Good Grief: The Turrets of Dead Space
Ever been playing a really good game and suddenly run across a section that just makes you wonder what the designers were thinking? Maybe the plot takes a turn for the ridiculous, or maybe you run across a gameplay mechanic that seems unfinished or out of place. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it does make you wonder just who thought it was appropriate for this game.
That’s the idea behind the Good Grief feature. Basically, we look at those really bad segments or decisions in what are otherwise really good games. In the first article, David Lange explored the absurdities of the skull collecting in Halo 3. In the second, I looked at the flag collecting in Assassin’s Creed. This time, we are going to look at a gamplay decision that just jars you out of what is an otherwise immersive experience: the turret sections of Dead Space.
A Game of Precision
If you have read my review of Dead Space, you know I was rather surprised by how much I liked this game, since I am not really a fan of survival-horror games. There was something about the game that just really set it apart. The developers did a great job of setting the tone on the Ishimura, making you move carefully from corridor to corridor, expecting to be attacked at any moment. The atmosphere drew me into the game much more than I truly thought was possible.
A major part of the appeal of this game is the precision with which you have to play it. Headshots are not the goal of this game. As a matter of fact, many of the enemies in Dead Space adapt rather well if you hit them in the head. The developers called the strategy for dealing with enemies “strategic dismemberment;” since the “Necromorphs” are already dead, you have to remove enough of their limbs to render them harmless. The tools you use as your weapons force you to deal with your enemies with a precision that is almost akin to playing a puzzle game.
As you progress though the game, you become more aware of just what items and methods of attack work for what enemies. You also find yourself in a more precarious predicament: the Ishimura, a planet-cracking mining ship, is drifting into the debris of the planet it was harvesting, and the auto defense cannons that would help eliminate that debris are off line. You find yourself leading Isaac across the outside of the ship, doing your best to take cover when the debris comes your way and deal with any enemies before you run out of air as you make your way to the cannons. Once there, you are informed it will be a little time before the automated system comes back online, and so you have to take manual control of the turret and try to keep the ship from taking too much damage before the system resets. You sit down to take control…
…and all that time you spent getting immersed in the story goes right out the window.
Turret Mini-game? Really?
The first thing you notice upon taking control of the turret is how sluggish the controls are. Gone is the precision of the plasma cutter or the line gun. What you are left with is a lumbering gun that makes it really difficult to actually shoot the debris that is threatening the ship. Add to that how easy it is to overheat the guns and the fact that much of the debris has to be shot multiple times, and you have a recipe for frustration.
The horrors don’t stop there, however. You are covering a very wide area with a slow moving gun. You simply cannot shoot debris on one extreme end and then try to swing to the other side and shoot more. After your third or fourth playthru of this segment (I can almost guarantee you will play it that many times through), you learn it’s not a matter of keeping the debris from hitting the ship; it’s a matter of keeping too much debris from hitting the ship. You will learn to not worry about the smaller pieces that are on the extreme ends of the screen, as it is a better idea to let them hit you than miss the larger pieces that can really cause damage. Maybe the designers intended to force you into making this choice. I sure hope not, however. That would almost be sadistic.
To add insult to injury, you are in communication with Zach Hammond, the security officer who is trying to activate the automated defenses, during this segment. He keeps telling you he needs just a little more time, and about the third time he tells you this, you start to think he is a blithering idiot who could not restore the automated defenses if his life depended on it, which it does. What’s worse that making you feel like you are caught in a hopeless situation? Continually giving you false hope that things will be getting better soon.
It seriously took me about ten times to finally get past this segment on my first playthru. I almost stopped playing the game; it just seemed so out of place it what up to that point had been a very enjoyable experience. It did not take long, however, for the atmosphere and return of the precision gameplay to draw me back in.
At least until the next turret section.
That’s right! As if this first atrocity was not bad enough, the developers decided you needed to use another turret to deal with one of the larger enemies in the game. I was so close to walking away from Dead Space when I saw that second turret, but I decided to give it a chance. I was pleasantly surprised to find this segment was not nearly as bad as the asteroid defense section, but it still really does not fit the rest of the gameplay.
Perseverance Pays Off
In the end, I am glad I muscled my way through these two really bad segments of gameplay. If I had not, I would have missed out on what was really one of the more inventive games of 2008. Dead Space‘s use of zero-g segments, creepy atmosphere that keeps you on your toes and intense battles make it a game any sci-fi or survival-horror fan really should experience. I am even really looking forward to playing the sequal.
I can only hope the designers will not include any turret segments in Dead Space 2.