I love survival horrorâ€”itâ€™s one of my favorite genres. And to me, the first two Dead Space games are perhaps the pinnacle of horror games. They may not possess the more cerebral haunting of Silent Hill or Amnesia, but no other franchise has found such a perfect balance between scares and action.
Iâ€™d argue that the first Dead Space is scarier than its successor, but the sequel was a better game in nearly every other regard. The zero-g controls were better, the weapons were better, the story was better and Isaac Clarke actually had a voice. The grandiose cinematic spectacle that Dead Space achieved with its final boss battle is pushed to even more epic proportions in several moments throughout Dead Space 2â€™s campaign, all building to an even more ludicrous and intense ending.
A threequel was inevitable. Dead Space 2 didnâ€™t have much closure to it and the series was now a bonafide hit. As E3 2012 began to loom on the horizon, details began to trickle out of the woodwork: Dead Space 3 would be set on an ice planet called Tau Volantis. And it would have co-op.
I didnâ€™t think much of the co-op reveal when it leaked. Most games these days feature some kind of cooperative play, and usually theyâ€™re grand successes, like the amazing four-player campaign in Gears of War 3 or the completely separate co-op story in Splinter Cell: Conviction. When EA unveiled its new slate of games with its E3 press conference last week, there was no game I was more excited for than Dead Space 3, and it was premiering alongside other heavy hitters like Crysis 3 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
Then I saw the footage.
After the press conference the internet erupted. Some fans declared EA had ruined the franchise, while many, along with most critics, were enticed by Dead Space 3â€™s new co-op feature, some even going so far as to call the game the best of the show. Since weâ€™ve only seen a snippet of the game so far, Iâ€™m trying very hard not to let my emotions get the better of me cry foul before getting a better picture of what the final product will be like. That being said, I canâ€™t help but feel like Electronic Arts is indeed ruining Dead Space.
I was wholly underwhelmed by the E3 demo. My initial reaction was that EA is doing with Dead Space what Capcom did with Resident Evil when they morphed RE5 into a totally non-scary action co-op adventure set in sun-drenched Africa. As much as I love the franchise, and as excited as I am to see where the story of Isaac Clarke goes, the demo reeked of corporate greed. It is this greed that is continually ruining great gaming franchises.
Peter Molyneux, creator of Fable, was on hand with GameTrailers and Spike TV to critique E3 2012 and he agreed with a fellow commentator that he didnâ€™t want to see co-op in Dead Space. I wholeheartedly agree. Molyneux delved into EAâ€™s rationale behind the move, explaining that publishers and developers are always copying their competitorsâ€™ successes, which is why co-op has become so prevalent in gaming. Even if Dead Space 3 does end up being a masterpiece like its predecessors, I simply do not believe that the decision to add co-op was one that developer Visceral Games made on their own. A group of EA suits made that call, and it was designed to make the game more appealing to a wider audience.
The first Dead Space was an exclusively single-player experience, built on isolation and dread. You took control of a faceless, voiceless protagonist stuck in a ship of horrors, navigating tight corridors and passageways with no idea of what could be lurking around the corner. The second game added a bit more action, but not too much, just enough to make the game feel more exciting and heart-pounding than its predecessor. Crazy cinematic sequences and awesome zero-g action added to the experience. An unnecessary but fun multiplayer component was added in as well, EAâ€™s first attempt to bring Dead Space to the masses. The game sold better than the first.
And so we come to the threequel. In the lead-up to development, EA must have been thinking, â€śhow can we make this game sell even more units than the last two games? We made it more action-y, we threw in multiplayer for no reason, what else can we doâ€¦ waitâ€¦ I know- CO-OP!!â€ť
But hereâ€™s the thing: thereâ€™s no place for co-op in survival horror. Thereâ€™s nothing scary about blasting away at aliens on a sunny ice planet while yelling obscenities at your buddy over Xbox Live. Adding co-op automatically turns the game into an action title; this was exactly what happened to Resident Evil 5. RE5 was a fun game, but it wasnâ€™t scary, and as such it isnâ€™t considered to be one of the better entries in the series. Instead of scrounging for ammo while running from zombies in a cramped mansion, you were now gallivanting around a nondescript African nation fighting, as my friend puts it, â€śzombies with AK-47s.â€ť
So right now, Iâ€™m incredibly disappointed. I know what the motivation behind the decision was; I just wish EA hadnâ€™t let greed cloud their judgment. Survival horror has never been a AAA genre, why try to force it into one? Why canâ€™t they just be satisfied with moderate success? Why canâ€™t survival horror stay scary, and thus remain a niche genre with a dedicated cult fanbase? Why does everything have to appeal to the broadest audience possible?
Other than the final moments in which Isaac is sucked into the belly of a massive necromorph, there was nothing about the game that felt like the Dead Space I had come to know and love. Youâ€™re saddled with this new, foul-mouthed character who acts like heâ€™s been force-fed badass pills like some kind of pre-foie gras goose. Youâ€™re on this sunny ice planet that is wide and open and not cramped and claustrophobic. The â€śstrategic dismembermentâ€ť that was such a staple of the first two titles seems to have been thrown out the window, and the game now features a cover system so you can dodge bullets from armed, non-necromorph enemies. I read one critic call the game â€śGears of Dead Space 3â€ť and frankly, that moniker is apt.
Again, weâ€™ve only seen a bit of the game in action, and it doesnâ€™t force you to play cooperatively. Itâ€™s â€śdrop in, drop out co-opâ€ť and unlike RE5, if you decide to play alone, you wonâ€™t be saddled with some idiotic NPC partner that gets in your wayâ€”John Carver, the new character, will only appear occasionally and wonâ€™t follow you around. That at least, is a blessing, but if the E3 demo truly was the best Visceral and EA had to show, I have to admit that Iâ€™m a little worried.