Brain Dead Space

When I was a kid some developer realized that with the advent of the 2x CD-ROM drive you could stream really tiny, really crappy video off the CD onto a PC. This lead to an explosion of universally-terrible “interactive movie” games like The Journeyman Project and Spaceship Warlock. Though the genre probably contributed to the advent of good games like The 7th Guest, Phantasmagoria, and Myst, there were a couple of years where the genre was entirely crap. One of these games was called The C.H.A.O.S. Continuum, and it was yet another click-randomly-until-you-win type of game. I saw an awesome, one line review for The C.H.A.O.S. Continuum at the time that simply read, “Great graphics, but where’s the game?”

Dead Space isn’t that bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it reminds me of The C.H.A.O.S. Continuum. The production value for Dead Space is off the charts, the game play is fun, and there are some neat innovations to be found in the game. It’s just that the whole thing is so slick that you can pretty much zone out and play it through without the need to think anything through. It makes sense to me that the next Dead Space game will be an on-rails shooter; the first sort of felt like that to me as well.

Dead Space is a good game, but it’s not a fantastic game. At least, I don’t think so. You can read about it in my full review.

13 thoughts on “Brain Dead Space

  1. I started playing Dead Space like 2 month ago, didn´t yet finish it and all along i´ve been surprised/worried that I couldn´t get interested in the game and found it hard to even pay attention to what i was doing in the game while playing…After reading your review i have a clearer idea why.

    All the best to you.

  2. Dead Space is the worst example of what something can be: just plain mediocre. It doesn’t stir the mind or the brain, for better or worse. We are left feeling the same as we did before even beginning to play the game. Yeah its a disappointment as well but the most damaging thing I was left with was that game never arose to be anything more than what it was, and it seemed to never tried to. Yes, the graphics and sound design are great but it takes way more then that.

  3. The Journeyman Project isn’t thaaaaat bad. I actually enjoyed it. But then again, it was awhile ago when I played it.

  4. I loved Journeyman Project… Especially the first and second ones, because you could actually die.

    I wasn’t a big fan of part 3, because there were no death scenes… It made you feel that you could do no wrong, so there was no sense of urgency or suspense.

    But I wouldn’t call JP “universally” bad. Maybe you didn’t enjoy them, but I was totally immersed. I can still whistle the theme song to this day, and I played it about a DECADE ago! 🙂

  5. Ok, I admit that the Journeyman Project was probably the top of the pile when it came to interactive movie games. But the genre as a whole was really, really bad. It was a cash cow that a hundred companies jumped on to try to make a quick buck. Does anybody remember shlock like The Daedalus Encounter? That was the game where it was like, “hey we’re an interactive movie game starring Tia Carrere about a space marine played by Tia Carrere who is in space and did we mention Tia Carrere because she’s in it TIA CARRERE.” That was basically the whole game.

  6. Might it be that you have just seen the exact game (RE5), but it was new? Games get stale quickly, and playing through something that one so obviously thinks of as a copy is always more boring. Replayable games are exceptional in all ways and usually get matching reviews and sales.

    You even mention that you do not want to play games twice. Dead Space is well executed, but it is nothing new.

  7. > K

    No, I don’t think that was it. Dead Space actually does a lot of things I’ve never seen anywhere else–the sound system in particular stands out. And I played most of Dead Space before RE5 came out, so that’s not the primary point of comparison. I don’t generally need “new” experiences when I play games; I’m happy to play old games that have already been copied 1000 times if the game is good or has something to teach.

    With Dead Space, the game is ok but there just wasn’t any need to think about the game play. That sort of ruined it for me.

  8. It really seems to be about the scenario. In your review, you point out convincingly how Dead Space is “RE4 in space”. And guess what: I didn’t like RE4 at all (this probably disqualifies me already in the eyes of many), for the same reasons you list for not enjoying Dead Space.

    “The game play is repetitive”: Repetitiveness seems to be the point of criticism that is always used when people don’t seem to know why they really don’t like a game (as you admit yourself). Which video game is NOT repetitive? In every video game, you do the same things over and over. Still, some of them are great and others not so great.

    “The player is always in control”: while this seems to be an interesting point of criticism (I can imagine not being in full control can add to a horror experience), the examples you list do not seem to back it up: “the player is a badass and pops a cap in everything that moves” is true for almost any shooter, including RE4, “he has support from external team members who are safe” I don’t agree with because 1) they don’t really help you, just tell you where to go next and 2) I actually never thought they were safe!; “the game is incredibly linear”: while non-linearity can add to replay value and the overall experience, there are so many great games out there which are linear and nobody minds. But I agree, rewarding exploration would add to the Dead Space experience!

    “The plot is under-developed and predictable”: is hard to argue with because plot-predictability is obviously very subjective and depends on how “well-read” you are in the b-movie department, but I must admit, I liked the story and whas actually surprised by the plot-twist at the end.

    “The characters are paper-thin”: I wonder how far this criticsm really carries in video games; in movies, true, because you just sit there and watch and at a certain point ask yourself why you keep watching, but in games, you have something to do. In a sense, YOU are always the protagonist and create your own perspective on the environment; too much character can actually be counter-productive for the experience (e.g. GTA4, where what you do playing the game is so at odds with how the protagonist is presented in cut-scenes). And not knowing much about the other team members also adds to the horror scenario, I think, because you never know if there’s a traitor and who.

    I hope this didn’t come across aggressively, just trying to respond to your criticism. I obviously enjoy the game (and your website!). 😉

  9. > Rocco

    Well, it’s all subjective of course, but I think that maybe source of our differing opinions is what we expect Dead Space to be. I’m reviewing it on its merits as a horror game first and foremost; it plays the action role quite well, but per the title of this site I’m interested in how good a horror game it is. In that respect, the point about player control is paramount.

    Most horror games do not star bad-ass players; even in the Resident Evil series where the characters are all tough, ammo and save rationing (as well as giant, oversized enemies) are used to put the player in a vulnerable position.

    But more importantly, the player never feels out of control, which I would argue is one of the key requirements for an effective horror game. Always knowing where to go (and having a little helpful arrow to guide you) is great for game usability but it effectively removes exploration as a game mechanic. Not that exploration would matter much anyway; the game is laid out in straight lines, with objective A spatially organized before B and C. This isn’t a bad thing for a shooter (see Gears of War et al for similarities) but I think it removes a feeling of tension from a horror game. Compare the level layout to that of Resident Evil or Silent Hill, where the space is two- and three-dimensional and objectives are interdependent but not order dependent.

    As for the game being repetitive, I really thought that it was. Repetition isn’t in-and-of-itself a bad thing, and it’s true that all games require repetition. But the game play in the first hour of Dead Space is the same as the fourth hour and it stays pretty much the same from there on out until the end. All the bosses are killed the same way, I didn’t have any need to use anything other than the first four weapons that Isaac encounters, and the four or five monster types remain the same throughout the game (though I guess they introduce the “dark” versions about half way through). It’s not that any of these elements are inherently flawed–they are not. It’s just that they are way less interesting on hour 10 than they were in hour 1. Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun covers this territory extremely well; he argues (correctly, I believe) that “fun” is pattern matching but once the pattern becomes routine we stop having fun. That’s what happened to me in Dead Space, which was sort of surprising. Most of the games I play for this site can’t muster the depth or competence of Dead Space’s game play, but they are better at keeping the game fresh over the long term.

    As for the plot and the characters, they just did nothing for me. Isaac being the strong silent type is ok, I guess (it’s not particularly uncommon, though I don’t like it much), but the other characters are absolutely lacking in depth. The only moment where I felt like they might make them interesting is when Kendra mentions seeing her brother, but no, there’s no extrapolation and no depth to be had here. You could replace those characters with anybody else or cut them out completely and the game would not really change.

    So yeah, it’s all subjective. And Dead Space is a weird case. Usually games fall down on the implementation side rather than the vision side, but I think Dead Space is the reverse.

    To be honest, Dead Space was my personal favorite game of 2008. Not only as a horror game, also compared to all games that were released that year. I admit that the gameplay isnt that new, that the charakters are highly underdeveloped and that there is a bit too much action for an horror game. But what really, really creeped me out all the time during the game were the enviroments.

    For me the locations are one of the most important elements in a horror game. Thats why I am bored to death in the most Resident Evil titles, while games like Silent Hill or Penumbra manage to creep me out. It was the same with Dead Space: The spaceship with its large mechanical architecture, long hallways, artifical lights, big machines and sharp metallic objects is the last place I would like to be.

    I am sure there will be a sequel (not talking about the Wii-spinoff) and for that I also wish that they will do a few things better, especially in the story. But in the end the game worked for me. It`s like humor: Not everyone laughs about the same jokes. So not everyone is afraid of the same things in horror games 😉

  11. Dead Space was also my favorite game of 2008. In fact, it’s still my favorite next gen game (yes, even after having bought RE5).

    While I think the Dead Space game was just awesome, and it’s actually the only game in quite a long time that I enjoyed enough to play through a second time, I agree that it’s not that great as a standalone game. I mean, the control was excellent, and it executed all of the ideas that it “borrowed” from other games and movies very well, but it was never all that original.

    What I’m getting at is that, IMO, Dead Space is similar to the .hack RPG series; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you watch the Dead Space: Downfall movie, and read the comics (or watch the animated digital comics), the overall story increases ten fold. Having seen all of that while waiting for the game, I have a feeling that that’s a large reason why I enjoyed the game more than you did, Chris.

    In fact, it kind of falls into the area defined here (especially in regards to what happened on the ship and planet prior to the game):

    I have a feeling that it’ll be just as bad, if not worse, for the wii owners when Dead Space: Extraction comes out.

  12. I loved Dead Space for what it was. RE4 2.0 whereas RE5 looks like a step back compared to Dead Space in Mechanics (WTB move and shoot.)

    Anyway I kept up to date all about the game and how it looked like ALIENS + The THING = AWESOME. I watched the animated movie I saw the pre-gameplay and everything that has to do with the game. What killed it? Over exposure. Yep. I was a pro in the game before I laid hands on it. I knew how to shoot, where to go, how to buy/sell and just own face. I knew the enemies (too few types of them I say) and in the end the “scary/horror” factor wore off after the third hour into the game.

    At least in RE series you had character in the characters (yes even with the terra-bad voice acting) they had character and were not silent cut and paste replacements.

    RE4 however, not scary, period. I got scared once and only once (the merc who was on fire and BURST out of a fridge but that too was just a SURPRISE scare) But RE4 pretty much dropped the horror anyway. Dead Space was creepy, scary and amazing with it’s sounds, but it dies off when you can’t relate with the characters and when you’re badass enough to know WHEN a monster appears it was too cliche, too predictable too…lame. I love the game I do but I found myself putting it off just because it wasn’t interesting anymore. It loss it’s glossy shine.

    I agree with Chris, in RE or SH the puzzles were independent from each other but lead to the next event. Then again the game was still linear cause you had to get Key A to Door A after going to door C with a GEM to unlock Door D and so on, it had backtracking that lead you to believe you had the ability to explore a lot. Dead Space was just…go here and fix it. Oh noes this thing broke here go there and fix it, (kill stuff) oh yeah it’s your wife..oh no she went away okay go fix something else. The repetitiveness is just a killer with no story even with all the exposure I got I pretty much knew the story and the ending wasn’t that surprising, just a little.

    To note yes all games have to have repetition. But not all forms of repetition are ‘fun’. Backtracking is a bitch but it keeps you on your toes with puzzles in RE or SH. But say like Assassin’s Creed, dear god that was horrible even with character in the players the repetition was so blatant obvious and everything LOOKED the same it felt like no progress was getting done, like in Dead Space.

    I beat the game, and had my fun but by the end of it I never felt like continuing even on a harder difficulty (I’ve died a lot in the game but when I know everything about it a second play through doesn’t grant a lot of reward like playing a RE title.

  13. Enjoying all the commentary on Dead Space. Technically I have enjoyed it more than RE4, but I have to say that my effort to finish Dead Space has been slower than molasses. I think one of the key problems is a lack of empathy for both the main character and the side characters….I simply don’t find enough information about these characters to “feel” for them, and it ends up feeling like a gloriously detailed shooter, ala Doom 3, instead.

Comments are closed.