Sunday, February 15, 2009

The St. Dead Space Massacre

I hate Valentine’s Day. I mean I really hate it. I’ve only had one good one in my entire life. The rest have been mainly depressing and unpleasant as I get to look on as the happy couples around me get all love-y and there’s not a damned thing on TV that doesn’t involve love in some way. So I decided to vent all of that pent up anger and hostility. I’ve also meant to write a review of Dead Space but up until now I couldn’t really express how it made me feel. You've been warned.

Dead Space sucks. It’s a pathetic rip off of other horror games and not a very good one at that. Everything they did in Dead Space has been done before and has been done better by the games that did it. They took everything of value from System Shock 2, Resident Evil 4, and Doom 3, and then ditched any attempt at real creativity. They stole the setting straight out of Doom 3. The only difference was that Dead Space at least got the damned flashlight thing right. The combat’s straight out of Resident Evil 4 but not as smooth or user friendly, and you actually have less inventory space. Finally, the attempt at horror is a sad imitation of the work of art that System Shock 2 was. It’s like comparing H.P. Lovecraft to Dean Koontz. And frankly, the story and suspense is terribly predictable.

The suspense is completely ruined by badly timed music and poor game design. In a lot of suspenseful games, the designers will use the music as a way to build up tension and to scare the player. The music might rise suddenly as you open a door to reveal only emptiness beyond it, further building the suspense. In Dead Space the music track misses these subtle tricks completely. It sounds like they stripped the soundtrack from another game and didn’t change it up. The music doesn’t really feel attached to the events in the game unless you count cut scenes. You might find yourself wandering down a well lit hall when the music suddenly bursts forth in an aggressive series of notes. However nothing else in the game builds to this and nothing jumps out so all it really does is numb you to any successful use the music might be put to.

Similarly, the level design is piss poor. To move about the ship, the mutant zombies you’re fighting use the…wait for it…air vents. This would make some sense except there are 2 types of air vents. Vents with their covers intact, and vents with broken covers. The monsters will burst forth from the covered vents EVERY GOD DAMNED TIME, and never emerge from the empty vents. You can enter a room and instantly predict where every monster is about to emerge from and be 100% correct. Now the monsters you fight in Dead Space are zombies, but their weird parasite infested space zombies so head shots don’t work, so you have to cut off their limbs. Luckily the ship’s just packed to the brim with odd laser cutting guns that don’t seem to have any real use outside of dismembering space zombies. Now this might make you think that aiming these cutting lasers is really important as you have to slice off every one of the zombies’ limbs to take them down. Well if so then you have far too much faith in these developers. No, you can pretty much just point the guns at the monsters and fire until they fall to the ground. Aiming does damn near nothing. Another big aspect of the game is that the corpses of the crew laying about the ship might rise from the dead at any moment, and damn is this ship covered in corpses. However this too is thrown together with idiotic abandon. Normal corpses look like…well, corpses really, and the zombies look like multi-legged insect people zombies. Well say you walk down a hall and see two normal corpses. Well, to be careful you cut off their limbs and move on. If you come back later you will actually see a new corpse lying between the 2 old ones, but the fact that it’s a zombie isn’t even hidden as there are long scythe legs sticking up in the air. So the surprise is ruined and you can blow them away from a distance every time. In fact, as you play this game (assuming you ignore my advice and waste you money) if at any point you think “you know, I bet a monster would pop out here”, then guess what, a god damned monster’s about to pop out of there.

Even the god damned plot is ripped off of System Shock 2. There’re some parasites found on an alien planet and there’s an attempt by a group on the ship to take them back to Earth to infect it. Same damned plot, right down to the “twist” at the end. The only difference is that Shodan did it with more style. And if you are unlucky enough to have given the damned PC port a chance, then I pity your sad ass. Think back to the ungodly heinous PC ports of console games from the late 90s. Well this one is worse. The controls are crap and there’s no way for you to fix them. On the PC the HUD is torture and the graphics are crap. I have a PC that can run Left4Dead at very high quality graphics with no lagging, same for Bioshock and Fallout 3. I loaded up a borrowed copy of Dead Space for the PC and the graphics were crap. The anti-aliasing was broken, the bloom was hyperactive, and the motion blur was just off. And I’m not the only person to experience these problems. However, EA’s response to these problems was pretty much “Fuck You, you should have bought the console version.” Well, not literally, but clean it up PR-wise and that was their message.

So here’s my recommendation. Don’t buy this game. Don’t even rent it unless you can get your hands on a copy cheap. Hell, if you somehow know any of the people involved in its design, walk up to them and crack em upside the head with a bat. A good solid bat, none of this aluminum crap*. Instead go play System Shock 2. It’s a PC game, but it’s old and will run on practically any system that’s around these days. It’ll scare the shit out of you (Bioshock is the “pg-13” game by the same developers, while SS2 was as “R”) and you will be better for it. Then again Halo’s somehow become one of the “greatest games of all time” and if that trend in gamer taste continues you can all expect to see me one of these days, perched up in a clock tower with a high-powered hunting rifle and a CD player running J-Pop in a continuous loop. You’ve been warned.

*Please don’t actually commit assault based off of what I’ve said. Because if you do, then my ass’ll get sued or thrown in jail for suggesting it, and then I’ll have to come for you. And I’ll be piiiiiiiiiiised like you wouldn’t believe.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flashy Friday: Squares 2

In Flashy Friday segments, normally I just give the picture of the featured game, a brief description and then a link to go play it. This time Flashy Friday is a bit longer since I have a particularly cool story about this one.

I remember playing Squares 2 a couple of years ago after stumbling upon it at ebaumsworld (remember that crazy site?). It was a simple flash game really. You control a black square via the mouse and your job is to collect other black squares and avoid red ones. The squares shoot from all sides of the screen so the game gets pretty intense with all the squares zipping back and forth. In addition, as you pick up black squares you get bigger in size, making it easier to pick up black squares and making yourself a pretty big target for red ones. There are also power-ups and power-downs you can collect, ranging from brief invincibility, to making your square even more gigantic.

Squares 2 wasn't easy by any means though. You need to have really quick reaction time in order to keep raising your score. On top of all this, Squares 2 has a pretty sick beat going on in the background that fits perfectly with all of the moving squares. The music is incredibly addictive and the coolest effect is when you get the slow motion power-up, causing the music to fade so only the percussion is audible, and then have the music come back in full when the slow motion wears off. Needless to say, I liked this game, and I know a lot of other gamers who have.

Fast forward to two days ago. I'm sitting at a table at one of PLAY's weekly game night meetings. This tall dude with a fro is sitting next to me with an Yngwie Malmsteen shirt on and I'm listening to Steve Vai on my headphones. He hears the music, asks me who it is, and we begin exchanging progressive metal artists that we both enjoy. (We both agreed that Yngwie is overrated).

We eventually ended up talking about out majors/concentration, and I tell him I'm in video game production. After hearing this, he tells me that he just started selling this flash game for iPhone, a flash game he made a long time ago. He needed some help marketing it, and I told him to get on various forums, get in touch with a couple of contacts I have, post the game on newgrounds, addictinggames, and kongregate, etc. All the meanwhile I realize we haven't even properly introduced ourselves or that I haven't even seen the game yet.

He tells me his name is Gavin Shapiro, and as I typed his name into facebook, my long-term memory twitched. Where the hell have I seen this name before? I think nothing of it and I ask him what the name of his game was. He says "you've probably never heard of it, but it called Squares 2."

I had this moment of sudden realization, kinda like the moment Edward Norton had in Fight Club when he finds out who Tyler Durden REALLY is. I had what some people would call a moment of clarity.

So I had a little geek out moment when I found out this guy made this game. I ended up telling this information to everyone in games club, and I'm pretty sure I made Gavin a little embarrassed. Little did he know that he was a mini-celebrity since a lot of people have played his flash game and really enjoyed it. So this blog entry is part normal flashy friday and a bit of a shout-out to Gavin.

Click here to play Squares 2 right now.

And if you happen to have an iPhone, look for Squares 2 in the app store. The game is only $0.99 and you'll be able to compare your scores on a global leaderboard. Not only will you enjoy the game, but the money will go to Gavin for developing this awesome flash game.