In the last few days, I've spent a lot of time with two games, System Shock 2 and Dead Space 3. The former recently came out on Good Old Games, and I highly recommend it- the hype is well deserved-but what caught me by surprise is how well it holds up. So much so that playing Dead Space is... well, disappointing.
I'm a big fan of Visceral's Survival Horror/ Action franchise. One of the many noted flaws this time around was that the game isn't very scary. Not that you could call the first game terrifying, but you could cut the tension with a knife. The second has it's moments as well, but the third is rather calm in comparison. It mostly me dodge rolling away from hits and sitting in a corner with an overpowered weapon, just chewing away at limbs. Maybe it was the overall design philosophy, or trying to reach new markets? Either way, I don't know what happened along the way to making DS3, but I wish it didn't happen.
It's when I opened up System Shock for the very first time did I realize how far Dead Space had fallen.
Waking up a few minutes in, you're alone with nothing but a strange transmission telling you to move it, before you get sucked into the voids of space. You search around for something to break the scrap blocking your way, finding a bloody wrench next to a corpse...
System Shock 2 came out in 1999, and my spine is still tingly from a few hours ago.
So how can a game with terrible textures, a sweet trance soundtrack, and odd controls still freak me out? And how can Dead Space, in it's piles delicious eviscerated Nechromorphs lull me to sleep? Dead Space is a product now.
We should just turn around.
So I know that video games are products usually meant to be sold. They're products of entertainment. But that doesn't mean they don't have heart. That's certainly an abstract idea: a group of people putting their life's blood into developing a game not many people played, possibly under the notion that it wouldn't sell too well in the first place.
I think it's why we have Bioshock. Irrational created it with the same ideas as SS2, the same soul. Even the plot is nearly identical. And for whatever reason, Bioshock is just as tense as it's predecessor...because it was made with love.
I know Visceral wanted Dead Space to work. No developer wants their game to fail, but I think it was doomed from the start if they didn't put everything they had into it. You're coming into the third game, nearing the end of Isaac's harrowing journey, jumping off into unknown waters. Where do you go from there? I'm sure it was intimidating. Maybe so much that they didn't even jump. They instead, backed away.
I don't know how games are made, but I like to think I'm savvy enough to "feel" games when I play them. To connect to those many people who created the thing on my monitor. Atmosphere builds when I know I'm falling right into the hands of those people, and it's an amazing feeling.
I never feel that when playing Dead Space 3. It's cold, just like the space Isaac flies in, collecting 3 ship parts to elongate the game. I wonder if a new project slammed itself down on Visceral's desk? One that took away the attention of their latest game. Maybe it was EA with a bullwhip. I don't know. But for now, I think I'll keep searching for a way out on the Van Braun.