Thursday, 26 January 2012

No I won't see The End: Dead Space (Review)

My opinion on this game is conflicting. It doesn't do horror well at all. But it works. It's terrible at building atmosphere, and litters the game with jump scares. It still gets to me. This has the atmosphere of Left 4 Dead and the gore of Gears of War, and somehow manages to creep me out nearly as much as STALKER.

And I'm not comfortable with that.

If for some reason you went into this game not expecting the undead, you gotta learn more about how titles work.
This game doesn't really get anything /wrong/ gameplay wise. The combat is very visceral. It definitely feels like all the weapons have a real effect on the enemies, when used right. The game's dismemberment works really well, both visually and gameplay-wise.

I would definitely like to take a moment here and talk about this. Dead Space has a really interesting mechanic: Enemies don't die unless you dismember them properly. You may think it's something simple, like cutting off the head, but no, that actually makes them /worse/, as they'll go mad and flail wildly and be harder to hit.

Also these buggers look like this:
There's a stomach arm, and blade hands, and demon legs, and blood everywhere. This is gonna be a problem in this review. I'm kind of a dick sometimes, and I'll show blood and zombies and stuff sometimes, but this game is just gruesome. I'm not gonna show that on here.
You're given this gun which pretty much shoots cutting lasers. So you sever the limbs and hope that you've killed them sufficiently.

And man, can I see the possibilities. So many different weird creatures, which could all have different anatomies with different points you have to sever. You could have tentacles which need to severed, large arteries, all sorts of crazy, alien anatomy. Imagine fighting the aliens from, well, Alien, but having to cut them into pieces to kill them. Holy crap!

I would play this.

And you know, it works. I played 4 hours of the game, and came across 3 unique enemy types, and several variations of TummyArms up there. It was cool. And when you get new weapons, they change up how you can kill these creatures, often in necessary ways. There's a new cutting laser that shoots out this slow-moving beam, that pretty much cuts right through everything it hits. Massively effective against a single enemy, but hard to aim and slow to use.

It's all balanced properly. Don't assume my problem with Dead Space is I didn't enjoy playing it. Well, I didn't, but not because of the gameplay. For the gameplay, I'd actually say it's worth checking out.

What killed it for me was the atmosphere. Or rather the lack of it.

You play Science McFiction, a guy who wears an actually pretty iconic and unique space suit. Seriously, I was impressed. The art design in this game is actually pretty good, if it weren't for a problem I'll talk about in a minute.

I want to say it's ripping something off, but it isn't really. The closest it comes to is Joey from Friends in the Lost In Space movie when he donned the battle suit.
You play maybe five, ten minutes, then are attacked by a TummyArms.

The game honestly doesn't care at all about building suspense. That's a foreign concept to it. This game has the same subtlety as an Eli Roth film, and the same understanding of horror as Resident Evil: Afterlife

Which is why it bugs me so much that it actually works on me. This isn't a case where I'm running around stomping heads, laughing away at bad dialogue and being pleased by an attractive and badass woman as the protagonist. There is no Jovovich to save me this time.

I didn't even see this one; I only saw Afterlife. It doesn't matter though, I'm fairly confident she's just as awesome and the movie is just as hilaribad.
 The game is built entirely upon jump scares. Go around a corner? JUMP SCARE. Enter an empty room? Just walk a few steps until JUMP SCARE. It's just JUMP JUMP JUMP COMBO BREAKER SCARE. And it really gets frustrating.

It would be pretty easy to solve, too. All they would have to do is take the time to build the tension, instead of immediately firing their gun. The game has a ton of scary concepts; the enemy designs are downright terrifying. There's a reason I'm not showing any of them. But the problem is that they throw them at you so constantly that they lose all effect.

Compare it to the beginning of BioShock, which starts with a plane crash. You're surrounded by burning wreckage, swimming in the middle of the ocean. You swim away, until all you see is a giant building, sticking out of the water. Odd. It's pretty creepy too. It's all you can go to, so you go in.

You aren't told the situation is going to be scary in advance, you just see bad stuff going down and follow course.
It helps that lighthouses are scary.

So you enter the building and [SPOILER] the door slams shut behind you, leaving you in pitch black.[/SPOILER]

The equivalent of this in Dead Space, is that you're exploring a little into the ship, and you go through a door. Suddenly it seals behind you, and the lights go out. Here's where the games differ.

BioShock then turns on the lights, wowing you with a hauntingly empty welcoming room, and a political speech given over a massive overlook of a breathtaking underwater city. It wows you, and then when you reach the end, when you've got all this emotional buildup, you're plunged into terror.

Dead Space throws a FlailyBladeArms at you immediately, and tells you to run for your life. Ahhhh, so scary, what do I do now?!

Run. The only "fear" here is from you suddenly not knowing what's happening. The second you figure it out, you aren't scared. Whereas in BioShock, you're so wowed and overwhelmed, that when the scares start hitting, you've already got emotional investment. That makes it all scarier, as you've already opened up your emotional side to the game.

Yet somehow, this game honestly scared me as much as BioShock, and possibly even as much as STALKER. And I don't think that's cause it was good horror. I think it's just that I scare easily.

What can I say? I crave this stuff, and it delivers. I can't exactly call it a bad game, but the horror is cheap. That's really what I can say. It's not fulfilling, the horror. The gameplay is good, I just can't bring myself to play it any more, as its effectively shattered any emotional involvement I had in it. I played it looking for a cheap scare, which I get, but afterwards I'm just left feeling empty.

Empty like this long dead hallway.

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