Friday, May 29, 2009

Thanks to the wonders of the pre-owned section of my local gamestop, I was able to give 'Dead Space' a test-drive this week, something I've been wanting to do since it was first released.

I'm only about an hour into it, so I can't give a full review, but I have to say that my first impression is that Dead Space is what Doom 3 should have felt like. A tense, creepy experience that makes you feel vulnerable instead of, you know, just running around in the dark. In terms of atmosphere, art direction and sound design, Dead Space is a masterpiece.

This may sound strange but one of my absolute favorite things about Dead Space is the navigation system. You see, being lost just isn't a fun experience for me. There's nothing more frustrating than playing a game where you spend a significant amount of time running around in circles like a rat in a maze. The navigation system in Dead Space is amazingly well implemented because it works in the context of the game, will always point you directly to where you need to go, but doesn't make you feel like your hand's being held the whole time or make you feel like the game's on rails.

It's actually incredibly simple. While you can pull up a full 3D map with the usual 'You Are Here' markings, just click the right stick and your character points a device at the ground and a laser beam traces out a path to your next objective. It works because it's a believable bit of technology in the context of the game and lets you explore without having to worry about getting lost.

However, despite this awesome bit of innovative design, Dead Space has a holdover from previous survival horror games that I've always despised…save points instead of being able to save anywhere.

I completely understand the thinking on this. The whole point of survival horror is to make the player feel vulnerable. You play a normal guy in an extraordinary situation, you're supposed to be scared every time you open a door or move into a new area. If you can save your progress at any point, much of that sense of vulnerability is lost.

I can understand the thinking, but they always miss one critical point: Having to repeat things over and over isn't fun. Sure, that alien sneaking up on you and ambushing you is a pulse pounding experience the first time, but fighting off that same group of monsters for the fourth or fifth time is boring and frustrating as hell. Secondly, I think most people need the ability to save and stop playing at any moment. When visitors turn up or the kids need help with their homework, I shouldn't be forced to either play for another twenty minutes until I find a save point or throw away my last twenty minutes worth of progress.

In today's world the ability to save anywhere isn't a gameplay choice, it's the same as having a pause button on your DVD player. It's like watching a movie, stopping it while you answer the phone, and then being forced to start the whole movie over from scratch.

1 comment:

Evan 08 said...

Nice comparison between saving the game and watching a movie.