Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Don't Get All The Hate Over This Game

As I mentioned back in this entry, I recently downloaded the game Dead Space: Ignition, which is sort of a set-up title paving the way to the upcoming sequel, Dead Space 2. The game only costs $5 and takes roughly 45 mins to complete from beginning to end. But the story has a branching plot, much like a choose your own adventure novel, so in order to see all the possible outcomes (a total of 4 different ones), you'll have to replay the game another 3 times to get the full picture.

Got it? Good.

I don't quite understand all the backlash this tide-over title has received since its release back in October. Complaints range from the game not involving any actual shooting or other action-y bits, to the art style being underdeveloped and "blobbish."

To that I say, whaaa? I actually liked the art direction. I wasn't expecting cutting-edge graphics here, not for $5. The story is told through the "motion comics" format, a style that might be familiar to fans of the recent Zack Snyder Watchmen film, which included a motion version of the graphic novel on the collector's home video set. Basically, the cutscenes are static comic book frames brought to life by minimal movements for dramatic emphasis. If you're into comics and cinema, you've seen this done before. It's no big deal. I don't see where all the hate is coming from.

Again, five dollars people! If you want to get an idea of what I'm talking about, check out the video trailer for this game by clicking here.

As for the complaint that this is not an action-shooter game -- big whoop! Why should it have to be? You want a shooter game, either replay the original Dead Space or wait for the sequel to hit next week. I was told that Ignition was going to be a puzzler, and that's exactly what I got. You solve a bunch of puzzles increasing in difficulty throughout the course of the game, all the while being fed the story via motion comic format in-between. The story is engaging and very much in spirit of the main games, complete with graphic horror moments, plot twists, and a whole heaping of betrayals.

Dead Space: Ignition tells the tale of two CPD employees aboard a space station named "The Sprawl." I'm sure there's a more official name for this place, but I don't recall hearing it during the course of the game. Nor do we ever fully understand what the "C" in CPD stands for, but we can infer from the dialog that the "PD" portion is Police Department. So, these two police officers--named Franco and Sarah--are coworkers. But, it turns out they're also lovers on the down-low. And while Sarah is the brawn of the pair, Franco is the brains. Or, at least, the technician. He's the staff engineer and, as such, he seems to spend most of his shift fixing computer terminals throughout the station.

When Ignition begins, Franco and Sarah are called to investigate a series of corrupted automated processes across the Sprawl. Franco hacks into the systems and hauls them back online. Sarah's job, on the other hand, seems to be standing around and making smart ass cracks. The voice acting is very good, however, and you do get a real sense of chemistry between these two.

Of course, because this is still a game taking place in the Dead Space universe, eventually there is a "Necromorph" outbreak aboard the station. These appear to be the same baddies Isaac Clarke came across in the first game. Necromorphs are mysteriously infected humans who mutate and turn inside-out and go on a general killing spree of mayhem and gluttony until no one is left alive. How the infection got from way out in deep space to the Sprawl is a mystery that is never truly answered in this game. But there are hints that the same saboteurs messing with the station's computer systems are behind the outbreak. Only Dead Space 2 will provide the true revelation, it seems.

Naturally this is where the game heats up. Franco and Sarah get caught up in the melee which follows the outbreak, barely having time to make sense of what the hell's going on before they're joining the other unsuspecting citizens in running for their lives. Although you never do get to wield your trusty plasma cutter and get hip deep into killing some baddies (that's Sarah's job, handled entirely through expository scenes), your job as Franco is to hack into various barrier controls and access panels in order to effectively escape the ravenous hordes of Necromorphs heading your way. This is where the challenge and gameplay aspects kick in. As an engineer, Franco's main expertise seems to be using hacker's tricks to bypass sabotaged circuits or safety overrides. In his arsenal are three types of hacks, which he'll choose depending on the scenario: Trace Route, System Override, or Hardware Crack.

Trace Route.  My least favorite of the hacks. This puzzle involves Franco wending a light trace (orange line) through a maze of computer-generated barriers and redirects in breakneck speed. The system attempts to prevent you from reaching the mainframe core by sending out its own traces (blue lines) in a race to see who will reach the center first and unleash a quarantine on the enemy subroutine. In addition, along the way it releases various other subroutines to block and/or alter your course. I hate this hack because it's a bit reminiscent of the light cycle sequences in Tron, which in my opinion were always overplayed by fans. This hack, unfortunately, seems to be the most frequent throughout the game, though. Ugh!

System Override.  This is a curious hack. Curious in that it's far too easy. For some reason I never failed any of these puzzles, not even once. I don't even know if it's possible to fail them. Basically, it's a capture-the-flag game with the system's firewall. Franco inserts a vector (the red trident icon in the lower right) into a honeycombed software layout. Through this vector, he can release 4 different types of viral attacks. The object of the game is to get either one of these viruses across the board to attack and "capture" the computer's firewall (green fortress blob on the far left). Along the way, however, the attacks are met with swift and furious anti-viral measures. The challenge comes from judging which viruses to send out to best attack specific types of anti-viral opponents. It becomes a juggling act, but in the end your efforts all boil down to your army being bigger and better than the computer's. Through sheer, overwhelming attacks, eventually all the anti-viral measures succumb under your numbers, leaving the firewall "fortress" completely vulnerable. Quite simple, really.

Hardware Crack.  Ah, this is the mack-daddy of all the hacks! They start off easy, but then become hard as hell. By the end of the game, you're ready to tear your hair out due to the sheer complexity of this hack. Luckily, this is the least frequent of all three types. Yet, oddly enough, it's also my favorite of them all. Your job here is to redirect the two main light beams (green and red) to their respective matching power junctures on the other side of the board. Bend the beams around various obstacles just right, and you'll overload the fuses for a hardware short. At some point, however, a yellow power junction is introduced. So, in addition to finding ingenious ways to split, reflect, and redirect green and red lights across the board, you'll have to figure out how to also combine both colored beams to form yellow and route it over to the appropriate yellow receiver point as well. It can become quite the colorful mess, let me tell you!

And that's pretty much the sum of it, folks. The entire game is nothing but these 3 hacks being thrown at you in numerous variations. Some can be quite ingenious puzzles that are rewarding in the cracking, but most are annoying. To be honest, I only got enjoyment in being able to see the story progress after each solution. And trust me, the story gets pretty gripping at points.

Eventually Franco and Sarah end up in a really bad situation, which may or may not result in one or both of them meeting a horrific end. It all depends on the choices you make. Of course, if you play through all 4 possible story branches like I have, you start to see a certain pattern shared by all choices. This revelation, I'm sure (and it's quite the doozy, in fact) is going to pay dividends when it's time to play Dead Space 2. I can't wait to discover exactly how!

For your efforts at beating Ignition, you get a special hacker suit Isaac can use in the sequel. I hope the suit does what it sounds like. In the first game, you got special perks for various in-game items (like health, ammo, etc) depending on the level of your hacking abilities. So, if you're into that sort of thing like I am (hacking is always my favorite part of most games these days), this is even more incentive to play through Dead Space: Ignition.

And why wouldn't you want to? You get a pretty decent and quick offering for only 5 bucks (free if you pre-order the sequel), and the story sets up some elements for Isaac Clarke's continuing adventures. if you're a fan of the Dead Space universe and plan on returning there sometime soon, do yourself a favor and take less than an hour to try something a little different in the same milieu. Despite my hatred of the Tracer race hack, I still think the total package was well worth my investment.

Rating:  8.3 out of 10.

P.S. -- In case you're thinking of stepping right into Dead Space 2 without first playing the original, below is a video trailer which will catch you up on the back story to this universe. And, hey, it just revealed to me that the name of the space station is Titan Station, after the Saturnian moon it orbits -- kewl! Does this mean the Necromorphs are closing in on Earth? *gulp*


Kim Kasch said...

Never heard of that one. Hafta ask my son. So this is a hate-free least for now.

David Batista said...

LOL, Kim. I can safely say you're probably not the intended demographic for these games, so I wasn't expecting any hate coming from you. :)

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