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by Ethos

Dead Space vs Dead Space 2

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Alright! I’m off work, I don’t work tomorrow, I have a WORKING check card (i.e, I actually have access to my fucking money) and since approximately noon Thursday, I’ve been the proud owner of the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition. What does all this mean? It means we can start talking Dead Space.

But, while it may appear that I’ve been entirely unproductive thus far, that’s not quite true: over the last few days, I’ve played through the original Dead Space for a second time. Originally, I just wanted to start a PS3 file so that I could unlock the Plasma Cutter in Dead Space 2, but I ended up remembering how completely awesome the game was, and decided to play through the whole thing.

I defeated the final boss at about two in the morning on Thursday. And roughly thirteen hours later, I started Dead Space 2. So. Being in the process of playing the games back-to-back, how do they compare to eachother?

Dead Space: Two Years Later

Let’s talk about the original Dead Space. Yes, I know it’s over two years old at this point and the world is ready to move on to the much-hyped sequel. But the original Dead Space deserves at least a little attention – mostly because the game is still really, really good. That’s not to say that I expected a two-year old game to feel dated; I  just didn’t expect the experience to be as engaging a second time. It was – and possibly even more so.  I was thoroughly engaged yet again, for another death-dodging 12-hour romp (or creep, I should say) through the metallic, blood-stained hallways of the USG Ishimura. Even though I knew the mystery behind all the horrors around me, I was still more than happy to experience them again. And even though I’d played through it all before, the game still scared me on more than a few occasions.

Dead Space is a textbook example for building an immersive and palpable atmosphere within an interactive medium. It takes a few pages from BioShock, (as many games do nowadays) builds a similarly atmospheric experience and rounds it out with a more focused, in-depth narrative. As you should all well know, for me to compare a game with BioShock is an honor indeed. The concept behind Dead Space isn’t quite as original, or “intellectual,” shall we say, as the ideas behind BioShock’s narrative. But as a game – dare I say it – Dead Space might be even better. (And for what it’s worth, I can say with certainty that it’s miles better than BioShock 2.)

Honestly, it’s difficult to find issues with Dead Space. Writing, acting, combat, exploration, puzzle elements, graphical presentation, and sound design are practically flawless. There are, perhaps, some minor flaws with pacing and mission design at times – the primary annoyance is that you end up feeling like an errand boy, with disembodied voices directing your every move. Your every attempt to get off the ship is thwarted by some awful coincidence or catastrophy, and after a while it starts to wear rather thin as a plot device. It all culminates in the awfulness of Chapter 10, “End Of Days,” which sees Isaac running back and forth through a suspiciously small area and fighting way too many goddamned Necromorphs, all while – literally – searching for keycards. Come on. Really?

But aside from being an hour or so too long, Dead Space is a class act. And, as all who have finished it know, it begs a sequel. A sequel that I now own, and have played a bit of.

In Which I Describe the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition, Lament How Much it Cost, and Use Many Parentheses

Allow me to take a moment here to discuss the fact that I bought the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition. It comes with a PS3 port of Dead Space Extraction, (which, ironically, might convince me to invest in a Move)  a replica Plasma Cutter (which I have to admit is pretty cool, even if it isn’t life-sized) the original soundtrack (which I frankly doubt would be an enjoyable listen outside the context of the game) a “concept art lithograph” (which essentially looks like a Dead Space postcard) and a downloadable Zealot Force Gun and Suit (which I’ll probably be too lazy to ever download or use.) So, was it worth $80? (Almost $90 including tax, and almost $100 if you count the Subway sandwhich I bought while I was out.) Nah, probably not. I just wanted to buy a Collector’s Edition of something, because I’ve never done it before. It felt kinda good. Also, writing all those parenthetical statements amused me.

Dead Space 2: The First Three Hours, and How They Compare to the Original

Okay. It’s actually many hours later now. I’ve played more Dead Space 2. I’m roughly halfway through Chapter 4, and I’ve written down two full pages of notes and then some. (It’s something I tend to do.) So, I’m equipped to talk about it… a little bit, anyway.

Dead Space 2 is a similar, yet different beast. From the outset, it’s clear that Visceral had no intention of re-creating the original Dead Space in terms of atmosphere. Yes, it’s still creepy and unsettling in nature, environments are shadowy and blood-stained, lights flicker, there’s a bunch of unnerving shit written on the walls, and Necromorphs still like popping out of vents and ducts to scare the living fuck out of you. But it’s a few big things, and a variety of little things, that make Dead Space 2 stand apart from its predecessor.

I’ll go ahead and name the big big thing: location. In place of a claustrophobic spacecraft, Dead Space 2 is set in a massive space-station colony known as Sprawl. The atmospheric shift is notable. You’ll walk past windows and be treated to the sight of a massive, futuristic cityscape, complete with Star Wars-esque hovercrafts flying about. Inside, you’ll make your way through residential and commercial areas of the station, with futuristic schools, restaurants, and hobby-shops. At one point, I even found myself inside a child’s room – crude crayon drawings were taped to the walls, lullaby music was playing, and holographic ponies danced on the wall. Frankly it’s somewhat bizarre to see, particularly after having just completed the original Dead Space. But, it serves a purpose – children, like everyone else, are not spared the hideous effects of the Necromorph outbreak.

I’m not saying any of this is a bad thing. Like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 is a deeply atmospheric experience, and I’m totally into it after a few short hours. I’m merely noting the drastic differences, and how they affect the feel of the game.

Aside from the obvious shift in location, more subtle additions tend to alter the feel of the game. As promised, Dead Space 2 features more brutal, fast-paced combat. It also features a lot more ammo. A lot more. I’ve yet to even come close to running out. This may not be the case later in the game, but as of now, the resource-conservation aspect of gameplay is pretty much gone. It’s not gone entirely – med packs, for example, seem to be less plentiful. And while Stasis now regenerates slowly, it does take a good bit of time, meaning you still have to ration it wisely for individual battles. But, frankly, neither of these things are of much consequence when you’re free to pump as much ammo into an enemy as your heart desires.  Again: this could very well not be the case in another five or six hours. But it’s the case for now.

I’d be remiss, however, not to mention that combat in Dead Space 2 is still challenging and hectic. You will still fear for your life, and you will still die. By my experience, at least.

This article’s running a bit long, but before I conclude, I’ll touch on one final subject – a subject many might consider the “elephant in the room,” as it were – Isaac’s newfound vocality. To put it simply: I like it. I wasn’t sold when it was first revealed, because I always considered his silence as one of the primary components of the original games’ atmosphere. And I still think that – but it’s not a component of Dead Space 2’s atmosphere, and it doesn’t need to be. This is a different Isaac. He’s been through this shit before, he hasn’t been able to catch a break for over three years, he’s tired of it all, and he has some things to say about it. He doesn’t whine about how shitty his situation is or how terrified he feels. In fact, he’s sort of a defiant sonofabitch, which I like. I appreciate Isaac’s vocality in Dead Space 2 for the same reason I appreciated his silence in the first game: it contributes to the game’s intended atmospheric feel.

Also, I’d be remiss not to mention: occasionally our friend Isaac brings back the silent schtick, and that’s always satisfying to see. Sometimes, he’ll sit silently through a radio or video transmission, content simply to listen – suggesting that, perhaps, he’s just the silent type in general. Makes sense.

Pointless Internal Monologue

That was quite long. Hence why I decided to separate it into segments signified by BOLDED LETTERS. I almost considered breaking it into two articles, but then I realized that would be fairly pointless. Just like this paragraph.

Conclusion

Ahem. I will be playing more Dead Space 2 very soon, and I’ll probably write more about it too. Sound off below with questions, concerns, or opinions about the game if you’re playing it.

Limbo

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Still an awesome game

No, not talking about the game this time. I’m talking about this website, and the current state it happens to be in.

I’m here not to apologize, but to inform you all that things will be back on course in due time. We still fully plan to go through with the Best Riddlethos awards. So, if you were hoping you’d be spared them, I’m sorry to crush your dreams.

Ethan’s had a difficult past week, and I’ve been working a lot. And now I’m actually somewhat sick which is just… fantastic.

Ahem. In other news, I re-bought Dead Space for the PS3. Why? Not sure, I think partly because my friend has my Xbox 360 copy, and partly because I’m becoming like Ethos.

Oh, wait, I remember now. The Plasma Cutter. If you have a Dead Space save file, then you automatically get the Plasma Cutter in Dead Space 2. And while I completed the original Dead Space on 360, I fully intend to buy Dead Space 2 for PS3… soo… you can probably get the picture.

But man, I’ve been replaying Dead Space for the first time, and it’s still awesome. I can’t wait for 2.

Although this trailer, replete with Smashing Pumpkins, sorta rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Pumpkins, but uh… this trailer kinda makes the game look like Iron Man in Space.

That’s all for now. I hope the lot of you are enjoying your 2011 thus far.

Games where the Sun Don’t Shine – #1: Dead Space

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

“Games where the Sun Don’t Shine” is a completely random, arbitrary, and pointless list of games that give off a dark and/or depressing vibe. What better way, after all, to celebrate the season of Spring?

Dead Space

And here’s the big kahuna. Granted, I haven’t played many “scary” games in my life, but Dead Space is without question the most frightening interactive experience I’ve had. And when I say that, it’s a compliment.

Dead Space, to me, is kinda like what would happen if you took the Metroid Prime series and injected it with some first-rate horror elements. Like Metroid Prime, it maintains an masterfully oppressive, isolated sci-fi atmosphere. But while Metroid Prime’s intent is to convey a sort of haunting beauty through its world, the intent of Dead Space is to make you fear for your life at every corner, corridor, and elevator. And, it pulls this off with terrifying effectiveness. Graphical presentation, sound design, and the utter hopelessness of the premise itself combine to make this one game you’d be better off playing with company.

Oh, and just for consistency’s sake: the sun definitely does not shine in deep space.

Dead Space is the scariest game I’ve ever played by far, and one of the most atmospheric. Definitely an easy choice as my #1 pick.

And that concludes my list of Games where the Sun Don’t Shine. While I don’t expect you to feel enlightened, informed, or even entertained, it was definitely… a list. And for what it’s worth, I personally guarantee that each and every one of the games I’ve listed here are worth your time and money. That is, as long as you’re not looking for anything light-hearted. Check out Ethos’ Sunshine Games for that.

Sunday Soapbox: BioShock and the Death of the Cutscene

Monday, February 15th, 2010

BioShock1It’s not often that a game like BioShock comes around.

And odd thing to say, seeing that it “came around” some years ago. Right now, the gaming world is busy playing through and sizing up the long-anticipated sequel, BioShock 2. Anyone who’s read my two separate impressions of the game knows that, despite all my prior misgivings, I’m having a blast with it.

Playing BioShock 2 has made me realize what an influential game the first BioShock was. BioShock 2 doesn’t feel as fresh as the first game did, and here’s why: not only have I seen these gameplay mechanics and storytelling conventions in BioShock 1, but I’ve seen them in countless games since. I thought it before, and I’m almost sure of it now: BioShock may, in fact, be the Ocarina of Time of this generation.

Quite a bold statement, you say? Well, here’s another one for you: in this console generation, videogames have finally come unto their own as a legitimate and unique form of storytelling, and BioShock was one of the main proponents of this movement.

BioShock was one of the first games to effectively tell a deep, involving, and well-written story entirely devoid of non-interactive cutscenes. You’re never, ever taken out of the gameplay in BioShock – you’re in control the entire time. The plot is developed through dialog spoken during gameplay, as well as numerous “audio journals” scattered throughout the world.  Even during the game’s most pivotal moments – for example, the fated meeting with Andrew Ryan himself – you never left the world of the game in favor of a cinema.

As a result, BioShock was a very unique, immersive, and seamlessly story-driven experience. It was proof that games could tell stories – not movie scenes interspersed throughout gameplay segments, but games themselves.

Dead SpaceThe number of games that have adopted a similar or identical model of storytelling are numerous and obvious. Dead Space, for example, is almost identical in its storytelling: almost no cutscenes are utilized, all dialog is spoken in-game, and dozens of audio/video logs develop the game’s mysterious backstory. The seamlessness and consistency that comes with such a model allows developers to craft a more immersive, poignant atmosphere – can you imagine if Dead Space utilized traditional cutscenes to tell its story? Much like BioShock, Dead Space thrives on its constant, unsettling atmosphere – and being broken from such an atmosphere for the sake of watching a movie would cause the game as a whole to lose its frightening effectiveness.

It’s not only Dead Space, of course. Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted, Mass Effect 2, and perhaps even Modern Warfare can all be considered part of BioShock’s legacy in some way. In Arkham Asylum, how dull would it have been if we only ever heard Mark Hamill’s rendition of The Joker when he appeared in cutscenes? Listening to his jeering voice over the asylum’s intercoms was one of the most awesome things about that game.

And in Uncharted 2, what if you had simply watched a cutscene of Drake battling his way up that train? It must be noted that the Uncharted series still makes fairly liberal use of the non-interactive cutscene, but it combines them with fantastic sequences of interactive storytelling. (Incidentally, that’s one of the main reasons why Uncharted is so awesome.)

BayonettaThere’s nothing wrong with the traditional cutscene, of course. We’ve been watching them for years, and there’s no reason to entirely do away with them now. Games like Uncharted 2 show that there’s still a place for them in the current gaming landscape, but they are to be used sparingly. Take Bayonetta, as a bad example – well-done as the cutscenes were, many of them felt entirely out-of-place in this day and age. Why, exactly, do I need to watch a movie scene of Bayonetta and Jeanne dueling? Why can’t I just fight her myself?

In the game’s defense, you are indeed given the pleasure of fighting her yourself – but only after sitting through a lengthy and entirely superfluous cutscene.

Videogames are the art of interactivity, and to create an artful interactive experience, it’s crucial to achieve a certain level of immersion. Gameplay segments should never feel like obligatory hoop-jumps that connect non-interactive plot points. Rather, the player should feel that with every passing moment that they play, the story is advancing. The player should feel, quite literally, like they’re playing through a story – not as if they’re advancing through a level in order to get to the story.

The reason BioShock was and is such an amazing experience is because it’s not something that can be fully replicated through any other medium. The same story told through film wouldn’t even be comparable. It thrives on its atmosphere, and atmosphere in a videogame thrives on interactivity. Not every game needs to be BioShock, and not every game needs to tell its story through audio logs; however, games do need to remember that it’s not what a gamer sees, but what a gamer does that defines an experience.