It has been a while since I did a Pokemon Love/Hate and you may notice that there was one glaring, recent omission from my list – where were the Let’s Go games? I have had a half-finished Love/Hate list for these games in my drafts for a while and debated restricting this series to the mainline games only, but recently I decided to give it another shot. Since these game released I’ve had a lot more thoughts about Let’s Go and was surprised at just how many things I liked and disliked about them. So, without further delay, I’ve finally got this list written up for your viewing pleasure!
Pokemon Appear in the Overworld! – At the time of release this was a controversial addition, but I have always loved it. Random encounters in Pokemon are a series legacy but they have always been annoying. Let’s Go completely shakes that up by having Pokemon appear in the overworld. This makes the world itself feel far more alive as you have Pokemon going about their business on it, plus it allows you to hunt what you want at your leisure (and if you accidentally encounter one, that’s your own fault). Even better, shiny Pokemon apper on the overworld in this game, so you could be just travelling casually when one pops out at you unexpectedly! It makes simple route traversal exciting since you never know when or if a shiny may appear and is something I wish was retained in Sword and Shield.
Riding and Following Pokemon! – Following Pokemon has always been a requested feature in Pokemon games, despite the fact that it doesn’t really add much functionality and is more of a characterful quality of life improvement. Well, Let’s Go goes a step further because not only can you have your Pokemon follow you, but you can freaking ride on top of several of them!!! This replaces the bike feature from the original games and is an absolute joy to experience once you unlock it! Hopping on an Arcanine’s back and bounding across the Kanto region never gets old… and don’t even get me started on soaring in the skies on a Dragonite!
Can View PC Boxes in Overworld! – This was a simple but HUGE quality of life improvement, easy to overlook. Being able to manage your party and caught Pokemon while out in the wilds is such a time-saver. No longer do you have to trudge back to a Pokemon center or sit through a lengthy Fly animation and then make your way back to where you were hunting, now you can just take care of this whenever your heart desires. Sure, it does make things a tad bit easier to be able to swap out your party on the fly, but the convenience more than makes up for this. Honestly, of all the features that made their way from Let’s Go to Sword and Shield, this is probably my favourite!
Partner Pokemon Interactions are Adorable – Let’s Go takes the Nintendogs-style Pokemon interaction systems introduced in Gen 6 and takes them to the next level. Not only do you get to interact with your partner Pokemon in various ways but you can also dress up your partner in several cosmetic items! It’s one of those additions which doesn’t really have any effect on gameplay but, like, my Eevee’s wearing a hat and a vest, holy shit I want to hug it! The whole point of this game is to grow as attached as possible to your partner Pokemon and all these features go a long way to pulling that off.
Single-System Co-Op Mode – Holy shit, a Pokemon game with a built-in two player mode?! The mode itself is very simple, but this was actually an amazing feature for me regardless. My fiancé doesn’t play a lot of games or care all that much for Pokemon, but this simple co-op mode allowed us to share some bonding time together catching Charmanders and hunting for a shiny one. I’d love to see this feature return in the future, especially since I now have my own kid who is getting to the age where he could appreciate joining me in a Pokemon adventure.
Streamlining – In addition to the improved access to the PC box, Let’s Go has expected quality of life improvements over the Gen 1 games or their Gen 3 remakes. Most obvious is the removal of HMs, which are now just performed by your partner Pokemon. The most notable example of streamlining though is that the item finder has been removed and repurposed. I always found the item finder to be a pain in the ass, not worth mapping to Select over the bike, but in Let’s Go its functionality built right into your partner Pokemon – when you walk around their tail will start wagging faster as you approach a hidden item! It’s a clever and much better way to handling this function, I love it.
Pokemon Go Integration – It was believed that the Let’s Go games were created as a way to rope new fans into the franchise who had only played Pokemon Go, and to that end several mechanics from the mobile game carry over to Let’s Go. However, the actual interaction between the two games is seriously lacking. For one thing, Let’s Go only includes the first 151 Pokemon, their Alola variants and the Meltan line, so most of the Pokemon Go Dex can’t even be used at all. Furthermore, transfers only work one-way – you can only transfer compatible Pokemon to Let’s Go and none can be sent to Pokemon Go. This has given me a handy, niche use where I can offload duplicate Pokemon Go shinies and legendaries to send to Pokemon HOME, and it has given me access to the Mystery Box to get several Meltans and Melmetals, so it’s not a complete wash. Still, the interaction between the two games could have been far more ambitious and it feels like they just did the bare minimum to integrate them.
Missing Areas – At this point it’s pretty obvious that the Gaming Corner from Gen 1 is never coming back due to its simulated gambling, which sucks but fair enough. They’ve set the precedent and it’s more or less expected that this will be the case, even if it does make the game feel a bit more empty. But why the heck do Game Freak refuse to do a Safari Zone area anymore? The Safari Zone was one of the funnest distractions in the original games, why is it completely gutted here in favour of the Pokemon Go transfer room? Again, there’s kind of a precedent here to take the Safari Zone away so it’s not a complete shock, but it’s disappointing none the less.
XP Gains – Let’s Go completely shifts the focus in Pokemon away from battling to catching, doing away with random battles entirely. As a result, your main source of xp comes from capturing wild Pokemon, supplemented by the occasional trainer or gym battle. In my opinion, this is a more tedious system compared to random battles though – catching a Pokemon takes longer than grinding random battles. Even then, previously oppressive areas like the Rock Tunnel were at least a good way to farm for xp til you were strong enough to get through. In Let’s Go, I just dodged around every Pokemon and didn’t get into any battles I didn’t want to, meaning that I was also missing out on xp I probably needed. In general, this also makes it difficult to measure your relative level, since you can’t use wild Pokemon as a measuring stick for your progress and instead have to commit yourself to a battle not knowing if you’re about to get stomped or not. That said…
Partner Pokemon is OP – Oh, you thought that Pokemon X and Y were too easy? Just for fun, I wanted to see if I could solo Let’s Go with only my partner Pokemon, without grinding and by using as few aids as possible (eg, medicine). This is very much doable in Let’s Go, as my partner Eevee went down maybe once or twice (and one of those was to a lucky Horn Drill Seaking) and then my other Pokemon were easily able to clean up afterward. Your partner Pokemon is just plain overpowered in this game, which isn’t helped by the fact that they can learn several insane (and stupidly named) tutor moves for coverage. Oh and Eevee gets several more tutor moves than Pikachu does, because screw you Pikachu.
Mew and the Pokeball Plus Are BULLSHIT – The Pokemon Company have really been preying on their fans’ compulsive desire to “catch ’em all” in scummier and scummier ways over the years and the Pokeball Plus was one of the most blatant examples. For $60 you can get a Pokeball motion controller which can only really be used in Let’s Go… wow what a crappy deal. But wait, if you don’t buy it then you can’t get Mew and will therefore never complete your Let’s Go Pokedex! Making matters worse, you have to buy the Pokeball Plus new because the Mew is on a serial code packaged inside, meaning that you can only ever get 1 Mew per Pokeball. Well fine, I’ll just transfer my Mew from Pokemon Go to Let’s Go… lol, no they don’t let you do that for completely arbitrary reasons which definitely aren’t related to making you buy a shitty $60 accessory. Oh and speaking of which…
Forced Motion Controls – If there’s anything Nintendo loves more than gimmicky motion controls, it’s making them not optional even when the potential to do so is built right in the game itself. If you play the game in hand-held mode, you have to turn the entire system to line-up your shot and then press a button to throw the ball. This is generally what I prefer, but sometimes I want to detach the joycons and put the system down on a flat surface or dock it. Boy it sure would be nice if I could just press a button to throw, but no – when you switch to the joycons the game forces you to rely on terrible motion controls to aim you throws. You can aim right at a Pokemon and have the ball fly off in the complete opposite direction, which is bad enough since it wastes your resources, but in this game Pokemon run away at a high rate so you could even lose a shiny because of this. Like… you’ve built an alternative into the game already, why force me to deal with the gimmick you came up with to sell Pokeball Pluses? It’s bad enough for me, but I can only imagine it’s even worse for players with motor control issues. And all this just compounds another big issue with the game…
Endless Catching Is A Boring Core Mechanic – Let’s Go does away with requiring you to battle and weaken Pokemon in order to catch them. Instead it has you just throw Pokeballs at every Pokemon you encounter, with very little that you can do to swing the odds in your favour (you can throw a berry, land an excellent throw or use a better Pokeball, that’s it). If you want one of your Pokemon to be stronger, you have to grind catching that same Pokemon over and over again to get candies. Let’s Go just demonstrates to me that battling in the mainline Pokemon games is a far more interesting core mechanic, since it makes any Pokemon you want to catch tense as you try to avoid knocking them out, but also manageable as you can stack the odds in your favour.
Friendly Rival – I get that Let’s Go is meant to be “baby’s first Pokemon game”, but… like, so were Pokemon Red and Blue and everyone in my school had few issues getting through those games. One of the weirdest changes to me is that they take away Blue, who was famously a dickhead who you wanted to beat in every encounter, and replace him with Trace, who’s just a pleasant nobody. Like… why Game Freak? They seem obsessed with giving us friendly “rivals” for the past several years (in fact Sword and Shield are the first games to reverse this trend in ages), but they make for boring characters to interact with and battle against.
Seriously? Another Kanto Remake? – Let’s Go mark the second full remake of the Gen 1 games. Sure, it’s been quite a while since FireRed and LeafGreen, but these games are coming out only two years after the Gen 1 games were re-released on the 3DS virtual console. Furthermore, Gen 1 is so oversaturated and over-represented by The Pokemon Company that it can’t help but make Let’s Go a bit disappointing for long-time fans.
Competitive Scene Was Dead on Arrival – As soon as the battling mechanics for this game were revealed it was obvious that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were going to continue to be the main platforms for competitive Pokemon until Gen 8 arrived. Why, you may ask? Well, Let’s Go strips out abilities, held items, several moves, not to mention that it features a greatly scaled-back Pokedex, has no auto-levelling system (meaning you have to get all your Pokemon to level 100 to stand a chance) and there’s no breeding for ideal natures or IVs (although Bottle Caps are still a thing at least). The worst thing though is that Let’s Go ditches the EV system that has been in place since Gen 3 and replaces it with AVs, which are effectively EVs that you can use to max out every single stat. No longer are you forced to specifically decide how you want to build your Pokemon’s stats, now you just max out all your stats because you’re literally handicapping yourself if you don’t. This also means that most Pokemon are straight-up useless because their stats don’t make them good at any one thing when everything’s maxed out. Yeah, it’s no wonder that VGC never even bothered with a Let’s Go league in 2018 and 2019.
It’s Not For Me – Some people really enjoyed Let’s Go, and that’s totally fair. I’m not saying that they’re objectively bad games or anything, and as you can probably tell I really loved the characterful additions this game brings. However, I like battling with my Pokemon and Let’s Go does not cater to that side of the fandom at all. Endless catching makes this game so dull for me, to the point where I haven’t even gotten through the entire thing and don’t really plan to. Hell, the only reason I bought it was to try to get a shiny Melmetal and even then I had to wait for a pretty hefty price drop before I could justify it. I think that Let’s Go has its own niche within the Pokemon fandom and I actually do hope that we get Let’s Go sequels in Johto in 2021, but this spin-off just doesn’t do it for me… which is fine, I guess.
From the very beginning Dead Space was conceived as a multi-media franchise. To that end it managed to build up quite the impressive collection of extended universe material in the five years it was active. Having dabbled in EU material from Star Wars, Halo, Warhammer 40,000 and Splinter Cell (among others), a lot of the time these story extensions are viewed as inessential marketing material. As a result, they typically aren’t very well written, don’t stand on their own merits, or are just “bolter porn” (eg, action fests with little in the way of characters or depth). Luckily, Dead Space has some real gems within its EU, although there is still plenty of material which fit into the latter categories… Sounds ripe for a love/hate breakdown to me!
Also, before we begin, I need to mention that the only piece of Dead Space media I never consumed was the mobile game, due to me not having a smartphone at the time. If I had played it I’d probably include it here and from what I hear it was a fantastic game, but the game is no longer supported on modern Android devices and is unavailable on the Play store. If I can manage to get ahold of it I’ll write a whole entry for it, assuming I have enough thoughts for a post. Anyway, with that aside out of the way, let’s dive in!
Dead Space (graphic novel) – EA and Visceral games demonstrated that they were not fucking around with the Dead Space brand as the very first piece of media out of the gate was this six issue comic series and it is easily the best entry in the franchise outside of the actual games. There are a few reasons why this graphic novel is essential reading for horror fans. First of all, the writing is pretty great. Antony Johnston portrays how the entire Aegis VII colony goes to hell in compelling detail, slowly building up the tension to the point of absolute desperation. Secondly, Ben Templesmith’s art is perfect for this kind of story, being very clear but stylized and inked in a manner which gives it this manic, twisted and dark edge. Thirdly, it is the definitive tome about what happened on Aegis VII, which we only get bits and pieces of in Extraction, and therefore is essential for fans. Finally, it’s the perfect entry point to get into the franchise – you don’t need to know the lore to understand it, because everything gets laid out for you organically.
Dead Space: Extraction (comic) – Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one-off direct follow-up to the Dead Space comics is just as compelling and essential for fans of the series. Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith essentially take a victory lap, showing us what Nicole is up to on the Ishimura during the outbreak and gives us more insight into her psychology and personality than any other entry into the franchise. That alone is enough to make Extraction worthwhile reading (especially since Nicole is essentially treated like an objective rather than a person elsewhere), but there’s such a bleak and tragic atmosphere to the whole proceeding that makes it so sad to read, especially since you know how it’s all going to turn out.
Dead Space: Martyr – This one really surprised me. Like I said up top, video game extended universe novels have a shaky track record and going through the first chapter of Martyr made me think that my low expectations were going to be met. However, by the time the second chapter starts, Martyr gets enthralling. It works for the same reasons that the Dead Space graphic novel works – it’s all about the build-up. You’re going to notice a trend as this goes along: necromorphs are great video game monsters, but an outbreak is boring in a non-interactive medium. Martyr focuses on the madness that the marker causes and the machinations of the people around it, for good or evil. It also gives fans essential insight into Michael Altman, the “Prophet” of the Church of Unitology, and shows us that he’s not a bad guy as we might have expected. Martyr really surprised me with how good it was and it makes for a chilling read with an ending which is just pitch-black.
Samuel Irons – I’ll cover Dead Space: Downfall in its own section later, but the one thing I love in it is Samuel Irons, who I would argue is straight-up the best character in the entire Dead Space franchise. Seriously, he’s a goddamn champ and is literally the only Unitologist we get to see who isn’t portrayed as a fanatic or outright evil. Dude even gets his own badass line before he goes off to face a swarm of necromorphs: “I’m not a hero… just a man”.
Dead Space: Salvage – In the interstice between Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Ben Templesmith was dropped as the artist on the comic series and was replaced with Christopher Shy. I don’t know if this was for creative or financial reasons, but Shy’s artwork is as gorgeous as it is haunting and very befitting of the Dead Space universe. However, this is ultimately a blessing and a curse for Salvage. On the one hand, it lends the graphic novel a distinct and captivating visual style, making every panel a work of art. However, Shy’s style doesn’t lend itself very well to the story being told here. Salvage follows a team of “Magpies”, illegal salvagers who stumble upon the remains of the Ishimura as Earthgov is seeking it in the aftermath of the first game. We’re introduced to a huge cast of characters, but Shy’s art style makes it difficult to tell who is who in any given panel, who is saying what and even what is going on at times. Like, you can understand the broad strokes of the story with little issue, but good luck knowing what’s happening panel-to-panel. Hell, about two-thirds of the way through I realized that all the Magpies were on board the Ishimura – I had thought that only a recon team went aboard that whole time! Like I said, the art alone makes slogging through Salvage worthwhile, plus it gives us some really interesting insight into the greater Dead Space universe and the story itself is enjoyable enough when you can understand it, but the unnecessary confusion makes Salvage more difficult to appreciate than it should be.
Dead Space: Aftermath – I have a soft spot in my heart for Aftermath which makes me overlook its glaring flaws. First off, it must be said – the CG animation in this movie? DOGSHIT. Seriously, the animation is ReBoot levels of quality (which isn’t a knock on ReBoot, for the record, but you’d think that 17 years of advances in computer technology would raise the minimum threshold). Since almost half the movie is rendered in this machinima-level style, that’s a major issue right off the bat. However, the story structure and characters manage to make Aftermath interesting (for fans of the series at least). Each of the four main characters’ gets a POV section where their part in the story is told via a different anime style flashback. It’s really obvious that this was done so that five different animation studios could be working on the movie simultaneously and for minimal expenditure, but it’s integrated into the narrative itself in an ideal manner. Plus it helps that all of these anime segments are well animated, as opposed to Dead Space: Downfall (which we’ll get to soon enough…). The characters aren’t revolutionary, but they’re interesting enough to carry the proceedings, especially Nolan Stross, whose role in Dead Space 2 is far more interesting when you have this film’s insight into his backstory. Unfortunately, the film suddenly devolves into yet another outbreak story about halfway through, and I really do mean sudden – one minute everything’s fine, the next there’s necromorphs all over the O’Bannon. Aftermath‘s first half does a really good job setting up the madness and expanding the series’ lore, so when it rushes into a half-assed and boring outbreak scenario it’s a real bummer. Like I said, I have a soft spot for Aftermath in spite of its several flaws which would probably throw it right into the “Hate” section for most, but there’s just enough interesting lore and story here that I can’t help but find it interesting.
Dead Space: Catalyst – After the surprisingly good Martyr, my excitement for B.K. Evenson’s follow-up novel, Catalyst, couldn’t be higher as the hype train for Dead Space 3 approached. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as captivating as its predecessor was and is arguably the single most inessential piece of media in the Dead Space extended universe. It follows estranged brothers Istvan and Jensi, along with Jensi’s friend Henry. Istvan has some sort of mental illness which makes him psychotic, which eventually leads him to assassinate a political figure and end up in a remote prison facility where a marker research station is housed. Jensi and Henry try to rescue Istvan… but then another outbreak happens. Sigh. Compared to Martyr, Catalyst has far more interesting and compelling characters and the whole setup works really well. Unfortunately, it’s all in service of just giving us yet another necromorph outbreak story and little else beyond that. About the only revelation with potential impact is that Istvan’s mental illness is such that he can change the marker signal, but it is barely developed and Evenson is careful to cut off that source of potential future storytelling. It’s an alright novel, but it didn’t stick with me or demand my attention the way Martyr did.
Dead Space: Liberation – Acting as a direct prequel to Dead Space 3, Liberation gives us the backstory for John Carver, showing us the shittiest day of his life. Christopher Shy is back but this time his style has been reined in to be far less ethereal and abstract and instead more moody and realistic. This makes it far easier to follow the story and I can’t say I was ever lost or confused. However, Antony Johnston (writer on the Dead Space comics and games up to this point) was replaced with Ian Edginton (his series Scarlet Traces is well worth checking out!) and the difference in style between the two is night-and-day. Like Dead Space 3, Liberation is a fast-paced, high-stakes action story, where necromorph outbreaks are so inconsequential that we get two of them! Liberation really suffers from being a prequel – there’s no conclusion and all the major plot beats are basically just to set up stuff that will happen in Dead Space 3. Of all the Dead Space extended universe media, Liberation may just be the most obvious marketing ploy of them all. That said, the only things making it worthwhile at all are getting insight into John Carver’s character and Shy’s continued exceptional artwork.
Dead Space: Downfall – I rewatched this movie for this article and good God I still dislike it. The first big issue? The awful, bargain-basement animation. Just look at that screenshot above – it lacks any sort of detail and is meant to be as simple as possible. As bad as it looks in screenshots, it looks even more terrible in motion, with choppy animation demonstrating that they couldn’t afford/be bothered to key in enough frames to make it look smooth. I don’t know if the studio just got overwhelmed with the work they had to do, but it makes me glad that Aftermath took the approach of farming out work to several studios as its animated segments look leagues better (y’know, aside from the awful CG parts). The second big issue is that the main character, Alissa Vincent, sucks. She’s your generic take-no-nonsense head of security and spends the whole movie being insubordinate, hot-headed and doing random acrobatics in the middle of gun fights. She feels like a lame RPG character rather than someone who belongs in the more grounded Dead Space universe. The third big issue is that the story kind of sucks. There’s some enjoyment to be had in seeing the Ishimura plunge into chaos, especially Captain Matthius’ growing paranoia and delusion, but when the film turns into a montage of Vincent and her Dungeons & Dragons party getting into several shootouts with necromorphs it’s just plain dull. Sure, Downfall has Samuel Irons, but he’s the only thing about this movie that I actually love. Dead Space: Extraction covers the fall of the Ishimura as well, so as far as I’m concerned Downfall can be straight-up ignored in the continuity of the franchise.
Dead Space: Ignition – Soooooo, I know for a fact I’ve never played this game, but checking through my PlayStation account reveals that at some point I bought it and then never played it… So, um, I want my $5 back, EA. That said, I’m probably better off for never having played Ignition because it’s apparently the crappiest entry in the entire franchise (and that’s factoring in all the games and extended universe, including Downfall). Do you like hacking minigames and cheap comic book art? I sure hope you do because that’s all you’re going to get out of this experience! The only purpose this game serves to the series’ narrative is letting us know a bit about Franco before he’s immediately offed at the beginning of Dead Space 2, but like… who cares? Skip this one for sure.
EU Peters Out By Dead Space 3 – Moving on to more general thoughts, it sucks that Dead Space 3 killed the series because it effectively killed the extended universe while it was at it. This especially sucks because Dead Space 3‘s story was ripe for spin-off tales. After all, it introduced a rogue, militant terrorist faction of the Unitologist Church who come out of nowhere, wipe out Earthgov and then cause outbreaks across the galaxy, which the game promptly forgets. That’s a bunch of potential horror stories that went completely unmined. Even then, the two EU stories we did get during Dead Space 3‘s cycle, Catalyst and Liberation did almost nothing to expand the series’ scope or lore. Dead Space and Dead Space 2‘s cycles both gave us new insights into the universe or background events, which makes the sudden disinterest come Dead Space 3 even more depressing.
The Portrayal of Religion – One thing that has always annoyed me about the extended universe in Dead Space is that it’s really obvious that the writers have a bone to pick with religion. Everyone writes off Unitologists immediately and calls them crazy, despite the fact that they’re often being confronted face-to-face with the literal holy object of their religion. Like, I’m no Scientologist, but if someone showed me Xenu I’d at least consider the possibility that they might have some answers. Naturally, every Unitologist (except for Samuel Irons, the goddamn champ) gets written as a fanatic or downright evil, while the people who explicitly oppose them are “rational” thinkers like scientists, doctors and… uh… the police. This despite the fact that about half of the Unitologist characters weren’t even known to be Unitologists until the events of the stories, showing that they’re really just regular people for the most part. It’s just so obviously anti-religious sentiment and is excessively simplified to the point of being insulting (such as the implication that being religious causes you to be more susceptible to the marker’s maddening effects). This also ignores that the Dead Space series makes it explicitly clear that governments are the real villains, Unitology is just a tool. Hell, even the series’ writers seem to have forgotten this because by the time Dead Space 3 rolls around the government’s killed off-screen and we have moustache-twirling religious loonies as the villains. The treatment in the franchise is just lazy and makes “Unitologist” shorthand for “villain” 99% of the time.
No Resolution – Sure, you could argue that Awakened ends the franchise with everyone dying, but I don’t buy that. Dead Space has too many loose ends still dangling, the most crucial of which is Lexine. Dead Space 4 (or an EU story at the very least) NEEDED to bring Lexine into the forefront and make good on Nicole’s revelations in the Extraction comic – it is possible to defeat the necromorphs. Hell… I’m half tempted to write my own version, because EA sure as fuck is never going to.
Tau Volantis is Cool – I remember a lot of fans complained that a Dead Space game was going to be taking place on a planet back in the day, but I’ve never had an issue with this. For one thing, it’s still sci-fi and for another, a frozen planet is barely a step down from the existential danger of space. In fact, it opens up new opportunities for horror – enemies hidden in the snow, body temperature regulation, snow squalls, etc. Visceral Games use all of these elements throughout the game and make the most of the setting within the framework they set for themselves.
Side-quests – One of the most interesting new additions in Dead Space 3 is the optional “side-quests” that you can embark on. These reward the player with supplies for completion and, most importantly, provide little self-contained stories to uncover. I’m a sucker for side-quests and appreciate their inclusion in this game – it gives me some fun, optional content to explore and rewards you for taking the risk.
Co-Op is Entirely Optional – Co-op modes were being shoehorned into games during this time period and often resulted in you being forced to wrangle a friend whenever you wanted to play, or dealing with invariably awful AI companions. Dead Space 3 makes the elegant decision to make the game’s marquee co-op mode entirely optional. Want to play through the game solo? That’s cool, Carver will be awkwardly on the fringes of the entire story, but you’re otherwise not even going to notice. It is a far more preferable solution to this than brain-dead AI that turns into a frustrating burden. The only issue is that certain side-quests are co-op only, making it feel like you’re missing out on content for not participating.
Extensive Weapon Crafting System – Dead Space 3 is often criticized for its weapon crafting system, being blamed for reducing the horror. However, I feel like it provides a more elegant solution to the weapon management system from the previous games, effectively allowing you to pick the weapons you actually want to use and mash them together into two personal super-guns. Sure, this also results in them being potentially overpowered, jack-of-all-trades crutch weapons, but Dead Space 3 is designed around that so it works. Getting your preferred weapon to a “just right” state is satisfying in itself and there are so many combinations you can produce that it’s cool to see it in action.
Supercharged Kinesis – In the very late game Dead Space 3 goes off the rails in terms of its stakes. One of the best parts of this though is the supercharged kinesis – kinesis has always been fun, but how do you like the idea of tearing the limbs right off of attacking necromorphs or launching entire markers at the real hive mind of the necromorphs? It’s a power fantasy but it feels so damn good while it lasts.
The Space Section – After the introduction, Dead Space 3 spends a good hour or two in orbit around Tau Volantis. It feels like a watered down version of classic Dead Space, but it’s still a blast to play through as you fly through a spaceship graveyard and trying to get the parts to repair your own craft. I especially like the art direction on the necromorphs here, they’ve been dormant for almost 200 years and they look so desiccated after all this time.
Feeders – Dead Space 3 doesn’t introduce a lot of new enemies, but a couple of them are great. Most pertinent are the Feeders, blind necromorphs that are attracted to strong light sources and sound. Having to deal with enemies in a non-combative way is a great change for the series and provides some of the few true horror moments in the game. Plus their backstory is amazing, having been created after starving humans got desperate enough to feed on the flesh of defeated necromorphs. In addition to Feeders, the Shambler is also a cool concept, where a necromorph decapitates a victim and then embeds itself in their neck cavity to control the body.
Body Temperature Regulation is Underutilized – I know I praised Dead Space 3 for how it makes the most of Tau Volantis, but one thing it could have done more with is body temperature regulation. When you crash land on the planet you have to stay in proximity to heat to avoid freezing to death, but you soon find a thermal suit and never have to worry about it again. If they hadn’t done this then there’s definitely the potential for this to just become a burden, but handled well I feel like having to worry about freezing to death would have added far more tension to the game and made Tau Volantis itself a more dangerous setting.
Awakened DLC – Once again, a Dead Space story DLC lands in the mixed section, for similar reasons. On the plus side, Awakened drastically ups the horror elements compared to the main game, making for a tenser and more interesting experience. However, its ending leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. For one thing, it effectively undoes the ending of the main game, going from a bittersweet ending to one that is straight-up nihilistic. The fact that this is the last piece of Dead Space story we’ve ever gotten just makes it worse. Don’t get me wrong, a bleak ending can work but I don’t feel like it was earned at all. In addition, are you telling me that no one managed to evacuate Earth to the several stations and colonies we know humanity has? Hell, I was under the impression that the vast majority of The Sprawl was evacuated in Dead Space 2 and that was in the middle of a full-on outbreak in a confined station. It just makes me even more annoyed that we never got Dead Space 4 starring Lexine Murdoch-Weller going out to kick some necromorph ass.
Balance Is Out of Whack – Dead Space and Dead Space 2 struck a fantastic balance of making health and ammo scarce while giving you just enough enemies to deal with where you felt like you were barely holding on. Dead Space 3, however, completely fails in this regard and just feels cheap at times. The game inundates you health pickups, to the point where I never managed to run out (and, to be more accurate, my inventory was chocked full of them at all times). You’re also never going to run out of ammo for any particular weapon, because ammo pickups are now universal. Enemy encounters are just a pain in the ass though – you get swarmed by enemies from all angles, to the point where it just feels cheap. I’m not sure if this is because the game only has one spawn system to cover for single player and co-op, or if the game has just been designed to try to overwhelm you, but it makes planning less important than spraying and praying.
Microtransactions – Dead Space 3 was the prototype for forced-in microtransactions in single player games. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a big deal back in the day because I never felt like you needed to rely on them to get supplies, but goddamn if their putrid legacy can’t be felt to this day. The fact that this game was so groundbreaking for something so shitty is an irredeemable blight on the game that can’t be taken away.
Human Enemies – By far one of the worst aspects of this game is that it turns into a cover shooter at certain points. I’m playing Dead Space, I don’t want to play a crappy version of Uncharted or Gears of War. It’s just… ugh.
Everything is Watered Down – Did you like Dead Space‘s mix of horror and gore? Cool, then how about we give you an action game in the vein of Uncharted instead… While Dead Space 3 does have occasional moments of light horror, the game is on the whole orders of magnitude less scary and far less violent. Hell, even aspects of the previous game which return here, such as the Stalkers, are changed to be less scary (instead of trying to flank you, they just charge instantly). Like I said, the weapon crafting and universal ammo reduce the tension as well in favour of straight action. What do we get instead? Over-the-top set pieces which quickly outstay their welcome. Even some of the necromorphs are wielding weapons in this game, which just makes them less inhuman terrors.
The Story – Hoo boy, strap in because there is a lot to talk about in this regard:
In regards to the set-up of this game, within the first few minutes we’re told that Unitologist terrorists have straight-up wiped out EarthGov and are launching terrorist attacks across the galaxy to try to initiate convergence. Holy shit, that’s crazy! I hope you don’t care about this interesting turn of events though because the game never returns to it and we never got any extended universe content to cover these monumental developments. To make matters worse, Awakened ends with Isaac and Carver trying to contact EarthGov so… did they (by which I mean the writers) forget what happened?
I also don’t like the concept of the Brethren Moons. For one thing, we don’t need to know what controls and creates the markers, the mystery is part of the allure. Beyond that, we’ve already got enough complication – the markers make the hive mind, which controls the necromorphs… so what’s the point of a hive mind if there are actually Brethren Moons? It’s the sort of plot development that I hate, where it relies on ever-growing stakes to feel important. Like, what was next for Dead Space 4, finding out what’s controlling the Brethren Moons?
Oh and nearly every single character in Dead Space 3 SUUUUUUUCKS. Main human antagonist, Danik? He’s such a lame villain. At least Tiedemann in Dead Space 2 was somewhat understandable in his motivations, Danik is just a monologuing asshole. And speaking of assholes, Norton spends the entire game being a jealous prick to Isaac. Even Carver’s a real dick, but at least he has something of an arc where he becomes friendly over time. Most of the rest of the cast are cannon fodder, except for…
Ellie Has Been Sexed Up – God damn, EA wanted Dead Space 3 to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, so what’s one way they went about this? They sexed up Ellie Langford, softening her features, presumably giving her implants and then showing off a ton of cleavage whenever possible. Like… it’s so in your face and so obviously pandering that I hate it.
It’s Compromised to the Core – Perhaps the worst thing about Dead Space 3 after all this time is that the game is fundamentally compromised. Visceral clearly didn’t get to make the story or game they wanted to, but in order to keep the series going they had to give in to EA’s demands… and for what? The game still didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive and even if it did we would have gotten a Dead Space 4 that was even more removed from what made this franchise great in the first place. All we’re left with is a game which betrays everything we liked about Dead Space to begin with and ends the series on a truly sour note.
Welcome back to the next entry in the Dead Space Love/Hate series. Today we’re going to be looking at Dead Space 2, which is probably my favourite entry in the franchise and straight-up one of my favourite games ever. That said, there are still things that bother me even in my favourite games, so let’s get into them…
Builds On The First Game’s Strengths – For the most part Dead Space 2 plays like the first game did, but better. There’s more of everything – more enemies, more weapons, more varied encounters, more intensity, more polish, etc. It doesn’t take any huge leaps forward but it doesn’t need to – it takes an already solid foundation and just makes it better in every way.
Balance of Horror and Action – A lot of people say that Dead Space 2 isn’t nearly as scary as the first game, but I disagree. While Dead Space 2 has a bit more action, it still balances this with intense encounters and a pervasive scary atmosphere. Just as much as the first game you’re having to balance your sparse reserves of health and ammo and plan out how you’re going to survive every encounter. Big set-pieces like the Tormentor fight are still intense and terrifying and to this day I can remember moments of horror like fighting my way through the necromorph infested school.
Isaac Speaks! – Dead Space 2 really drives home how much Isaac Clarke’s silent protagonist turn in the first game was a mistake, because he displays so much more personality here. It opens up so much more opportunity to interact and react to the world around you. It also makes it easier to show off his personality and the influence that the marker is having on his sanity.
Story Is Improved – One area where Dead Space 2 excels over its predecessor is its much more interesting story progression. Kicking off in one of the most viscerally-memorable opening sequences I’ve ever experienced in a game, Dead Space 2 throws you into the middle of an active necromorph outbreak as Earthgov and the Church of Unitology fight over control of Isaac. Meanwhile, Isaac is just trying to figure out how to destroy the marker and survive, while being taunted by haunting visions of his deceased girlfriend, Nicole, as his sanity is ripped away. It makes for a far more interesting narrative than the relatively simple “bitch work” in the first game. The story even explores some deeper themes, showing the toll that grief takes on the mind and the process of overcoming it.
New Enemies Are Amazing – Dead Space 2 introduces several new and iconic enemies to the series, making combat encounters even more varied than they were before. The best is by far the Stalkers, velociraptor-like necromorphs that hunt in packs, peeking out around corners at you and running away to find the best place to get a sneaky flank on. Hearing one of these things letting out their charge-scream when you don’t know where it is coming from is panic-inducing. Pukers are also very iconic enemies, to the point where I had completely forgotten that they weren’t in the first game. Their corrosive and slowing projectile vomit attacks can create really tense problems for Isaac if they aren’t managed carefully and getting too close is a potential death sentence. The Pack and Crawlers are also great enemies and terrifying reminders that the necromorphs are merciless, wiping out all living beings regardless of their age.
New Weapons Add More Variety – There are three new weapons in Dead Space 2, adding more ways to dismember necromorphs. Of these, by far the coolest is the javelin gun, a weapon which shoots out huge javelins which can impale necromorphs and pin them to walls and, to add insult to injury, be electrocuted for additional damage. The detonator is also cool, acting as a grenade launcher that can be used to set traps around the environment. Finally, the seeker rifle is effectively a powerful battle rifle, allowing you to fire at distant enemies with greater precision. Furthermore, old weapons have been rebalanced to make them more useful, such as the pulse rifle gaining a far more useful grenade launcher alt-fire mode. The flamethrower’s still pretty meh though.
Free Movement in Zero-G – The space sections of Dead Space felt gimmicky, but the feature is fully fleshed out in Dead Space 2, allowing you full ability to move and shoot in zero gravity. Put simply, it makes these sequences much more exciting and fun to play through.
Severed DLC – The Severed story DLC for Dead Space 2 is such a mixed bag of glorious highs and disappointing lows. One the plus side: holy shit, it’s a bite-sized narrative sequel to Dead Space: Extraction! It gives us even more of Dead Space 2‘s fantastic gameplay! We get some really interesting lore for the factions in the Dead Space universe! Twitchers are back! But on the disappointing side… it’s barely an hour long (for ~$7)! Lexine’s back and gets screwed over even harder than in Dead Space: Extraction (she’s shunted into a relationship with Gabe, despite both of them not getting along at all in Extraction, and spends the entire game being damselled despite once again being the most important person in the Dead Space universe)! Ultimately, it’s more Dead Space 2 so it’s worth it for me, but I can’t help but wish it was its own fully fleshed-out experience.
Obligatory Multiplayer – Like many AAA games of the era, Dead Space 2 has a tacked-on multiplayer mode that no one wanted or asked for, which exists purely to extend player engagement and sell multiplayer DLC packs. Don’t get me wrong, there are tacked-on multiplayer modes from this era which were surprisingly fun, such as Metal Gear Online and The Last of Us, but that was because they offered some sort of fun unique experience that you couldn’t get elsewhere. While the concept of playing as a necromorph is enticing, it is ultimately just not very fun to play and struggles to justify the mode’s existence. Like… if I’m playing Dead Space 2, I’m there for the story mode. There’s nothing here to keep me interested.
Hard Core Mode is BRUTAL – I don’t bother to go for Platinum trophies unless I really enjoy a game, so the fact that I went for it on Dead Space 2 should show how much I was dedicated to the pursuit. To this day there is only one roadblock keeping me from the Platinum – beat the game in Hard Core mode. Can’t be that bad, right? I soldiered through Zealot mode no problem, what more can the game throw at me? How about beating the game on Hard but with only 3 saves to get you through the whole 6+ hour runtime of the game? So not only do you have to plan out the points you save ahead of time, but if you reach that point and your health/ammo are low? Too bad, you’re screwed. Oh, you died? Say good bye to an hour and a half of gameplay! And don’t even think about having a life, you have to dedicate it to this game solely if you want to earn this trophy. Seriously, I just don’t have the time to throw myself into this mode and deal with the frustration that it demands just to get a digital trophy. The fact that even 6% of players have beaten the game on this difficulty is insane to me.
Final Boss Fight… Again – Once again the final boss fight in a Dead Space game is questionable. After blasting through hordes of enemies and barely surviving the regenerating ubermorph, Isaac reaches the marker and gets dragged into a hallucination where he has to fight off Nicole, necromorphs and damage the marker. Do this three times and convergence is stopped… because the marker’s creator has to be absorbed in order for it to work? What? The marker is destroyed because he managed to literally overcome his grief? It’s better than the original Dead Space‘s ending and it makes sense thematically, but it’s a weird-ass way to defeat the final boss for an otherwise straightforward game like this and just makes the lore around markers convoluted… Okay, that’s a bit of a nit-picky hate, but seriously, this game is just so damn good.
For the second entry in the Dead Space Love/Hate series, we have Dead Space: Extraction, the shockingly good rail shooter spinoff for the Wii… like, just typing that out makes it even more surprising that this game is as good as it is. I played this when it was ported to the PS3 alongside Dead Space 2 and had a great time with it. That said, for everything I love there are always things to hate – let’s take a look at the breakdown.
Wisely Translates Dead Space to Motion Controls – The Wii had a terrible track record of nigh-unplayable ports which were marred from the system’s underpowered specs and reliance on motion controls. Rather than try to put a lesser version of the original game onto the Wii, the devs at Visceral Games wisely chose to make a brand new experience from the ground up. This allows Extraction to provide a fun experience well worth checking out for fans of the first game and exist on its own merits at the same time. It also manages to keep the horror elements mostly intact, providing plenty of build-up before confrontations and making running out of ammo terrifying as you get swarmed by necromorphs.
Compelling Side-Story – Prequels and side-stories often struggle to justify themselves in video games, but Extraction has the benefit of being legitimately interesting. Dead Space‘s world was designed to be expanded upon and the events that took place on Aegis VII were only hinted at in the first game. The comics and movies cover this ground as well, but Extraction is the most comprehensive and engrossing version of what happened on Aegis VII and the Ishimura. As a result, it’s well worth playing for fans of the series and doesn’t suffer from demystifying the events that led up to Dead Space. It also helps that the mainline Dead Space games always happen long after or in the middle of necromorph outbreaks, so seeing one from the very beginning provides a very different and just as compelling experience.
Action Reloads – In addition to all its changes as a result of adapting to the Wii’s hardware, Extraction introduces action reloads to the series. It’s a small change but it is so satisfying to pull these off consistently (that sound effect is pure bliss) and necessary to survive the swarms of enemies that come at you. Fumbling an action reload can be a horror unto itself as you’re stuck reloading those extra moments while a necromorph is bearing down on you.
Enjoyable Characters – Extraction spends a lot of time just letting you get to know the characters and having them interact with one another. They’re all fairly stock characters (Nathan’s a detective, Gabe’s a soldier, Lexine is the over-her-head civilian and Warren’s the executive company man), but the amount of time we get to spend with everyone makes them grow on you and there are a few twists and turns as it goes along. Lexine in particular has a fascinating secret which I wish would have been explored further in Dead Space 3 or 4.
Pacing – Rail shooters tend to conjure up images of endless bullet-fests, but Extraction tends to take its time between confrontations, building up the characters, atmosphere and tension instead. While this ultimately makes for a better experience in my opinion, it’s undeniable that you’re going to need patience because Extraction can take a long time to get from place to place, moreso than any of the mainline games in the series.
Voice Acting is Spotty – As much as I enjoy the characters and interactions in this game, and as great as Laura Pyper’s Irish accent is, it’s hard to deny that the voice acting is questionable at times. Whether it’s weird delivery or bad acting, every single main character suffers from this at some point. It’s not constant and it’s not a crippling issue, but it does make the game’s emphasis on the characters awkward at times.
Poor Graphics – I get that Extraction is a Wii game so Visceral had to work with what they could, but the game still looks really rough, especially in the HD PS3 port. I think that a lot of the game’s assets are recycled from Dead Space, but scaled down so that we’re stuck with really muddy textures. The bodies of dead necromorphs also immediately dissolve, which I can only imagine is related to the Wii’s underpowered tech. That said, at least the framerate is silky smooth in the PS3 port (can’t confirm whether this carries over to the Wii version), which is important since the whole game is in first person with a lot of head-bobbing. A sub-60fps would be nigh unplayable so while the graphics are bad at least the game’s still very enjoyable in spite of this.
Seriously, Another Asteroid Shooting Gallery? – One of the universal complaints about the first Dead Space is that the section where Isaac has to man a cannon and shoot asteroids is the worst part of the game. So what do they do in Extraction? Why, they added another shooting gallery as you approach the Ishimura! It’s just as bad as it was in Dead Space and judging the distances of incoming projectiles is unforgiving.
The Objectification of Lexine – Like I said earlier, Lexine is probably the most fascinating character in the game. Everyone else is an archetype, but she gets at least a bit more potential in that she’s a civilian who’s caught up in all of this mess and has to make the most of it. The fact that she’s immune to the Marker signal and causes the people around her to be as well also makes her potentially the most important character in all of the Dead Space universe, brimming with story potential. So what does Extraction do with her? Well, within a minute of the game starting she’s getting overt sex comments from her boyfriend. That’s innocuous enough, but then it’s implied that Nathan McNeil keeps her around because he wants to seduce her, he stares at her ass at one point, he stares at her during one scene when she’s gratuitously naked and she needs to be rescued on several occasions. When you add it all up, Lexine’s portrayal turns her into a damsel and sex object. None of the other characters get this sort of treatment and it sucks.
Rushed Ending – The ending of Extraction is strangely rushed and sudden. After the survivors escape the Ishimura, suddenly the screen fades to a necromorph POV which attacks Lexine… and that’s it. Did a necromorph sneak on board the ship? Did they survive? It’s so ambiguous that Word of God had to step in and reveal that this necromorph was Nathan McNeil, who somehow got infected and transformed on the ship as they got away. We now know that Gabe and Lexine survived, but there’s no way to know this based on the way Extraction ends.
Dead Space is one of my favourite video game franchises. It’s like it’s made to appeal to me – horror, sci-fi and twisted monsters intent on tearing you apart. During the series’ hey-day, I enthusiastically consumed every bit of Dead Space media I could get my hands on. The franchise has had its ups and downs, which makes it ripe for a Love/Hate series! Naturally, we’ll start at the beginning with 2008’s Dead Space…
Solid Gameplay – Dead Space was conceptualized as a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 and builds on that game’s foundation in some fantastic ways. For a long time people said that the restrictive controls in early survival horror games were a key part of the experience. Dead Space showed that you could have free movement and enjoyable gameplay and still have a terrifying game experience. More specifically:
Strategic dismemberment makes combat far more interesting than just making enemies into bullet sponges. Blowing limbs off also dynamically changes necromorph attacks – cut out their legs and they’ll crawl after you, blow off their head and they’ll flail wildly, take off an arm and they’ll have one less way to kill you, etc. Some enemies are also only vulnerable to specific attacks so it keeps combat constantly engaging.
Stasis and kinesis are also great tools for combat, light puzzle-solving and environmental traversal. Stasis in particular is essential to survive the swarms of enemies you’ll face in the late game and kinesis can be the difference between life and death when ammo gets scarce.
Another thing that I really appreciate about Dead Space‘s design is that ammo and health pickups are wisely restricted to keep you desperate, especially in the late game. I can still remember getting into combat encounters where I had a handful of ammo and had to actively strategize how to get through the next encounter alive, it makes for intense, thrilling gameplay.
Immersive In-Universe HUD – One of the coolest design aspects of Dead Space is that it doesn’t have a traditional HUD showing health, ammo, etc. Instead, these are all built into Isaac’s outfit (RIG) and weapons. Unlike some other games at the time which tried to cut down on HUD elements (such as Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which removed the visibility meter for a binary red light/green light), the information visible to the player isn’t inadequate either, everything they would need to know is clearly communicated and visible at a glance.
Sound Design – One aspect in which the Dead Space series was universally commended on was its sound design. From the blasts of your weapons, to the screeches and roars of the necromorphs (I can still remember being freaked out the first time I heard a Divider), to the sounds of things scuttling around out of sight, it all helps to create a pervasive horror atmosphere for the game. The way that sound is almost entirely absent during sections that take place in space are particularly notable, featuring just dull thuds which makes these areas an eerie highlight.
The Horror – Dead Space‘s horror takes elements of the Resident Evil games and mixes them in with influences from The Thing, Alien, Event Horizon and zombie movies to give us an enticing cocktail. You’re just constantly on edge, unsure where or when danger is going to come at you. It even trains you over time – is something going to come out of that air vent? Is that slasher just playing dead (you quickly learn to stomp every corpse, even human ones, just to be safe)? When the door opens is there going to be something on the other side? The resource management I’ve previously mentioned also helps here, keeping every single encounter tense and ensuring that you can never let your guard down.
Enemy Variety – Dead Space features fifteen unique forms of necromorphs, enhanced forms of most of these, plus three boss monsters, all presenting unique threats and requiring different methods to dispatch them. This variety helps ensure that Dead Space‘s combat encounters never get old as the enemies and environments can be mixed and matched to present unique challenges. Particular highlights include the Pregnants, whose bloated chests will spew out several small enemies if shot, Leapers (who never fail to stress me out) and the shriek-inducing Twitchers. Also worth mentioning is The Hunter, a necromorph that rapidly regrows its limbs and stalks you as you try to complete your objectives during two parts of the game. The first time you encounter it, you have to use kinesis to create a path to escape as it’s bearing down on you – I can still remember being freaked out!
Organic World Building – Like many games of its time, Dead Space populates its environment with audio logs and diary entries, filling out its world without forcing the player to sit through mandatory exposition dumps. Some of these logs are quite affecting – as you travel through the game you’ll find snippets from Jacob Temple and Elizabeth Cross, another couple who are fighting to reunite with one another. When you finally catch up with them, it makes for a tragic moment because you’ve invested so much in their journey and serves to make the psychotic Dr. Mercer that much more of a villain. In addition, the game imparts details about fictional concepts like planet cracking, the state of the galaxy and the Church of Unitology organically, giving us a sense of what the Dead Space universe is like without having to show us directly.
The Ishimura Layout – The Ishimura makes for a claustrophobic and cramped locale to try to survive on. It feels appropriately old, grimy and lived-in and each deck has its own unique feel to it. It’s a fun, varied environment that helps drive most of the game’s terrors.
Brutal Death Sequences – No one wants to die in a video game, but if it’s gonna happen then at least you can revel in the morbid satisfaction that is Dead Space‘s BRUTAL death sequences. Isaac gets chopped to bits in various manners that really drive home how relentless and merciless the necromorphs are.
The Story is Functional But Unremarkable – The story in Dead Space is pretty simple – bad stuff happening in space, Isaac volunteers to man the rescue mission because his girlfriend is caught up in the middle of it all. From there you spend the next several hours surviving and uncovering exactly what happened, but a lot of it ultimately boils down to bitch work: something bad happens on the ship, so Isaac gets told to go fix it. It works and it helps drive the game forward, but it’s not super compelling on its own. There’s a twist towards the end that is also not particularly satisfying because the red herring is really obvious.
Oxygen Meter is Kind of Pointless – Isaac has a limited reserve of oxygen when entering the vacuum of space. Initially this creates some additional anxiety and you can even upgrade your RIG to have a greater reserve… however, this is a waste of a power node. You realize pretty quickly that oxygen is more of a threat than a real problem – after all, the developers had to design all vacuum sections to be completed without requiring upgrades. In addition, there are O2 refill stations and, if that wasn’t enough, portable air canisters. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever died from lack of O2, nor have I bothered to waste my valuable power nodes on upgrading my supply. Spend that shit on stasis or your guns.
Zero G Sections Are Clunky – While functional at the time, movement in the zero gravity segments of the game is pretty stiff. Basically, you have to aim at platforms and press a button, which will launch Isaac towards it automatically. Again, this works, but compared to later games in the series, it’s far less enjoyable to move around in zero G.
Situational Weapons – There are seven weapons in Dead Space, each with a primary and alternate fire mode… and some of these are just crap. The flamethrower in particular is almost universally acknowledged to be dogshit in nearly every situation, especially when its jobs could easily be done with a less situational weapon. To add insult to injury, it can’t even be used in a vacuum in this game and can’t even hit most of the bosses at all! The Pulse Rifle and Ripper are also quite weak without significant investment in upgrades. I also never liked the Force Gun, it’s is only really good for knocking back enemies, but I’d rather just kill them outright. Personally, I tend to stick with the Plasma Cutter as my mainstay, Line Gun for heavier targets, then maybe the Pulse Rifle, Ripper or Contact Beam for my last two slots, depending on what I need at the time.
Silent Isaac – The sequels made Isaac’s “silent protagonist” turn in Dead Space worse, but even at the time this was a dated element of the game. While Isaac does manage to show a bit of personality just through his actions, it really limits how engaging he can be, in favour of being a blank slate for the player to project on. Even then, it’s just plain weird that he’s not talking to people who are talking to him or reacting to all the horrors going on. Like, he’s not gonna say anything about the monsters or the people committing suicide in front of him…?
Final Boss is Disappointing – After hours of tense horror, the final boss fight suddenly turns Dead Space into an action spectacle. It goes against the whole point of the game and doesn’t provide much of a challenge for that matter. I feel like the regenerating Hunter provided a better template for how to make a horrifying boss, but the Hive Mind makes for a disappointing finale.
DLC – Being a PS3/Xbox 360 game, Dead Space comes with obligatory DLC in the form of reskinned costumes and weapon skin packs. The costumes that give you in-game effects that shake up the game slightly, but there really isn’t much to them and they don’t change the game enough to be worth it in my opinion. Effectively, it’s DLC for the sake of DLC.
Over a year ago I wrote the first of what would become my Love/Hate series, a retrospective of the pros and cons of each generation of Pokemon. Since then, we’ve obviously gotten the start of another whole generation of Pokemon with Sword and Shield and, having completed the main story and gotten some time to mull over my feelings on the game I feel like it’s time for a Love/Hate update. That said, this is of course only my opinion and there’s the potential for it to change over time (opinions on the Pokemon themselves in particular are likely to soften as more time passes). So, with that in mind, let’s get this started!
Raids – Easily my most-anticipated feature from the previews was raid battles, which pit four players against an extra-powerful Dynamax Pokemon. I’m happy to say that these are about as fun as I had hoped, requiring some additional strategies to get through successfully. That said, for four- or five-star raids you’re definitely going to need 2 or 3 human companions because the default NPC trainers are terrible.
Dynamax Makes Gym Battles Climactic – Restricting Dynamax to raid battles and gyms was a truly inspired move. By the time you get to a gym, you’re already pumped up by the music and the roar of the crowd as you march out onto the turf and then send out your first Pokemon. Then, when the battle is drawing to a close, you finally get your chance to bring out your Dynamax Pokemon and things get even bigger and more exciting. I have to admit, with these rare intervals, Dynamax is a really cool feature and the flashy moves make for a suitably epic climax to each challenge, almost like a reward in itself.
Some Great Characters – I was actually pretty surprised how well fleshed out many of the characters were in Sword and Shield. Hop starts out as your standard friendly rival, but he actually learns to not just define himself in the shadow of his superstar brother or feel like he’s hurting the family legacy. Meanwhile, Marnie is carrying the hope and dreams of her town on her shoulders as she battles through the Gym Challenge. Bede goes from arrogant prick, to desperate to prove himself worthy, to humble over the course of the story. It’s also pretty exciting to see Sonia earn the mantle of Pokemon Professor for her efforts in studying the Darkest Day. All-in-all, these characters are great and are going to be remembered for years to come.
Quality of Life Improvements – As always, Sword and Shield have brought some much-needed refinements to the formula which just make playing the game more enjoyable. These include Surprise Trades which go on in the background while you play, nature-changing mints, XP candies for quick and easy level-ups, access to PC boxes at any time, name raters and lotto-ID in every Pokemon Center (halle-freaking-lujah!) and the introduction of TRs to replace move tutors. It’s a lot of little things, but add them all up and it makes the experience of actually playing the game far more enjoyable.
Spoiled For Choice – While much has been made of the restricted Pokedex in these games, you are absolutely spoiled for choice at the start of the game. Most Pokemon games will very slowly dole out the available Pokemon, often repeating the same ones over and over from route to route. Sword and Shield say “screw that!” and give you two packed routes and then throw you into the Wild Area in the first couple hours, absolutely spoiling you with choices for a solid team. While I did eventually settle into a composed team by the second or third gym, the amount of choice you get off the bat was impressive and helps ease the sting of the restricted Pokedex in the first few hours.
Customization – Due to an increased emphasis on multiplayer options, Game Freak have really upped the number of customization options available to the player. Almost everyone I’ve encountered playing the game has customized their character beyond the default outfits (which is almost too bad because even the default outfits are really cool). Even better, the Card Maker allows you to design your own player trading card, which has no real purpose other than to be cool… and I love it. It’s such a small, pointless feature but probably my favourite thing in the whole game.
Some Really Cool Pokemon Designs – As always, there are some really great Pokemon introduced this generation. Corviknight, in particular, is probably the coolest “starter bird” Pokemon of all time, while Yamper and Wooloo make your heart melt as much as any Eevee could, and the Galarian forms are all quite interesting and distinct. There are some wildly different Pokemon in this game and several of these experiments pay off in interesting ways.
Graphics – Much has been made about the graphics in this game and, while I’m nowhere near as critical about them as some, I understand the criticism. Personally, I like the game’s aesthetic and think that it looks very pretty in places like Wedgehurst, Galar Mine, Slumbering Weald and Ballonlea. That said, the game has an embarrassing amount of pop-in, with characters just disappearing into thin air if you move more than a couple dozen meters away. Worse, the frame rate drops in the Wild Area are really bad a times, especially when playing online (and, considering that this is basically how you’re supposed to be playing in the Wild Area, this is a big problem). The game doesn’t even look particularly taxing for a Switch game so this lack of optimization is frustrating.
The Wild Area – A lot of people love the much-hyped Wild Area, but I’m pretty mixed on it personally. On the one hand, it’s certainly cool being able to explore the world, but the design is very limited. Each area is basically just three patches of grass spawning the same three or four Pokemon over and over again. The world would feel more lively if there were way more Pokemon in each area instead of just having to see the same three again and again – it’s pretty bad when traditional routes feel way more lively and diversified than your open world. World traversal is also a pain in the ass because you can’t climb over even tiny hills. Oh, and the dynamic weather sounds great, until you get stuck encountering Pokemon over and over again in snow or sandstorms, trying to figure out where you’re trying to go. Look, I think the Wild Area’s a decent trial run of this concept of an open world Pokemon game and I do think that this is where the series is going to be going in the future, but it’s going to need to feel way more open and lively if it’s going to be better than traditional routes.
Camping – Much was made of camping in this game, but there’s very little going on with it. I mean, it’s pretty cool seeing your Pokemon (or an online player’s) walking around the camp, but it gets boring pretty quickly. You can also play with your Pokemon, but there’s only two toys available and they also get very boring quickly. Then the only thing left to do is make a curry, of which there are a 151 different varieties! There are probably some players who are going to have fun filling out their “curry dex”, but it’s a pretty lengthy mini-game which involves a ton of resource gathering with little reward… basically, for all the effort you go through, your Pokemon just get some XP, happiness and get healed. It can be handy when you’re out in the Wild Area and need to heal, but just using a healing item is far faster and less of a pain in the ass.
In-Game Events – Holy crap, Game Freak are actually using online functionality to add things to their game and keep players engaged? So far they have been having special events which make certain Gigantamax Pokemon appear more frequently in raids and have even released new Gigantamax Pokemon into the game (apparently there are 30+ unavailable Pokemon in the game’s code which are going to be released in future). That said, there Pokemon are such a pain to obtain. First off, you have to find the Pokemon to begin with. Second, these tend to be five-star raids and therefore require at least a couple online partners to succeed, which can be enough of a pain in the ass to wrangle. Then you still have to win the raid and you only get one chance to catch the Pokemon. What if it breaks out? Too bad, you have to go through the whole process all over again of finding the Pokemon in a raid, wrangling your partners, winning the raid, etc… Just trying to get a Gigantamax Snorlax recently took me hours of unsuccessful attempts.
Weak Story – As good as some of the characters in Sword and Shield are, the story surrounding them might just be the weakest in the entire main series.
For the story itself, you get endorsed by the Champion and go complete all the gyms. Every once in a while something unusual happens, but for nearly the entire game the Champion tells you to forget about it while he goes to deal with it instead. The “evil team”, Team Yell, aren’t even all that much to talk about either, they temporarily block your path and fizzle out quickly. The villain is potentially interesting, but he gets very little development and makes maligned villains of games past like Lysandre look positively inspired by comparison. Eternatus is also very poorly explained as a villainous Pokemon.
Worst of all though is the post-game, which involves you running around Galar to each of the gyms and fighting a bunch of repetitive, weak raid battles… but you don’t even get a chance to catch the Pokemon you fight. Oh, and you also have to fight a pair of chodes, Sordward and Shielbert, who might be my least-favourite characters in the entire series. They suck and this whole post-game is just a pain in the ass that I only plowed through in order to catch the box art legendary.
It’s also worth noting that several characters are totally underserved by the story. Professor Magnolia, for example, shows up maybe twice in the entire game and ends up getting completely overshadowed by Sonia by the mid-point of the game.
Feature Removal – Look, I know much has been made of this already, but it’s really difficult to ignore the fact that over 500 Pokemon are missing from this game. On top of that, the removal of Megas and Z-moves sucks. I’m still exploring what the region has to offer, but the longer I play, the more this exclusion is going to sting because it cuts down on the variety Pokemon has always offered.
Dynamax and Gigantamax – Like I said earlier, I actually like Dynamaxing as a mechanic in gym battles, but allowing it by default in online battles isn’t very fun. It encourages stall in order to get through the three turns, while also being broken for certain Pokemon because of the additional effects of attacks (being able to set weather or terrain AND cause damage is so much more deadly than the more powerful base damage of one-use Z-moves). Gigantamax, on the other hand, is kind of a pointless addition considering the additional work it caused. The only difference is that the Pokemon gets a new look for three turns and can use a G-Max move if they have the right type of attack. Funnily enough, these G-Max moves tend to be less useful than the default Max Moves they replace… so can I just have my Megas and Z-moves back? Please?
Online Features – Online stability has never been a sure thing with Game Freak, but I had hoped that they’d be able to get with the times on Switch. Unfortunately, the online functionality in Sword and Shield is not great at all. Not only does being online in the Wild Area make your frame rate tank, but it also can cause connected players to float in the air or go into impossible places. Navigating the online menus is a waiting game, as you can wait for a minute or two for it to refresh and show you a bunch of useless notifications. Trying to connect to raids is also a total crapshoot, if any even show up in your feed (this is a particular sore point for me because raids have been my go-to entertainment thus far). Oh, and to make matters even worse, basic stuff like the VS Recorder and the freaking GTS have been removed! I know some people have said “oh, well just use Discord if you want to get a specific Pokemon”, but no, screw that. I should be able to just search the Pokemon I want or deposit to get what I want. Removing this key feature is just a kick in the nuts for a collecting game like this, especially when you have pointless shit like Gigantamax and camping which were clearly taking up a lot of resources to implement.
Catching/Level Cap – Game Freak put themselves into a weird situation by allowing you to encounter extremely-high level Pokemon in the early game if you wander around the Wild Area. Their solution to this potentially game breaking problem? Just outright forbid you from catching Pokemon of certain levels until you have a gym badge allowing you to do so. This is a baffling decision. For one thing, it discourages exploration – after all, why go off the beaten path to look for new Pokemon if the game isn’t going to even let you catch it? In the early to mid-game I was just blitzing through the Wild Area to get the gym badges so I could be allowed to catch Pokemon. Even stranger, your team’s level cap outpaces the catching level cap very early, so you can be rocking a team of Pokemon at level 40 and still not be allowed to catch Pokemon of a lower level than them. It’s such a dumb decision and I don’t think that this was the right way to handle it.
Game Just Feels Half-Baked – The sum of a lot of these issues is that the game just feels half-baked and incomplete, likely due to the strict annual release schedule of these games. Missing features and unsatisfying story might not even be an issue if Game Freak had some more time on their hands, or if they’d be willing to outsource some of their work. Game Freak and The Pokemon Company really need to take a 2-3 year break to give us a game with some serious, uncompromised passion behind it, although given the success they have regardless I can’t see this happening…
Some of the New Pokemon… – Good God. I was really liking every Pokemon that was officially revealed prior to release, but having played the game in full there are some seriously butt-ugly Pokemon hiding in this roster.
I feel like Eiscue deserves a special mention here. It’s a penguin with a gigantic ice block on its head and then when the ice block breaks, it’s got this stupid, derpy, sad face underneath… what the actual hell. It’s so stupid and derpy that I can actually see myself turning around and maybe liking it someday, but right now I’m deciding whether or not this Pokemon is worse than Barbaracle.
The four fossil Pokemon are also so bad looking. I find the idea of having two Pokemon fused together to be an interesting one, but then you remember that Kyurem Black and White exist and that these Pokemon look arguably worse. Having genetic abominations that look like they wish they were dead is funny in a Judge Dredd comic, not in Pokemon. These things are seriously the most casually unethical development in a series which has long lampshaded the fact that it’s all about cockfighting.
It’s also worth mentioning that the final evolutions of the starter Pokemon are pretty much universally acknowledged to be the worst ever. They’re all incredibly disappointing or off-putting, which is particularly unfortunate since their first evolutions are actually probably the best since at least Gen 2.
Best Pokemon of Gen 8: Corviknight, Wooloo, Eldegoss, Thievul, Yamper, Frosmoth, Flapple, Dragapult, Zacian, Zamazenta, Galarian Weezing
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 8: Chewtle, Sandaconda, G-Max Copperajah, Impidimp’s entire evolution line, Pincurchin (guaranteed to be a future “most forgotten Pokemon”), Eiscue, Dracozolt, Arctovish
The Games – The PS4 has been a massive success and that mainly comes down to one thing: Sony have done an incredible job of cultivating high-profile exclusive games in a variety of genres. God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Gran Turismo, Until Dawn, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Ni No Kuni… I’m just barely scratching the surface, but that gives you an idea of the variety of games available to satisfy various tastes.
Social Features – The social features built into the PS4 are possibly my favourite PlayStation innovation of all time. Being able to automatically capture the last fifteen minutes of gameplay and then share videos and screenshots from it is a revelation and instantly made me regret buying an Elgato HD months before the PS4 came out (although I’ll finally be putting it to use with the Switch soon enough when Pokemon comes out).
Rest Mode – I already loved rest mode on the PSP and PS Vita, but when it came to the PS4 it was better than ever. Not only can you suspend your progress in games, but the system will download updates while in rest mode, meaning that you no longer have to wait for lengthy updates when you turn on the console!
Controller Innovation – Finally, after the questionable PS3 controller, Sony really nailed the changes to the PS4’s DualShock redesign. The sticks feel more precise, the touch pad is awesome, the triggers are great and the overall weight and feel is perfect. It’s easily the best PlayStation controller and I hope that the PS5 only improves upon it.
My Favourite PS4 Games – As usual, here’s my list of favourite games on the PS4: God of War, Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, Uncharted 4, Nioh, Metal Gear Solid V, Battlefield 4 and Rainbow Six Siege.
Remasters Out the Wazoo – Remasters were a thing late in the PS3 era, but they feel far more prevalent in the PS4 era. That said, the remasters we’re getting now are of a much higher quality, with straight-up remakes like Shadow of the Colossus and Resident Evil 2 in some cases, but it makes the industry feel creatively stifled. Hell, many of my favourite PS4 experiences are just remasters, such as Dark Souls and The Last of Us.
Mandatory Paid Online – PS+ was cool when it was an optional service, but having to pay for it every year sucks, especially since the price went up to $80 a year (in Canada). It’s at a point where I rarely play online now so I haven’t even bothered to renew my subscription – it’s just not worth it for me. This sucks though because it means I can’t just drop into a game of Rainbow Six Siege without dropping a big upfront cost to play with my friends.
Corporate Interests Have Sucked the Fun Out of Gaming – The PS3 era was just a taster for how bad gaming has gotten in the PS4 era. Major publishers have scaled down the number of games they release per year to a small handful, and seemingly every game we get is unfinished at launch, a multiplayer experience and filled with microtransactions in a transparent attempt to bleed you dry. For most publishers, “fun gameplay” isn’t even a consideration anymore, it’s all about getting you addicted and then extracting your cash. It’s hard to find story-driven, single-player experiences these days and it just makes gaming feel nowhere near as fun as it used to be.
Amazing Hardware – The hardware of the PS Vita is, simply put, fantastic. In fact, I’d argue that hardware-wise it’s probably the most perfect PlayStation product in terms of power, function and design. Power-wise, it’s pretty comparable to the PS3, the screen looks fantastic (especially on the older, OLED models), the battery life is pretty decent and the interface works very well. Many people say that the PS Vita was basically the original Nintendo Switch and they aren’t wrong. The system’s hardware is certainly comparable and could have found similar success with better support.
Great Indie Machine – People have written off the PS Vita for years now, but even to this day, the system still gets releases from indie developers who have helped keep the system afloat. Having a PS+ membership carry over from the PS4 also helped with this, since it basically meant that you were getting a free game every month to try out. I actually got Gravity Rush and freaking Hotline Miami through this system and am even hoping that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night still comes to Vita because that’s where I’m planning on playing it.
PSP Backwards Compatibility – The PS Vita basically ended up aping the PSP Go’s functionality, because you can go back and play most of the PSP’s digital library on the go. I actually ended up selling my PSP to a friend because of this, although I do have some regrets now since games like Metal Gear Ac!d aren’t on the PSP online store. Some PS1 games are also available here, although the selection isn’t as good as it was on PSP.
My Favourite PS Vita Games – As usual, not a comprehensive list, but I loved: Gravity Rush, Hotline Miami 1 & 2, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2 and Guacamelee!
Sony’s Support – Sony’s lack of support for the PS Vita was pathetic and left a fantastic system to die. Some of this is on third party developers as well, as the games they put on the system were cheap and horrible (especially Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified), but Sony could have sold this system with a huge, high-profile success (similar to how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild single-handedly launched the Switch).
Forced Gimmicks – This also relates to the previous point: potential system sellers, such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, were plagued with forced gimmicks to show off the hardware’s capabilities, such as the front and back touch screens or gyroscope. Only Gravity Rush really got through this without feeling lesser for it, but it wasn’t really the system seller that the Vita needed. Can you imagine if Naughty Dog had made an authentic Uncharted experience on the Vita though? I would have snapped that up in a heartbeat.
Proprietary Memory Cards – Sony pulled an ultimate one-two bullshit move by making the PS Vita’s memory cards proprietary and then making them incredibly expensive for what you got (the largest cards were over $100!!!). They did eventually lower the price, but they were still much more expensive than their SD card counter-parts, meaning that not only was the PS Vita more expensive than its 3DS competition, but their memory cards were also more expensive. It’s no wonder that the system flopped when you consider this.
The Rear Touch Pad – The one major hardware flaw of the PS Vita was its rear touch-pad. I hated every time a game asked me to use it, because it suuuuuucked. It doesn’t even take up the entire back of the system, so I can never be sure exactly where I am when I use it, nor am I even sure if I’m even touching it when I have to. Yikes. Even worse, if you used your PS Vita for PS4 remote play, this touch pad became your L2 and R2 buttons, making tons of games basically unplayable if you wanted to do well at all.
PS1 Classics Support – The way PS1 classics are handled on the PS Vita makes no sense. Far less are available on the system than were on the PSP or PS3, but certain ones can be brought to the system if you download it onto a PS3 and then transfer them to the Vita… what? Metal Gear Solid, for example, is only playable this way, which makes no sense at all (I had to actually go through this in order to play it for my MGS retrospective).
PS TV – Adding to the pathetic support for the Vita by Sony was the PS TV, a cheaper Vita which essentially functioned as a mini home console. It didn’t even last a year before Sony stopped supporting it, and even the apps for it (such as the Netflix app) straight-up don’t even work. Basically the only reason it even exists still is that you can play PS Vita games on it for cheap and stream PS4 games to another TV through remote play.
Trophies – Probably my favourite innovation that the PS3 brought was the advent of trophies (which, to be fair, were modelled after the Xbox’s achievements system). These things are so addictive though. Basically, as soon as I start a game I head over to the Trophies section to see what trophies I could realistically go for and whether I actually want to bother going for the Platinum.
Blu-Ray Player – Like the PS2 and PS1 before it, the PS3 came with a new media format innovation, this time with a blu-ray player. Also similarly, the PS3 was cheaper and better than most blu-ray players at the time, which helped to tip the format war between blu-ray and HD-DVD into blu-ray’s favour. Like DVD’s, the PS3 was my first blu-ray player and was the reason I stopped buying DVDs and made the switch to HD media.
Free Online Play – While it was widely agreed that Xbox Live had the more robust and reliable online system, you did have to pay an annual subscription for it, whereas online play was free on PS3. There was an optional ability to get PS+ if players wanted additional perks, but leaving it free by default was honestly the better move, since there really isn’t a good excuse that online play is a paid-for service on modern consoles.
Strong Hardware – While the PS3 was thought to be difficult to develop for early in the console’s life-cycle, by the mid-to-late period of the PS3’s stronger hardware was allowing the system to run games much easier and smoother than the comparatively underpowered Xbox 360. In addition, the PS3 did away with region locked games, meaning that you could play games from other regions out of the box (this was good for gamers who wanted to play Japanese-exclusive games, for example). When you consider that the PS3 also had a built-in wi-fi adapter and the blu-ray drive, whereas the Xbox 360 had to get a wi-fi adapter as an add-on, had only a DVD drive, and you had to pay an annual subscription for Xbox Live, the higher cost of the system was actually quite comparable.
My Favourite PS3 Games – Not a definitive list of the best games on the system, but my favourite games include: Uncharted 1 and 2, Dead Space 1 and 2, Battlefield Bad Company and 3, Bioshock, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Fallout 3 and Dark Souls.
PS3 Controller – I’m really mixed on the PS3 controller. On the plus side, they were all wireless by default (another leg up on the Xbox 360, which also required AA batteries on their wireless models) and you could finally connect up to 8 controllers at a time without requiring an add-on peripheral. Buuuuuut… the triggers were really strangely designed and unappealing, the SIXAXIS motion controls were badly utilized and the controllers originally lacked rumble functionality. I mean, at least the controller is better than the awful boomerang concept that we were initially shown, but the product we got is still a real mixed bag without any clearly-good innovations.
Backwards Compatibility Phased Out – The original PS3 release did include backwards compatibility and I did manage to snag one of these models back in the day (although the system eventually died and was unsalvageable, riiiip). However, in order to cut costs, backwards compatibility was cut out in subsequent models. This, in my opinion, was not worth it and has unfortunately weakened the PlayStation brand ever since as a result. Now I either have to track down a PS2 to play older games, or hope that they have been made available as remasters or digital downloads on PSN, which isn’t really reliable at all.
The Cost – I’ve already tried to justify the cost of the system a bit, but there’s no denying that the PS3’s initial asking price of $600 was a huge barrier to entry. I snagged mine after the first price drop, but even then it was around $500. This was probably the biggest factor in the PS3’s slow adoption rate and the Xbox 360’s dominance throughout this console era.
System Updates – Throughout its life, PS3 players would often sit down to get into a gaming session, only to have the system reveal that they have to perform a system update before they can get online. These would often take up to ten minutes to complete, leaving you frustrated and potentially not even wanting to play anymore by the time it was complete.
The Gaming Landscape Began to Get (More) Corporate – Gaming was changing by the time the PS3 era rolled around. Major publishers were starting to rake in serious cash and profit was starting to noticeably interfere with enjoyment. DLC began to become egregious (probably most offensively with the online pass), pre-order culture kicked off, games began seeing “feature bloat” (such as tacked-on co-op and multiplayer modes that no one wanted or played, which existed only to provide an excuse for cheap DLC), and we saw the start of microtransactions in games such as Dead Space 3. Publishers also began trend-hunting, with Activision riding the sudden success of Guitar Hero into the ground in a couple short years after saturating the market with crappy spin-offs and sequels. Everyone was also chasing after the success of Call of Duty with numerous FPSes which didn’t come close to replicating the same success. This also led to “niche” genres, such as survival horror, starting to become more scarce, while those that remained where “Call of Duty“-fied and stripped of their own identity (see: Resident Evil 6). Basically, gaming was no longer the domain of hobbyists looking to succeed by putting out good products, it was no becoming a calculated profit-making machine.
Great Hardware – The PSP was a really great little handheld. It was very well-designed, felt great in your hand and had some great features, even outside of gaming. Having played only Gameboys up until this point, having a wi-fi capable system with an internet browser made this thing basically my first cell phone in terms of its functionality. It was also quite powerful, able to put out near-PS2 graphical levels in the palm of your hand. Compared to its competition, the Nintendo DS, the PSP won the hardware comparison, easily. I also loved that you could suspend games by putting the system into sleep mode, it was such a good feature.
Strong Support – People don’t remember it very well, but the PSP had strong support from first and third party developers, and even outsold the Nintendo DS for years, until that system’s cheaper price and stronger support ended up winning over in the end (the presence of Pokemon games certainly helped as well). Still, this allowed the PSP to have a very strong stable of games that you can look back on fondly.
PS1 Classics – One of the genius moves for the PSP was to allow you to play PS1 games on the go. Sony ended up releasing quite a few major titles for the system, including Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII (in fact, I had never played FF7 until I downloaded it on my PSP).
My Favourite PSP Games – The usual deal: this isn’t a comprehensive list, but here are some of my favourite PSP games. These include Resistance: Retribution, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Ac!d 1 and 2, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Patapon and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (mainly because, holy shit, a GTA game running on PSP hardware!?!).
UMDs – UMDs were a cool, ambitious concept, attempting to be multi-media discs which would allow you to game and watch movies on the go. Sony tried to get film studios to release films on UMD discs and while there was some support, it wasn’t widely adopted (my PSP came with a copy of National Treasure 2, if I remember correctly). So yeah, they were ambitious, but man do they take up a lot of space for a portable cartridge, they load slowly and the just look so strange. I’ll give them points for trying something new, but I’m not entirely sure that it worked well.
No Second Analog Stick – Why, why, WHYYYYYYY did Sony not include a second analog nub on the PSP!?!?! It’s the system’s most glaring issue and it single-handedly screwed over so many games on this system. The second analog stick on the DualShock had, by this point, become the solution to the camera issues which had plagued early 3D games, but by not including a second analog nub, you immediately put developers back to the PS1 era. Predictably, camera controls became the #1 issue on PSP games, with half-baked solutions abounding (see: Splinter Cell: Essentials, which would force you to stand still and hold another button in order to move and fix the camera in place).
Power Button Placement Was Bad – The PSP was designed really well, but there was one glaring flaw (besides the lack of another analog nub, anyway…): the power slider was right were the palm of your hand would be, meaning that it was really easy to accidentally turn your system off. You kind of had to train yourself to not do this while playing, although there was more than one instance where I’d be playing Portable Ops online and accidentally turn the game off mid-match.
PSP Go – The PSP Go was a cool concept: basically, a smaller, redesigned PSP which could only play games downloaded to the system. However, it was way too expensive Sony gave this thing basically no support, meaning that it was dead on arrival. I feel sorry for anyone who paid $250 for this thing at launch, because Sony sure as hell didn’t earn your money.
Built-in DVD Player – Having a CD player in the PS1 was a nice convenience, but the DVD player in the PS2 was huge. For many people (my family included), the PS2 was our first DVD player and was the reason that we jumped ship from VHS tapes. At the time, the PS2 was a very affordable DVD player and it was a key factor in the success and wide adoption of the format. Hell, my younger brother has a PS2 and still uses it as a DVD player, which says a lot about the importance of this feature.
Backwards Compatibility – Another major factor of the PS2’s success is its backwards compatibility with both the hardware and software of the PS1. You could use PS1 controllers with no issues and PS1 memory cards could be used as well (although these memory cards only worked with PS1 games). The fact that you could carry over your collection to a new console generation made the transition more attractive and basically allowed the PS2 to immediately surpass its predecessor.
Huge Graphical Improvement – The graphical leap between the PS1 and PS2 era was one of the biggest improvements of any console generation. PS1 games were very blocky and low resolution, but PS2 games were able to smooth things out and start to approximate realistic graphics. Hell, stylized games like Okami and Sly Cooper still look quite good to this day.
3D Gameplay Improvements – By the mid-to-late point in the PS2 era, developers were finally starting to get 3D gameplay under control. Camera issues still plagued a fair few games at the time, but gameplay was finally getting refined and control schemes were starting to become standardized in a manner familiar to the games that we play today. This, of course, makes PS2 games much more playable and easier to go back to today.
High-Profile Exclusives and New IPs – Exclusives and new-IPs ruled the roost during the PS2 era, perhaps to a greater degree than in any other era since, making it a truly exciting time to be a PlayStation owner. Games like Metal Gear Solid2 and 3, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War and Final Fantasy could only be played on the PS2, many of which were high-profile third party exclusives.
My Favourite PS2 Games – Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list of the best PS2 games (not by a long shot), but my favourite games of the era include: Splinter Cell (especially Chaos Theory), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Freedom Fighters, Star Wars: Battlefront I and II, Twisted Metal: Black, Shadow of the Colossus, Sly Cooper 1-3, Bully and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.
Underpowered Hardware – I’m putting this under mixed because it didn’t really matter, but the PS2 was clearly underpowered and missing features compared to its competition. This becomes very clear when you compare the PS2 port of Resident Evil 4 to the Gamecube original, or the PS2 ports of any of the Splinter Cell games to the Xbox originals. Still, the games worked and the PS2’s impressive library basically made this a moot point, because the PS2’s popularity made it the most successful console in history regardless.
Legacy Hardware Issues – In many ways, the PS2 lives up to its name: it’s a follow-up to the PS1, but the system itself doesn’t make any major innovative leaps forward, a fact which really stands out when you look at its competition. For example, the Xbox was built around online gaming, whereas PS2 owners had to purchase a separate ethernet adapter which was expensive and under-utilized (although this did allow couch multiplayer to last for another generation at least). The Xbox also had a built-in HDD, making the necessary purchase of pitifully tiny, 8MB Memory Cards on the PS2 look embarrassing and archaic in comparison. A HDD was made available as an add-on, but it was once again an expensive, under-utilized peripheral which was only really used in Final Fantasy XI. The PS2 also had only two controller ports once again, making couch multiplayer games harder to manage.
Glut of Shovelware – The PS2 era might have been the height of cheap, crappy licensed games, as they were very prevalent at the time, as this was an era where the install base was huge and games cost just enough to make that it was worth the investment to make a quick turn-around. In subsequent generations the mobile gaming scene would kill off this market trend (although it carried on over to the Wii as well), but when you go back to the PS2 you’ll notice a plethora of awful games which were shovelled onto the system.
Genre-Defining Experiences – The original PlayStation was the most successful console of its era at a time when video games were literally entering a whole new dimension of possibilities. Considering the limitations of computing at the time and that 3D game design was basically uncharted territory, it’s amazing how well a number of developers were able to make the transition and provide experiences which helped to establish genres as we know them today. For example, the 3D action platformer was established during this time with titles such as Tomb Raider, Ape Escape, Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and games in this genre have retained most of these foundational elements since. Racing games such as Gran Turismo also play nearly identically to racing games from the PS1 era, just with more glitz and polish. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was also responsible for establishing the skating game genre, which would be hugely popular well into the PS3 era. Survival horror was really established on the PS1 with Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Silent Hill, providing an experience which is almost entirely exclusive to the PS1. These are just a few examples, but it just goes to show that the PS1 was a key foundation for gaming as we know it today.
CD-based Format – In a time when cartridges were the go-to method for game storage and when CD players weren’t particularly common, the PS1 showed the value of multi-media storage formats. Having game’s played on CDs was a huge benefit for a number of reasons: they were less bulky, cheaper and could store far more data than the competition and they allowed PS1-owners the freedom to use the system as a CD player when they weren’t gaming.
The DualShock Controller is the Granddaddy of Modern Controllers – The title pretty much says it all. While the original, analogue-less PlayStation controller was basically just a refinement of controllers of its era, the DualShock set the new standard which has been replicated in all future controllers since (barring gimmicks like the Wii of course).
Easy to Pirate For – Sure, this wasn’t exactly an intended feature, but with the cheap proliferation of CDs, the PS1 was notoriously easy to pirate games onto, a “feature” which has only gotten more valuable in the years since support for the console has died. It was also fairly easy to modify the system, such as replacing parts in order to circumvent the system’s region locking features.
My Favourite PS1 Games – Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of good PS1 games, but the games that I love and grew up on include Ape Escape, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal 2, Vigilante 2: Second Offense, Future Cop: LAPD and Driver.
Janky Gameplay – The jump to 3D gameplay was a new frontier back when the PS1 came out and while it’s impressive that there are some seriously good games in this era, nearly every game from this era feels incredibly dated and incredibly clunky. Between the low-res graphics, janky controls and (especially) the wretched camera controls that defined nearly every game from this era, it’s really hard to go back and play a significant number of games from this era.
Original Controller was Outclassed by DualShock – The original PlayStation controller was fine, but when the DualShock came out it controlled so much better and made the original controller completely obsolete. The fact that the PlayStation One Classic came packed with the original controller was a baffling decision on Sony’s part, because not only was it inferior, but it also meant that huge games like Ape Escape could not be included. The lack of analogue sticks on this original controller also did not help with the camera issues which plagued this era’s games and wouldn’t really be rectified until midway through the next console generation.
Hardware Limitations – The PS1 had some really annoying hardware limitations, even compared to its competition. Memory Cards were a particular annoyance, the official ones only had 15 blocks of memory if I remember correctly, but some games would take up multiple blocks so you would fill them up very quickly. You could also buy unofficial cards, but I had one knock-off which corrupted and actually managed to ruin one of my discs! The PS1 also required a multitap if you wanted more than two players at a time, whereas the N64 could have four players at once. This was unfortunate and really cut down on the potential for local multiplayer games such as Vigilante 8: Second Offense.
I’m going to do something slightly different here – normally I’d just be looking at the Dark Souls trilogy itself when doing a love/hate series, but I’m actually going to change it up slightly and include other games in this subgenre that I have played and which I feel could make for a strong comparison. As a result, I’m bringing you the Souls-like samurai game from Team Ninja, Nioh! Having gotten into Bloodborne and Dark Souls from my itching for a new Ninja Gaiden game, could Nioh live up to Team Ninja’s reputation for rich and satisfying combat? Read on to find my thoughts…
Amazing Combat System – I’ll just come out and say that Nioh has the best combat system in any Souls-like game. Team Ninja really hits it out of the park, nailing a really precise combat system while the game’s speed somewhere between Bloodborne and Ninja Gaiden. The result is a very fast-paced game that is deep, skillful and incredibly satisfying to master. There are also a couple of big innovations which help make Nioh‘s combat stand out so much:
Ki Pulse takes the stamina regeneration of Souls games and adds in an active-reload system which will allow you to replenish your stamina instantly if you do it correctly. This creates a balancing act where you can risk running out of stamina but get it back quickly in order to keep your attacks going longer. It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the timing down it becomes second-nature and allows you to be incredibly aggressive.
Weapon stances are also a huge addition in this game. All weapons can be held in high, mid, or low stance, which significantly changes the way the weapon performs. Each stance changes your combat and dodge speeds, and some enemies are best fought in different stances (for example, Yoki are susceptible to high stance sword strikes which will hit them in the head and stun them when they break their horns). While you might be tempted just to stick with one stance, learning to master stance chances makes a huge difference in combat and just further deepens the experience.
You can see your opponents’ ki meters, meaning that stunning them becomes a reliable strategy should you choose to go for it. I liked using a heavy axe as my secondary weapon for this very reason, with only a single strong high-stance attack I could destroy most enemies’ ki bars.
Addictive Loot System – Nioh features a Diablo-like loot system. Unlike Dark Souls where each piece of equipment has fixed properties (until you upgrade it anyway), all equipment in Nioh has randomized perks. You can spend ages in the blacksmith just reforging your armour and weapons to get the perfect perks which complement your build and playstyle. It can be addictive just collecting all the loot drops and looking for that one piece of armour or weapon that is better than the one you have already.
Spirit Guardians Are Cool – Even if it was just aesthetic, the idea of picking the spirit guardian that accompanies you on your journey is awesome (I went with the Paired Raiken, because having two lightning puppies with me is amazing). However, each guardian provides unique bonuses while they are with you which can further optimize your build, while also being able to help in a pinch. However, the trade-off is that when you die, your guardian spirit stays to protect your lost Amrita (this game’s souls-equivalent) and no longer provides you with any bonuses unless you choose to sacrifice your lost Amrita. It makes for a pretty interesting trade-off and makes death just that much more tense.
Fun Side Content – Nioh‘s mission-based structure allows for the inclusion of various side content for players to enjoy. These are all pretty fun and provide you with more loot, from bite-sized side missions, to challenging duels, to the challenging-but-rewarding twilight missions. This side content allows you to get your equipment and levels upgraded without having to do repetitive level grinding and farming like other Souls-like games tend to.
Meaty DLC – Team Ninja did a good job with the DLC packs for Nioh, providing players with three expansions with plenty of new missions, weapons and challenging bosses to sink your teeth into. This extends the length of the base game by several hours per pack while also providing an epilogue to the main game’s story. The bossesare also allconsistently funand challenging.
Builds on the Souls Formula – Nioh definitely cribs many elements from the formula of Dark Souls – stamina-based fighting system, clever level design emphasizing traps and exploration, shrines are this game’s bonfires, etc. However, Nioh also adds plenty of its own elements and twists to the formula, which allows it to stand out on its own and not feel like a ripoff (unlike, say, Lords of the Fallen). Even something simple like the bloodspots in Souls games have been given cool twists – in Nioh, blood spots can be used to spawn revenants, which have the equipment of the player who was killed and which can provide you with amazing loot drops if you risk spawning them into your game.
Living Weapon Feels Like a Crutch – As I mentioned earlier, your Guardian Spirit can provide you with help in a pinch. It does this by building up a “living weapon meter” over time as you attack enemies. When the meter is filled you can unleash your living weapon, which makes you invulnerable and allows you to dish out a ton of damage in a short time (similar to Spartan Rage in the newest God of War). Certain builds can also optimize living weapon build-up, meaning that you can potentially cheese your way through boss fights. I’d say that Nioh can to be more difficult than Dark Souls, but when you can just pull out your living weapon in a fight it makes battles feel much easier and more forgiving.
Onmyo and Ninjitsu Skills Feel Like an Afterthought – One of the other different elements of Nioh is that it features a skill tree. Usually this provides you with bonuses to your weapons, but players can also spend them on onmyo magic and ninjitsu skills. In practice, they function similarly to consumable items in Dark Souls where you equip them, select them on the d-pad and have a finite number of uses. The system could have been interesting, but as it is it just feels like an afterthought that you can’t reliably build around, unlike pretty much every other aspect of the combat system. On occasion I’ll bring out an elemental resistance pill for a boss battle or use magic missiles on foes, but that’s about it.
Loot Management is an Obligatory Chore – Basically every mission in Nioh ends with you spending 5+ minutes just going through your inventory and selling or breaking down all of the useless loot you acquired on your journey. As addictive as it is to find better loot out in the game world, most of it is crap and having to actually sift through it all and dispose of it quickly becomes annoying. The upcoming Nioh 2 needs to find some sort of way to streamline or automate this process because as it is right now it is a major pain in the ass.
Menu-based World Design – Perhaps the biggest difference between Nioh and Dark Souls is that Nioh is played out over a series of missions and that the world is navigated through menus. The missions themselves are quite good, but this structure makes the world itself feel considerably less interesting and cohesive in comparison. Your mileage may vary, but this makes the game just a bit less compelling and engaging than Dark Souls or Bloodborne for me, despite being by far the funnest in terms of its actual gameplay and mechanics.
Story Leaves Little Impact – Unlike Dark Souls, the story in Nioh is told in a much more straightforward manner, with cutscenes before and after each mission. Unfortunately, the story is not very well told, seemingly just jumping between scenes with little connective tissue to contextualize everything. I enjoyed some of the characters, such as Hanzo, Edward Kelley and Saoirse, but I quickly stopped caring about what was supposed to be happening around me because I couldn’t follow it. It’s unfortunate too, because a better-told story could have made for a much more engaging game and a more interesting world too for that matter.
Online Interaction is an Afterthought – Online play in Nioh isn’t nearly as accessible as it is in Dark Souls, requiring you to dig through some menus in order to use it. Without an equivalent to summoning signs, the odds of getting summoned to someone else’s game are pretty low. There’s also a global clan battle system somewhat similar to covenants, but this also feels like a total afterthought and only provides you with some bonus resources if you sacrifice specific resources every few days. I basically didn’t even bother exploring the online in Nioh because it felt so inessential.