Dead… Space?

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.

22 thoughts on “Dead… Space?

  1. I’m currently playing through Dead Space (halfway through Chapter 11), I’m still at that point where I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with you.

    On the one hand, the game is superbly done. The graphics look great…but moreso than that the game has a certain gothic stylistic charm that it remains faithful to while still making each area distinct. The colors are perhaps at bit mute…but this makes those shining bright and colorful ammo containers, schematics, and logs all that much more enjoyable to find.

    Even some of the imperfections (the camera’s slow panning speed and

    The one thing that I’m mainly disappointed with is the current lack of difficulty. The atmospheric tension writes a check that the enemies have a hard time cashing when faced with my line gun…which has one well placed shot equating to severed limbs flying everywhere. I should note though, I haven’t played the game on Impossible yet, so maybe that will change (I just wish it wasn’t only available after you’d already played through the game).

    I understand they tried to make Isaac into “not a badass Space Marine” and go for making him a vulnerable engineer…but man he sure does feel like a badass Space Marine towards the end.

    But this does say something about how well the atmosphere and tone of the game are projected onto the player. Despite the fact that I’m generally finding myself with a surplus of health and ammo, I still manage to feel scared and unsafe almost the entire time.

    The sound design is simply fantastic and I could write ten more paragraphs about it, but this post is getting long enough as it is.

    I think the reason that Dead Space feels soulless is due to the fact that it is highly derivative and to those who are more exposed to the horror scene (both video games and film) might find the game not exactly original. That, and sometimes I feel like this whole “strategic dismemberment” business isn’t as much of a huge deal as the devs would like to have hoped. It’s a neat idea…but not enough to make the game wholely original on its own.

    That said, as someone who adored movies such as The Thing, Alien, and Event Horizon as a kid, Dead Space gives me an almost nostalgic rush. I personally love the game, but I understand why others don’t.

    I’m hopeful that Dead Space 2 might be a more “fresh” iteration. It certainly has the potential.

  2. I only played the demo, but from that I felt like something was going to be missing from the game.
    Although satisfying in most ways, it lacked anything that made it special, it lacked character.

  3. The main problem for this game is that they blow all the best scares in the first 3 chapters. After that, the game has nothing else to offer but the same repeated shock tactics. The story was so vague too, allowing for plot holes everywhere. Part of the problem was that they took the multimedia route with it. Honestly, if it’s strong enough to be played out in a game, leave it in there.

    Remember when I said games developers know how to emulate films but not the motives behind their inspirations? Well, this is definately one of those simulacrum games that frustrates me.

  4. I have to say I agree with Chris and I think Townsend sums it up the best. The game has a great atmosphere to begin with and the elevator scene is great but soon after I found the game to be extremely monotonous.

    The initial promise for the game was that there would be few enemies and the horror elements would be focused on. After the first 3mins you’ve already seen about 50 enemies already and to add to that every monster on the floor you can guarantee is going to jump out at you.

    One thing I must add is that the protagonist has very little back story (from what I saw, I’m yet to finished it) and has no personality. I.e. at the start, the ship crashes and the main characters sits like he is watching a B grade movie.

    This is another American shock horror game that didn’t do much for me personally. I think most people who consider this game a brilliant survival horror have not played Silent Hill or Siren (I know I only mention similar games but these are by far my favorite).

  5. Actually the game gets worse in later levels: too much ammo and the most powerful weapons eliminate the need of any kind of tactics and every sense of fear.

    Another room full of xenomorphs? Meh. I’ll cut through them with my fully upgraded assault rifle …

    The character design turned me off a bit. Issac feels a little too generic for me although the health meter on his suit was a neat idea. The suit upgrades didn’t feel badass enough.

    The gameplay was strong though. I thought making headshots unrewarding and making players want to go for the limbs made regular combat interesting for the most part.

    The story was a bit weak as well. Not bad at first, but it got worse as the game went on, especially with all the monologues behind glass later in the game. It never really developed although the very end was cool.

    Overall I thought it did a good job freaking me out and giving me some sweet action. Not a perfect game, but definitely worth playing and finishing I think. The end boss was pretty sweet as far as end bosses go.

  7. > Jessie

    Yeah, see, that’s the thing–the gameplay is pretty solid! As an action game, it’s not bad at all. I also like the life bar on the back and the projected HUD interface. The monsters are a little generic for me but they look very nice.

    But it’s just like, there’s no soul. All the parts are there but the game feels like only their sum–no extra specter of something inspired looming behind the seams.

    I’ll finish it. It’s not unfun or anything, and I don’t generally find it frustrating. It just seems… I dunno. Soulless.

    PS: How’s MS? Congrats on getting the zombies into WaW.

  8. GOod point – the strange thing is that this article could have been written word for word about my sentiments to Bioshock. While Bioshock is not primarily a horror game, it certainly has some strong horro elements in it.

    However the game is good, there are some great set pieces, great graphics and sound and even a great atmosphere, but it is really uninspiring.

    With Bioshock, I actually think that the problem is that the game feels like a series of set pieces, rather than a flowing game. This feeling is heightened by the save game mechanic (you can die, but its of no consequence) and though there are scares, I dont feel they are part of the overall scope of the game.

    The most obvious comparison I can make is that if you think of “haunting ground” which is also a flawed game, the horror and tension is maintained by the scares being fundamental to the game play and story, as opposed to being “stuck on” to it.

    Dead space is a game I have wanted to play – but I dont want to play another Bioshock style game.

  9. dead space gr8 game ever i have finished dead space 4 month ago gr8 feeling. currently i have finished resident evil5
    too short game i have beat only single day
    only 10 hours game play.re5 no fear my dear.re5 as same as re4.

    dead space zero G is fresh idea

    dead space zero G amassing idea i am too enjoying zero G

    re5 9/10
    ds 10/10

  10. I’d finished the game 4 months ago , too.

    The navigation system pisses me off.
    Sure , if i don’t click the analog it won’t show me the way but the 3D map didn’t help much.

    Sometimes I like getting lost in my survival horror games and chking the map up over and over.That way , i get more satisfaction when finding the right path.

  11. I greatly enjoyed this game for the first 5-6 chapters. I love the lack of HUD and the sound is great (it helps that I got a sound system right before playing the game too).

    My reason for not enjoying the latter half of the game is this. the first time I died, and realized that there is little to no punishment for death in this game, I became very apathetic towards the whole thing.

    Being a horror gamer for quite a while, I think I’m just used to limited saves/save points and huge repercussions for failing to ration health/ammo. Perhaps this is why I was so turned off by no punishment.

  12. Chris, your thoughts of the game pretty much mirror mine exactly.

    I don’t really get it either, the game looks good, plays good, has interesting elements like zero-gravity (not the first game to have it, but still one of relatively few).

    Still, I didn’t feel that certain spark I usually do with horror games. Just like you said, it’s like the developers didn’t put any personality in and I guess one reason would be the characters. Isaac was boring and you didn’t really feel a connection to him. The other two (whose names I can barely remember) didn’t exactly bring much to the table either.

    I guess I would describe it as System Shock 2 minus the tension, mixed with Resident Evil 4 minus a witty character.

    Anyway, enough with the rant.

  13. I thought Dead Space was a good game technically… but the rest was practically mediocre. I was highly disappointed but I’ve should have expected it to be mediocre, considering EA’S lingering footprints all over the game.

  14. It’s odd because I couldn’t help but think that game play as awesome (for action), graphics wonderful. But there was no Mr. Bates (from Clock Tower 2). Meaning, there was no quirkiness or character to Dead Space. I’m playing it and thinking about CT2– this does not leave me with the best impression. I know CT2 was a horribly executed game, but a male split personality on the female main character, who kicks down a possessed 9 year old? Having to run back to the same hallway 30 times, because it’s the only place you can kill a zombie (remember the hospital?). And having to figure out how to advance the story line? OH! Right! So DON’T go into the bedroom, and DO examine that samurai statute, and don’t forget to turn on the light, or else your character will pretend like she can’t see it.

    Dead Space is a wonder, on the technical side. It’s even fun for an ACTION game. But it’s bland– a blank face. Whatevs, I’ll take Mr. Bates and aggravation over this any day. Also Enemy Zero. Now THAT was a scary space game.

  15. At least Twinkle Twinkle Little Star part was brilliant ( and the opening )

    too bad there’s no spooky children to accompany it.

  16. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin has all of these problems; precisely the ones you mentioned about Dead Space, in fact. :C

    The execution is flawless, but the the overall game felt…soulless.

    There were some good chances for horror elements in the game to really shine- such as walk-in cut-scene sequences, which transformed a level area in real-time. Or beautiful (though fairly linear) areas, mid-level, that would have allowed for engaging boss-fights.
    But somehow, the game manages to bury all its potential in mediocrity.

    The enemy AI, while technically sound, is rather stupid and easy to defeat.
    Cues for in-game sequences (the sighting of the game’s main antagonist- named “Alma”) triggered too fast, and could be easily missed. And while the tasks in the game were somewhat intuitive to accomplish, they felt predictable and tried. (Space corridor level, sewer-level, and gun-turret instance all made an appearance)

    It was a real shame, since I was looking forward to playing both FEAR 2 and Dead Space.

  17. I’ve completed the game about half a year ago. And one thing that sucked in the game at least to me: Tram system. I mean, everytime you have to go to the SAME place to finish every single level (except for the last one). This game is really too repetitive. Resident Evil 4 was way better. C’mon, people, Dead Space isn’t THAT GOOD game

  18. That’s probably the best way to summerize it. It’s a fantastic execution and I really want to enjoy it, but I can’t find the drive to finish it.

    Computer Game development is a two-edged sword. It can offer great escapism through it’s mind-boggling presentations. But since the creation of that presentation involves lots of logic crunching, it runs the risk of deluting the organic creativity that makes something unique and memoriable.

    Too many games use an equation and get trapped into the wrong type of pattern — a technical one with checkmarks.

    Smaller teams (or strong, smaller lead teams, with less publishing and marketing direction) have a higher chance of maintaining the unique emotional flavor of the experience.

    I’m waiting for the day that technology expectations plateau, become more user-friendly, and inexpensive content libraries are abundant. Only then will we see a big burst in creativity and satisfaction in larger-than-life games.


  19. This game collect the spiritual legacy of the old good EA game “Project Firestart” for Commodore 64!!! Same atmosphere, many ideas in common… I felt me younger as I played Dead Space! 😀

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