Dread Space Another One

Contrary to the words I wrote mere seconds ago, I’m going to be starting my penance next week. Right now, I’ve got way too much of a headache to focus on reading. Why am I typing, you may ask? Well, Dead Space 3’s demo came out recently, and I’ve got to say something about that shit! As my regular reader may know, I’ve got kind of a thing for the horror genre. If it were a lady, I’m pretty sure we’d be moved in, vowed and raising three li’l ones by now. However, recently I feel like most of my lovely courtesans have been getting bored with the shock-a-day lifestyle, and seem to be flitting towards the action-adventure genre. I worry, because we’re starting to have less and less in common. They’re out and about with slimy space-monsters wearing leather jackets and exploding their way over cool jumps, and I’m sitting here on the kitchen floor mournfully cradling a cleaver. It just feels like we’re both going to end up having extramarital affairs sooner or later. Either way, there will be blood, and maybe that’s enough. To that end, let’s peek into the diary of the Dead Space franchise and see what the little minx has in store for us.
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Things started off a bit worryingly when the snow animation looked a bit 1999. Not the sky-boxes, mind, but the snow trailing around my feet. My jealousy became aroused even more when a couple of enemies came screaming out of the door of a hangar, flailing their arms and praying for bullets. BUT, what really caught my breath in my throat, wrenching my heart in a vice-like fashion, was the weapon customization. Let’s break down why I’m jealous, then maybe The Note will make more sense when it shows up next to our bloated bodies.

Part of what kept Dead Space consistent was the level design. Not the way it was put together, but the aesthetic. It was all pretty samey and shippy, with the occasionally rocky mesa to spice things up a bit. As a result, there wasn’t much to worry about with regards to keeping all of the animation on the same level. With the introduction of snow into the environment, the programmers had to be very careful to make sure that its graphical and animation quality matched that of the rest of the environment. It did not. The whole thing almost pulled me out of the experience before I’d even got a chance to pick up my first stasis pod. I can only comfort myself with the hope that they’ll have improved it by the time the final product ships.

If that snow animation thing seemed a bit small to bring up, then I should probably back up a bit further. Horror is a genre that’s centered around creating an emotion, evoking a response. You’ve got to know your audience and craft the experience accordingly. Any little thing can pull you out of it. Of course, a tense, well-drawn story-line, and the rest of the bloody game, can make up for the odd quirk (see: Resident Evil… Survival Horror Voice-Acting), but that requires a considered approach. Dead Space 3 eschews that by throwing more over-baked bacon-crab monsters at us right off the bat. There’s no sense of build-up. There’s very little time for tension, because we’re too busy smacking them around with the God-Hand and Boot of Isaac. I know it’s hard to create tension when everyone already knows what all the bloody monsters look like, but maybe that means we’re done here. I’m sure you could use some of these monster designs in other games.

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Speaking of monster designs, Dead Space sort of packed it in for me with the troops. You fight soldiers. With grenades. Sometimes, they’re fighting you because a squid-baby nestled its way into their armor with all the grace and elegance of Earthworm Jim, but a monster should be disturbing on more than just a cognitive and visual level. Let me explain with an example from my favorite series: Silent Hill 2.
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This monster, shown here in high-definition, is the manifestation of the hatred one of the other characters has for her abusive father. The game makes this quite clear through dialogue, cut-scenes, and game-play. It’s just… strange. It makes unusual noises, it moves in a weird, languorous, counter-intuitive manner, and it leaves a thought-provoking corpse. However, it also represents something disturbing in relation to what it represents about the character’s past, a fact that is made more disturbing by its face-rape method of attack. Lastly, it’s either thrown in your face, or it hangs out, just out of sight, taunting you with its… sound. It’s a good creation. However, it only really shines because of how it’s presented.

Let’s contrast this to the mildly disconcerting baby-head squids. It shows you how they take over a soldier’s body, which, while mentally unusual, leaves nothing to the imagination. Here, imagination is your most powerful tool. I’m not left thinking, “Oh man, what’s he doing to me?!?” It’s more akin to shouting, “Oh fuck, I’d better kill this thing before it tries to use me as a host.” I understand that, and I’m not afraid of it. The whole game is about killing shit that wants to kill you. Oh, and we can go anywhere to fight soldiers. We know soldiers. We get grenades. That’s not going to turn any heads, or any dreams, into nightmare-vessels.

So, the monsters aren’t anything new, but the pacing doesn’t really give us a chance to appreciate their inherent creepiness, anyways. Of course, someone brought up that, being a demo, it’s probably trying to shove us straight into the action. If that’s the case, then what are they trying to show us? How much like Resident Evil 6 they want to be? Even if it is parachuting us in, in medias res style, then aren’t they giving a bit much away? No matter how it starts, I now know that I’m going to end up on some shit-cold mining world fighting soldiers. If part of horror is what you know, then I know too much now. I can only hope they’ve kept the best for the reveal. Some of the cut-scenes certainly let us glimpse gems of glinting potential, but I feel like the multi-player could seriously undermine the whole thing. Think about it. Isaac has always been alone, and that’s part of what gave Dead Space its feeling of oppressive desperation. Adding another character into the story, or even having to balance it around there being one or two players, is going to be difficult, and take an infinite amount of finesse. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if they end up being another hallucination, then I’m packing this franchise in for myself. That’ll be the end of it. I’ll have to fold my arms and wait for “A Machine for Pigs.”

If it seems like I’m being a bit harsh, then it’s because I love this genre so, and this series enough to call it back for at least another sequel. However, I just don’t feel like it cares any more. I’m afraid it’s just going to start phoning it in. There are additions, though. Dead Space has always added something neat by way of movement mechanics, and this game is no exception. While it’s not zero-gravity, it does have a lot of potential. They put in a climbing-rope for you to belay down. I look forward to the giant pits it will ask us to climb down, and the quick-time events therein. Honestly, it could be neat. Dangling on the perspective edge of oblivion, with only a small rope holding you up, as the ground begins to shake, your grip-bar weakens, and you’re forced to fight for your life against the coming onslaught. Or is that Shadows of the Colossus. Either way, I look forward to seeing how it’s implemented.

Lastly, I want to talk about weapon customization. It looks deep, or at least complex, but I don’t think that’s really a point in its favor. The original weapons had elegant designs that fit well into the theme. Even the plasma cutter made some sort of sense, as well as being an awesome weapon for intersecting the perpendicular plane created by a monster’s flailing arms. In fact, most monsters are designed with that sort of mechanic in mind. So, either the weapons will have some constraints, to the point where it’s all just a bunch of cool-but-pointless faffing around, or the enemies are going to be so needlessly varied ( or more likely, so vanilla-chilla) that it’s hardly going to matter. Striking a good middle line will take some skill, and I’m hoping they’re up to it. Of course, the whole thing smacks of a change of tone. We’re not desperately searching for the closest tools that will allow us to survive, plasma-cutter-style; we’re actively building an arsenal. We’re confronting this alien enemy, and fighting it to the last. The minute that’s scary is the minute that I start exclusively reviewing CoD games. Hopefully, that’ll fall into line, too, but there’s an awful lot of “hopefully” in this review.

Oh, and if multi-player might compromise the experience, then throwing everyone’s favorite motion-peripheral into the mix can only make matters worse. I’m just saying.

I was a bit thrown by the demo. I really liked the series, even as it leaned towards a more action-oriented play-style. It kept just enough of its horror-theme to maintain a certain level of respectability. Now, though, I’m not too sure. I’ll have to play the game to form a full opinion, because there are cut-scene glimpses of superb competence, but I’m not sure. Maybe Resident Evil 6 has left me feeling a bit jaded, but I’m still going to try the game, so that should say something, too. If Dead Space wants to be a super-gory action game with bizzappy weapons, then that’s cool. It’ll do a good job! If we’re shooting for horror, then, well, we’re going to have to aim a bit higher, aren’t we?

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One Response to “Dread Space Another One”

  1. Great piece and similar to my thoughts I just posted. The game will be fine, but it has left horror behind.

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