FLAPJACKS: So I hear you’ve been talking about the Dead Space games a lot lately.
ME: Well, yes.
FLAPJACKS: I hope you have touched upon the most important thing, which is that Dead Space 3 is terrible.
ME: I didn’t think it was that bad –
FLAPJACKS: Yes, because you are a wriiiiiiiteeeer and therefore it is all about your precious story. But even you have to admit that Dead Space 3 is an awful, awful game.
ME: Well, I did kind of snicker when you came to those little step-ups where Isaac could clearly just clamber over were it not for Impassable Wall Fiat, so he had to use his magic telekinesis to make a tiny ladder appear and then climb up the five-foot-high ladder.
FLAPJACKS: Yes, that was very stupid. But you forget that vast chunks of the game are just the same six rooms, repeated over and over again. There is The Room That Always Has Baddies In It, The Room That Usually Has Baddies In It, The Corridor, The Other Corridor, The Room That Intersects With The Corridor (And Usually Has Baddies In It), and The Elevator. It got so that I could predict from exactly which stupidly obvious air vents the baddies would pop out from and try to stab me.
ME: I will concede that the game was much more repetitive in its level design than the first two Dead Space games, sure.
FLAPJACKS: Good. Will you also concede that the level design, in addition to being repetitive, is usually stupid? I mean, stupid in the way that calls attention to its limitations. Like, for example, the “puzzles” where the solution is literally painted on the wall right in front of the puzzle itself. It’s like the designers wanted to shout at you “YOU ARE A DUMB.”
ME: I preferred to think of that as password encryption being so hardcore in the Whateverth Century that the only way to truly hack it was to go totally analog.
FLAPJACKS: If that were the case, then why didn’t they just rely on the magical Doors Which Only Unlock When It Is Time For The Game To Let You Go There? I mean, in the previous games, they at least always bothered to come up with explanations for why that shit was happening. “Hold on, Isaac, I am going to hack that shit remotely so you can go through” as opposed to “welp, new objective, go that way, doors magically work now.”
ME: Those silly future people!
FLAPJACKS: Or the “electrical engineering” puzzles which were literally just “can you move both of your joysticks at once – okay then you can pass” challenges. Or the puzzles where the voiceover message of Dead Person Twelve tells you exactly what you have to do. Were the previous Dead Space puzzles too hard for some people? Who were these people? Were they just drooling all over their controllers and throwing a fit when that was not enough to win the game?
ME: Speaking as a true PC gamer in his opinion of consoleheads and Call of Duty players, I have to admit that is a distinct possibility.
FLAPJACKS: And the weapon crafting! Who wasted their time on this? You tinker for a bit until you get the guns you already know are good! “Oh, so if I do this and this, I get the pulse rifle with the grenade launcher? Why would I need anything else, then?”
ME: Well, that’s not fair. In the first two games, there was no gun that had stasis built in to its regular firing effect and which effectively put you in god mode for ninety percent of the game because when you shoot things and put them into slow motion, Dead Space gets hella easier in a hurry. Also, in the first two games there was no chain lightning gun. Did you play with the chain lightning gun?
FLAPJACKS: No. Why?
ME: Because the chain lightning gun hits everything at once. It kills the first guy and then does damage to all the rest of the guys. If you up the damage enough you can generally clear entire rooms with one shot. Also, you give it stasis so it also puts them in slow motion so you can stomp to death anybody who didn’t die from the first shot.
FLAPJACKS: So your point is that they invented a new gun for total no-skill twinks.
ME: Yup! I played it through on hard level and it was… not hard at all.
FLAPJACKS: And then there were the microtransactions!
ME: I do not believe for one second you spent any money on microtransactions for this game, mostly because anybody with even a tiny amount of gameplaying skill would never, ever need to spend money on microtransactions for this game.
FLAPJACKS: Well, no. But I am offended they exist!
ME: That’s fair. Did you also want to complain about how fighting against humans with guns made it seem like a Gears of War clone?
FLAPJACKS: No, that bit was not too bad. It was a nice change of pace from fighting the same six zombies again – and I mean “the same six zombies,” because swapping out the babies-with-tentacles-that-shoot-at-you for dogs-with-tentacles-that-shoot-at-you does not make for new zombies in spirit – especially when I had to fight the zombies and the Scientologists with guns at the same time. That was practically the only challenging part of the game. I think, in total, there was about six minutes of it.
ME: Okay. So I am going to concede all your arguments. Okay?
FLAPJACKS: So I win?
ME: Not precisely. I will cheerfully admit that as a game, Dead Space 3 is ill-thought-out as compared to the first two games, which were… let’s say “competent” or maybe “workmanlike,” because they weren’t really inspired per se.
FLAPJACKS: Excuse me, but not just anybody can come up with “zombies in space” except the writers of Mass Effect and Halo and…
ME: But you’re getting away from my point, which is this: Dead Space 3 isn’t a great game, but it’s still a pretty good story – yes, I can see you getting ready to draw out that word sarcastically, but it’s true. It’s a pretty good adventure story that you happen to be playing along with. And I enjoyed it on that basis, and I particularly enjoyed it because Isaac Clarke is not a douchebag.
FLAPJACKS: Why is that so special?
ME: Because most video game protagonists are douchebags! Nathan Drake from Uncharted is a quippy, smart-aleck douchebag. Kratos from God of War is a roiding douchebag. Ezio Auditore is badass, but he is also undeniably douche-adjacent at the very least. Guy From Far Cry 3 is an entitled preppy douchebag who learns the Simplicity of Native Life, which is the only possible way he could go even douchier. And so forth.
FLAPJACKS: And your argument is that Isaac is not a douchebag?
ME: In the first game, Isaac is in desperate self-denial that his girlfriend is dead – like, “actually sort of crazy” levels of self-denial because he blames himself for encouraging her to take the mission that gets her killed, which lets the evil alien thingy take advantage of his mind. In the second, he has literally been totally crazy for the last three years as a result of surviving the first game. In the third, he is withdrawn from the world and just totally wants to give up on everything as a result of surviving the first two games. Douchebag characters would just be all “whatever, here are some awesome one-liners about shooting limbs off of dead people.” The most Isaac can manage is mild sarcasm whenever life is more difficult because now he has Fetch Quest #80 to do before he can save the universe again. The rest of the time, he is painfully earnest, because he is going through the valley of the shadow of death in real-time and he knows it. Isaac Clarke is a guy who gets traumatized when he has to kill the guy who betrayed them all to the baddies and stole his girlfriend, because Isaac is a good dude.
FLAPJACKS: I like this dichotomy you have set up and look forward to the list of Good Dudes in video games. And also the inevitable jokes about Bad Dudes.
ME: Right. And that’s why, even though Dead Space 3 is a mediocre game, I didn’t mind, because so long as Isaac is a good dude, I am willing to stick around for the ride. Good dudes are the ones whose stories you want to follow. That’s why we all played The Walking Dead even though it was about ten times less of a game than DS3 was: because Lee was a good dude too. From what I hear the new Tomb Raider has Lara Croft being a good dude too, so I’ll probably play that.
FLAPJACKS: Are we allowed to call her a dude?
ME: “Dude” became gender-neutral about ten years ago, dude.