I’m playing through Dead Space at the moment. Well, more precisely, I’ve been playing through Dead Space for close to three months. I am having a lot of trouble staying interested in it. This is kind of surprising to me because there’s really nothing wrong with the game at all. It’s a model of modern game design, the technical execution is fantastic, and there’s even been significant thought put into the systems that are responsible for most of the horror content (the sound system is great). But for some reason I just can’t be bothered. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the game, and playing it is fun and all, it’s just sort of uninspiring for some reason.
Sometimes, a game comes along that is fatally flawed in a certain way but also has a spark of brilliance. Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit) was like that for me. The game had a vision, and it was pretty well executed, but at the end it totally fell apart. But the vision alone carried the entire experience; even though the last third or so was pretty shoddy compared to the initial experience, I ended up really liking the game. Hellnight is a similar story: the graphics are bad, the controls are dated, the collision detection is wonky, and yet the whole thing is held together by a few genius design choices.
Dead Space feels like the exact opposite of that phenomenon. There’s nothing wrong with it–nothing at all. And yet, there’s no spark of brilliance either; it’s very, very well executed, but ultimately fairly routine. It’s even pretty innovative for this kind of game, and yet the innovations, while good, are all minor improvements over a well-defined formula. There has yet to be a moment where I see the hand of a designer with a complete vision of the experience moving behind the scenes. Dead Space is really slick, but it feels like it was built by robots who were programmed to know the core features of all horror games. There’s just no character to the game.
I’m not finished with Dead Space, so the game may yet prove me wrong (that’s certainly happened a few times before). I will hopefully finish it off in the next week or two, at which point I will have to figure out a way to write a review for a game that is perfectly executed and yet somehow lifeless.