This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dead Space 3.
You know what, I fucking give up! I give up just like the bloke who said "Hey EA, let's make a horror game" at the start of all this must have given up. He was still around for Dead Space 2 saying "Look, I made a crayon drawing with blood on it, maybe you could leave it lying around somewhere in between all the ridiculous action sequences." But now at the time of Dead Space 3, that man has resigned or been eaten or maybe the parasitic brain worms that control EA's upper management have got to him as well.
"Yes, of course Dead Space should be an action shooter, more people buy those! Heaven forbid that we actually provide for an underserved niche or hold out for sleeper sales. It's not like we make the kind of money that could support an occasional risky investment with any actual integrity. Why should we stick our necks out into the scary outlying territories when we could be tucked up all safe and warm in the uncomfortable dough of mediocrity that is EA's usual output? What's that, you're getting hungry? Okay, I'll just put some cat food down my ear. Yes, I know you like the chunky kind."
So Dead Space 3 isn't even trying to be scary anymore. I used to give it shit about how it paced itself like a six year old telling the story of how all these Pixie Sticks got into its mouth and how the monsters are a little over-reliant on the "ooh, look at me lying here all dead, no really, come closer" gambit, but I didn't want it to stop trying; I wanted it to shut up, sit down and breathe deep before it gave itself an aneurysm. In Dead Space 3, I never counted a single time when a monster pretended to be dead and lay in the path like an unsprung mousetrap, they all just kind of show up to the sound of an entire orchestra pit being simultaneously tazed, as always making incredibly obnoxious slurpy growly noises that an actually tense horror game would maybe play once or muffled by distance but in this case are continually shouted by the parasitic brain worm in your inner ear.
And just to draw the definitive line through it, the big new feature is co-op. You just can't have any kind of tense survival horror and co-op. You also can't breed rabbits and velociraptors in the same pen. It is impossible for a random corpse to have the desired ominous effect if your wacky friend can pick it up with his kinesis module and re-enact scenes from The Sooty Show.
The increasing silliness of the franchise has become full-on cartoonish. The character dynamics are lifted from 80's college sex comedies. Isaac Clarke, spaceship engineer and nerd-linger, is bullied by a bunch of asshole jocks into coming along and fixing all the computers on a remote planet believed to be the source of all those Markers that have been causing so much trouble and also to rescue Isaac's ex-girlfriend who it turns out is now going out with one of the asshole jocks, and when that's revealed, you can almost hear the trumpet on the soundtrack going 'wah wah waaaaahh.'
There's a race against time because the dastardly Unitologist frat bros are coming to raid all the panties and also murder them, and any chance of this being taken seriously dies in a squawking shower of severed limbs with the Unitologist leader and principal villain Danik who looks and talks like he'd be more suited to the villain in a latter Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie if it was converted into a Christmas panto. There was a memorable little dialogue moment near the end where Isaac phones up Danik to tell him how he's just on the way to save the universe forever and Danik flusteredly replies "Well, stop it then!" and it sounds dialogue from a Monty Python film.
But getting back to that co-op, one of the asshole jocks Isaac is forced to associate with is the other player character and I was briefly afraid that the game would insist on nailing the cranky sod onto the solo-player's ankle as NPC support while waving obliviously to any possibility of a tense lonely atmosphere as its sped away on a shooting star. But thankfully, the single-player story is actually tweaked so that Jocko McDickslurp is always taking a different route to Isaac and simply materializes from behind in some of the cutscenes like the Ghost of Christmas Shithead.
Which isn't to say this hitherto single-player focused franchise isn't completely above getting all snobby and condescending at me for now prefering single-player, 'cos at the very end, there's a dramatic pay-off for an entire game's worth of character development for the dude which for the solo player never fucking happened! And occasionally, I went past optional missions with "Co-ops Only" written across the door in which could be heard the faint sounds of raucous partying and jokes at my expense. Don't suppose you've got any "Solos Only" optional missions knocking somewhere around the place, do you, Dead Space 3? No, I thought not!
Another new feature is weapons crafting which is part of EA's big scheme to get in on all that sweet FarmVille micro-payment action by letting you pay for more craftable resources. "Do you love blowing real money on flooding everyone's Facebook page with news of your imaginary cows? Well, you'll love blowing real money on being able to win a non-continuous game with less effort and thus cheapen any sense of achievement!" I might be more indignant if I thought this would actually work! The scheme seems to be to walk into a bank with a gun and a ski mask on, put a bucket on the floor and say "I'm going now, but if anyone wants to put some money in there, then you know, the option's open." And if anyone does put money in the bucket, then that person probably shouldn't have had financial independance in the first place.
After all that, I kind of liked being able to customize combat style, but there's only one kind of ammunition now that loads every kind of gun 'cos otherwise the ripper blade enthusiast would be lumbered with a load of line gun ammo useful only for decorating his Christmas tree. And as a consequence I never ever even came close to running out and my inventory rarely had less than ten healing items at a time. "Tension? What is that, the thing that comes after elevension?"
The sad fact is that there is no tension. As in Dead Space 2, events are frequently interrupted by action sequences usually involving explosions and Isaac Clarke the human cat toy dangling off something for the fiftieth time that day, but whenever they were happening I felt my eyes glaze over and I'd debate on whether to fetch some Mortein to spray the spider on the wall behind the TV. And then it occured to me that the only bits of Dead Space 2 I still clearly remember are the small interesting character moments like Isaac getting a big juicy eyeful of surgical probe as the audience collectively sucks in air through their teeth, and all those exciting action moments that all the animators and sound engineers put a lot of hard work into are all just white noise in the end.
Dead Space 3 is tolerable but that's what I resent about it. It's tolerable because over time, every extruding point has been hammered down until it's widely spread but fucking paperthin, and as bleakly inoffensive to as many tastes as possible. It's a little bit scary here and a little bit actiony there and a little bit goofy under the kilt and a whole lot of little bits add up to a whole lot of nothing at all. It's just empty space, space with nothing living in it.
I wonder if there's a name for that?
A waste of space: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
The cruellest prank the jocks play on Isaac is sticking three pop tarts in his face while he sleeps
Lucky the series ended just when I was running out of sci-fi authors