the targets presented. Of course, merely knocking a high-ranking assassination target unconscious would be woefully insufficient. Instead, the game offers cruel and ironic fates to those you let live. In a sense, the game offers you the choice of justice or vengeance and makes sure that justice is a worthwhile option.

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These wanted posters are they only way to know what your character looks like. I’m a bit dubious of that Emo haircut, though…

Although the plot and setting are both quite interesting, Dishonored does fall into one of the classic traps of gaming–the silent protagonist. Corvo–the character you’re playing–never speaks in game. In fact, the only times you see his face over the entire course of the game are a few times on wanted poster and once during the ending sequence. This situation would probably be fine, but Corvo is imbued with many traits that we don’t necessarily see in him due to this perspective. Perhaps most of all, we don’t see what made the Empress and her daughter both care for him they way they do. This is much the same trap that the original Dead Space fell into.

Its rare that I want to play through a game a second time with a completely different playstyle. On my original pass through Dishonored, I went out of my way to ensure that I didn’t kill anyone (that “Clean Hands” achievement looked interesting), but I feel a desire to play it again with a more…vicious…methodology to see how the game changes in reaction to it. The fact that I’m drawn to play it again says volumes about my assessment of it.

Dishonored: 1

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