Comments on Dead Space

September 21st, 2010

Originally I bought Dead Space: Extraction because I’m a fan of on-rails shooters, and in this regard Extraction didn’t disappoint. Now, my brother already had bought the original Dead Space a few years ago, and although originally apprehensive to play it, I figured that if I rent the animated movie, Downfall, I could critique the franchise as a trans-media franchise (2 games, a comic and an animated movie) in succession to another article which you might hear about soon. Then I realised that Downfall was rubbish, mangled the continuity of the four “prequels” (there’s a new book, Martyr too) and in some cases broke it. In which case, it wouldn’t be worth the effort of picking up the pieces. (And when a supposed trans-media property breaks narrative, it’s obvious that the production is nothing more than a cash grab anyways). Finally, I played the original Dead Space, jotting down loads of notes as I went. After I completed the game, I did some research to see what others had written and then, alas, the nail in the coffin: Dan Whitehead’s review for Eurogamer.

Whitehead’s review invariably comments on every single criticism I’d scribbled down in the same OpenOffice document I’m writing in now, but, naturally, better written than anything I could muster. I love Eurogamer and their analytical and thoughtfully-worded reviews, but this one takes the crown as my favourite. Considering that everything I wanted to say has already been said, there’s little merit in me covering Dead Space, and since the continuity is such a mess I’ve given up on that too. There are a few comments that I’d like to add in my own words however:

The bogeyman confrontations in Dead Space are so rushed in order to catch you unaware that the 3rd person gameplay is lacking any dimension beyond the knee-jerk reaction. Due to this, there isn’t wide enough a window in the moments to drive in new and interesting permutations to the combat. Shortly after the player tires of the same jack-in-the-box combat (1/3 of the way through the game, for me personally), the pace just shuts down. Since too much of Dead Space hinges on this thin, shock ’em rock ’em style of over-the-shoulder shooting, the game forfeits itself to boredom very quickly. Furthermore, the puzzles, narrative, boss battles and set pieces are all too simplistic to act as a saving grace, let alone a relief.

This is particularly evident as the game Dead Space attempts to mimmic (ie. Resident Evil 4) managed to continually keep the player engaged in its over-the-shoulder combat for an extended play time. It’s all about nuance in enemy variety which challenges the player in new and interesting ways, something Dead Space‘s blend of horror has no room for.

The audio logs in the game try their best to shock you with their highly-produced screams and industrial noises, but it all just becomes offensive in the end since none of the horrors you face as a player are ever so menacing.

I do like the node upgrade system though since I managed to sell off most of my ammo and health and use the cash to buy nodes, lowering my munitions and playing the game as a real survival horror.

Having played Extraction though, I already knew how to dismember the majority of enemies which aided in me gaining so many power nodes and almost maxing out my gear.

On the other hand, the repetition caused by the limited variety of space monsters also made the process of saving ammo to sell off considerably easier.

How is it possible for flies to exist in space? *slaps forehead*

The Ripper really does allow the player to treat the bloody dismemberment almost like sculpturing which itself is oddly enjoyable. If you become seasoned enough with this weapon you can use fewer saw blades to slice up the aliens and ultimate save money for your wares. This sort of nuance makes it one of the better weapons in the game.

Watching the developer logs on Dead Space, I really disparage Visceral’s ethos for development.

There’s a lot of clever directional markers which work to decompress the densely detailed world for the player. The red and green neon signs, the signage, the PA voiceover, the way chapters follow a similar pacing structure, the lightening and the way points which can be projected onto the floor.

The graphic artists are obviously fans of the Visitor font.

Other readings

Dead Space Wiki

Dead Space: The Shock Doctrine Goes Interplanetary