Dead Space Started Off As Horror, But Now It's So Much More

I beat Dead Space 1.

I nearly beat Dead Space 2, but I got so frustrated with one section near the end in which I was trapped in a room with regenerating Necromorphs that I shelved it. (This was after the amazing "needle/eye" bit.)

I come from a long history of loving sci fi, in particular, scary, gritty sci fi. Growing up I was more about "Aliens" than "Star Wars." "Event Horizon," as flawed as it was, still inspired a 20-something Cliff to implement similar scare gags in Unreal 1. "Sunshine" included, I love movies in which man explores space with his best intentions and all Hell breaks loose.

I'm quite familiar with the controversy over Dead Space 3 and the issue of horror versus action. Generally speaking, the scarier a game is the less empowered a player feels. Controls are often clunky on purpose, and the pacing is quite different from an action movie. It feels as if developer Visceral consciously gravitated the franchise more towards the "action" elements over the "suspense/horror" ones, and I'm quite okay with that. We look at the target audience for your average console game and it's often a cocky young male who doesn't want to be scared. Unfortunately, he's the guy who wants to get in and "fuck shit up."

Is it possible to blend the two? Yes, I do think it is, and those of you who have read my interviews in which I talk about how you could do that in Resident Evil have seen the thoughts. (Random idea 1: Alternate between two storylines, one is a first responder and the other is a terrified child.) Horror is HARD, and suspense is even HARDER. It requires a true director's hand. A nudge this way and a moment plays as comedic, a nudge too far the other way and it's not scary at all. To compound it all, making a scary moment is kind of like trying to tickle yourself. You think it's scary, but you're never sure until you test it on someone who has NEVER SEEN THE MOMENT.

(This is why James Wan is evolving into a great filmmaker. Apart from the slightly over the top 3rd act there are scares in his "Insidious" that work amazingly well.)

Regardless, I'm currently burning through the campaign of DS3 with my wife in co-op and it's still quite a bit of fun. The dynamic of using stasis and limb shooting in a co-op environment works surprisingly well. If there are surprises and scares to be had it's often the person who charges ahead LeeRoy Jenkins style who enjoys them. Grabbing a leg and impaling a foe is worth the effort, and it's gratifying.

I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around the weapon crafting and upgrading system, to be honest. Generating circuits, crafting them, etc… I could have used a bit more hand holding there. (The UI borders on comedic at times when you're starting a game, with ROTATING METAL PANELS OF STUFF FLYING AT YOU EVERYWHERE!)

Overall game pacing is something that's really hard to get right; it's something that a lead campaign designer or overall lead designer are responsible for and that pacing doesn't let down. The game builds to a crescendo of exciting moments (often with ships crashing) and then it takes its time before getting back into combat. The vistas and skyboxes are breathtaking, and the weapons generally feel good. (One of the issues with making sci-fi weaponry is that the guns don't always look like guns. I know the series was going for more of a "mining equipment" vibe but I often have a hard time figuring out which gun is which when they're icons.)

And yes, there's a part when the game briefly feels like Lost Planet, but it's a welcome change of pacing from dark space corridor after dark space corridor. One of my personal quibbles with the game is the lack of memorable locations. There are just so many corridors; there aren't a lot of areas that can be defined as "the room with the N in it."

Oh, and as a side note the parts when you're in space flying around in your suit are suspenseful but somehow peaceful, if that makes any sense.

At the end of the day this franchise feels like it's starting as a solo experience, a solitary and confined horror game, and now it's evolving into much more than that. You can either fight it or embrace it. I choose the latter, as at the end of the day it's FUN. (We're about 50% through…the giant drill bit section was a highlight.)

p.s. In the 60$ disc based market horror doesn't fly—it's the ultimate "Campaign Rental" that's played for 2 days and traded in and I'm sure EA knows this. When we're fully digital we'll see more true horror games coming back. (Look at Amnesia and Slenderman on PC.)


Cliff Bleszinski is a game industry veteran. He blogs on Tumblr and can be found on Twitter at @therealcliffyb.

Republished with permission.