How Dead Space Lost its Way

Dead Space is a relatively new franchise, but one that definitely pulls its weight. The original Dead Space was released in 2008. It spawned a sequel, a rails shooter, and an iphone game almost immediately. Most importantly, all of these games are of the utmost quality (Ok, Dead Space Ignition was pretty weak). Dead Space is a survival horror series in the same style as post-4 Resident Evil games. In other words, action always takes precedence to actual horror. Dead Space 3’s E3 trailer has been heavily criticized for totally changing the series as the game looked more like Lost Planet than Dead Space. The developers have tried to backpedal and explain that its the same Dead Space as ever, but many, myself included stand unconvinced. Today we are going to be looking at why this is even a controversy.

What is a picture of that terrible Army of Two game doing on this post?

Let’s face certain facts, internet, Dead Space was a Resident Evil 4 clone plain and simple. However, that didn’t mean that the game didn’t have its own identity and the original Dead Space innovated in many ways that Resident Evil 5 did not. Chief among these innovations was the ability to move and shoot, which made combat considerably better. Combat was also improved by Dead Space’s major gimmick, which was you had to aim for the limbs of the creatures. This turned the entire 3rd person shooter genre on its side, as every other game on the market prioritizes headshots. Aiming for limbs doesn’t come natural for a long time gamer and it really changed up the pace.

Great advice that probably didn’t need to be written with blood

While the game has a tendency to throw too many waves of enemies at you, or rely too heavily on shocks, Dead Space’s monsters, the necromorphs, are scary creatures. Twisted, mutilated human bodies are frightening things, especially how relentless they are and how unnaturally they are able to move. The dark claustrophobic environments combined with some unknown horrifying monsters led to Dead Space being a real horror game, even if the focus was to dismember these nameless horrors. The reason that it was scary was that you were dropped into a horrifying situations with no real idea of what was going on. As you progressed through the game and learned more of the truth, things became less interesting.

Nameless monster foreplay is the scariest thing of all.

It would be hard to really call Dead Space 2 a horror game. Yes the creatures were the same horrific necromorphs and the setting was just as dark, but action really jumped to the centre. The game was sped up, and, truthfully, there was nothing left in the plot to wrap up. That was the biggest obstacle. You find out pretty much everything about the necromorphs in the first game and there wasn’t really any mystery this time around. The Alien movie series had the same problem. The creature was an unknown quantity in the first one, which makes it scary. However, the action-based approach of the second soured any chance of the creature being scary ever again. That doesn’t mean that the second Dead Space or Alien movie weren’t great, but they sabotage the horror aspect that the series was founded on. Its fine to become an action series, but don’t pretend you are anything else.

Clubbing babies isn’t scary guys. 

It is generally accepted that the unseen horror is the most scary. That is why the Blair Witch Project did so well. When the audience has to imagine what the creature looks like, the results are always far more terrifying than simply shoving the monster in front of the camera. Yes, Jason Voorhees running at you would be scary in real life, but lets face facts, that kind of horror movie is more fun than fright. Most video games have a hard time with this as showing the creature is pretty important. Therefore, many games simply use the trope of not understanding the horror. Dead Space 1 used this, Resident Evil 1 used this, and Silent Hill continues to use this. The idea is that a creature can be more terrifying if you don’t understand it. A killer with thoughts and motivations is less scary than some unknown evil acting for some unknown reason. Now that we know everything about the necromorphs, it is very hard to be frightened by them.

Trust me, this wound’t be scarier with rubber masks.

Dead Space 3 adds co-op to the game. This may be great for an action-based shooter, but it is total death for a horror game. How is it possible to be scared when there is either a.) some obnoxious person with an internet connection (or friend, people have those right?); or b.) an obnoxious and incompetent AI. In the best case scenario, you have someone or something that can totally take care of themselves and you don’t really need to worry about any enemies. In the worst case scenario, you have someone making racist jokes or a useless AI running into walls and out of ammo. It is a lose-lose situation for horror. The developers have tried to calm the storm by saying that your co-op partner won’t be a hanger on and will be a fully fleshed out character. This is missing the point so much. The problem isn’t that the character isn’t good. The problem is that you can’t be scared with your buddy/useless partner.

This game is only one good character away from being the scariest thing on the planet.

The environments have also been heavily criticized as being too open and too reminiscent of Lost Planet, what with the ice world and all. Daylight, and big environments are a lot harder to scare people with than claustrophobic, dark environments. Look at Resident Evil 5. Most of the game is in the light and there isn’t a single moment that even comes close to being scary. The developers have said that there will be optional areas to explore in space that will be a return to the claustrophobic dark style of the originals. This is a great idea from a gameplay perspective. Everyone loves extra areas and loot, but it is terrible for a horror game. How can you feel desperation when you are taking the time to explore random areas for loot?

Terrifying or shooting gallery?

Dead Space 3 may end up being a great game. I do not deny this fact. I love the idea of optional areas,  even though I hate the idea of co-op. What I am saying is that Dead Space has lost its way. The series cannot claim to be a horror series anymore. I’ve seen Pokemon games with better presented horror than Dead Space 2, and 3 looks like it will be escalating the process. Why is it that in order to be popular, all horror games must abandon their roots a la Resident Evil? Why is it that with all the money thrown at these games, a free game like Slender is the scariest thing to come out in the industry in years? Yes I know the economics of the video game industry, but ending a post with questions sounds more ominous, and that is what its all about.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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