Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today, Andy goes out on a limb to reexamine Dead Space.
There were 1,332 crew members on the USG Ishimura, but it took an unassuming engineer with a power tool to defeat the ungodly evil that devastated their ship. Isaac Clarke (see what they did there?) is the unlikely hero of Dead Space, an atmospheric space horror game that came out of nowhere at the end of 2008.
After losing contact with the Ishimura, a massive planet cracker mining ship, the owners send a small team—of which Clarke is a member—to find out what happened. When they get there the ship seems abandoned and its lights are mysteriously out, so they go aboard to investigate. Bad idea.
There s nothing that unique about Dead Space. Its mix of cold, industrial sci-fi and gruesome bio-horror has been done many times before, from Alien to System Shock. But it makes up for a lack of original ideas by just being really good.
Borrowing heavily from Shinji Mikami s peerless Resident Evil 4, it s an over-theshoulder shooter that blends slow, atmospheric horror with bloody action. You can trace almost every moment back to a film, but it s so fun, so atmospheric, and so well-designed that it doesn t matter. It s a loving homage to classic horror and sci-fi cinema.
Playing it now, seven years later, I m amazed at how good it looks. A few blurry textures and low-poly character models aside, the Ishimura is still a wonderfully atmospheric environment. It s a claustrophobic warren of oppressive metal corridors that owes a lot to Alien s USCSS Nostromo. The single setting is one of its greatest strengths, giving the developers the chance to really flesh it out. It feels like a real, lived-in place that was once teeming with people, which makes its current abandoned state even more eerie.
You move through different areas—engineering, medical, the crew quarters—and in this sense it s reminiscent of BioShock s Rapture, revealing more about the place and its former inhabitants as you delve deeper into it.
The Ishimura has a lot of dark secrets to be discovered, chiefly its ties to Unitology: a fairly obvious Scientology spoof that would come to form the backbone of the series mythology over the two sequels. There s a reason why the crew are all dead and the ship is swarming with monstrous creatures, and a desire to find out keeps you engaged.
The enemies, called necromorphs, are straight out of the Stan Winston book of creature design John Carpenter s brooding 80s horror classic The Thing is a clear inspiration. To design them, Visceral s artists studied photos of car crash victims and war casualties.
Compared to, say, the genuinely unsettling denizens of Silent Hill, they do look fairly ridiculous. They re bloody constructions of squished-together body parts that flail and screech as they predictably burst out of vents. But in the heat of the moment, with five of them bearing down on you, pincers swinging, they re an effective foe.
Dead Space isn t scary. It falls into the Resident Evil camp of horror games, with cheap jump scares and tension-building looming large in its vocabulary. It won t affect you on some deep, psychological level, and it won t tease out deep-seated primal fears. It s more like a ghost train, with people in white sheets popping up and going Boo! But that s fine, because the game has no pretensions otherwise. Never knowing when a necromorph is going to come bursting through a door or out of shadowy corner is what keeps the tension taut and constant.
To defeat these creatures, you have to take advantage of the game s strategic dismemberment gimmick. You can t kill a necromorph just by blasting at it with the game s array of deadly engineering tools—you have to sever its limbs.
The game teaches you this by having the words "CUT OFF THEIR LIMBS" scrawled on a wall in blood. Then it tells you in a tutorial. Then an audio diary. Then another tutorial. Subtlety is not really the game s strong point. There are a few quieter, more thickly atmospheric moments, which sadly fall by the wayside as the game gets increasingly louder and more action-packed: a crescendo that kept on going until the end of the underwhelming Dead Space 3.
The score, although largely forgettable, makes use of Krzysztof Penderecki-style timpani rolls and sharp, piercing strings to build the suspense, a ploy straight out of Kubrick s The Shining. Visceral watched hours of horror films during the game s development to get ideas for scares. Cult scary sci-fi flick Event Horizon is another obvious influence, with a story, locations, and monster designs so similar, it almost feels like an adaptation at times.
This is a game that s quite unashamedly steeped in imagery and sounds from the silver screen. As a result it can feel overly imitative, but a few visual elements—particularly the green glow of Isaac s clunky helmet and the Unitology stuff—are distinctly its own creation.
PC gamers were short-changed with the port, and you ll need to tweak a few things to get it running satisfactorily on modern machines. Disabling vsync on modern GPUs causes certain events not to trigger, making progress impossible. But with it enabled, the game feels unplayably slow and clunky. You have to disable it in-game, then enable it through your graphics card control panel to fix this.
There s also appalling mouse/controller lag on some PCs. But wrestle with this stuff successfully and you ll discover an enjoyable horror romp with a memorable setting and great set-pieces.
In moving away from a single, focused setting and introducing more third-person shooting, the sequels never really recaptured the magic of the first game. Hopefully the next—if they ever make another—will take a step back and try another smaller, slower game like the first. Alien: Isolation is proof that bigger and louder isn t always better.
Mar 29, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Nathan Grayson)
What is the most terrifying thing? I mean aside from spiders. And human nature. And that one episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yep, that’s right: being forced to admit there is a legitimate> reason to open Origin, to dig it out of your PC’s sullen grave of a start menu and rack your brain to remember your password. But at least now you can pair terror with terror, as Dead Space will be completely free on Origin until May 8th. And that’s free to keep> – not just to play.
Mar 27, 2014
EA doesn't want your money anymore. Well, it does, but mostly for its newer and shinier selections. Starting today, the publisher will choose one older game from its library and offer it On the House, a new Origin category for games available free of charge. First up: Visceral's disturb-tastic Dead Space.
EA hasn't specifically said how long an On the House promotion will run for a given game, but judging from the expiration date displayed for Dead Space (May 8), we could add a free title to our libraries once every month or so. Otherwise, the promotion looks pretty string-less. It's also a rather strong display of EA's apparent intent to park itself with other online markets running similar costless campaigns such as GOG. "Who doesn't want free stuff?" reads the diminutive FAQ. Who, indeed?
On the House is on Origin, and you can grab Dead Space either through the client or via the website.
Shacknews - Andrew Yoon
Aug 23, 2013
EA getting a Humble Bundle sounds like a thing that should raise eyebrows, but considering how much money is being raised for charity right now - and how many normally-quite-expensive games can be had for pocket money - I'm finding that my cynicism chip is just not activating. The explosion-studded bundle has raised nearly $8.5 million already, with EA's entire share going to charities the Human Rights Campaign, watsi, the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. In addition to the likes of Dead Space 3, Mirror's Edge and Battlefield 3, you can now get C&C: Red Alert 3 - Uprising and Populous if you pay over the average of $4.84.
Here's the full list. Pay what you want to get Dead Space, Dead Space 3, Burnout Paradise Ultimate, Crysis 2, Mirror's Edge and Medal of Honor, or pay over the average to get C&C: Red Alert 3 Uprising, Populous, Battlefield 3 and The Sims 3 thrown in too. You'll get Steam keys for some of the games, plus the soundtracks to BF3 and The Sims 3. It's quite a good deal, and it's quite a good deal that ends in five days.
The Humble Origin Bundle is live, allowing you to pay what you want for Dead Space, Dead Space 3, Burnout Paradise, Crysis 2, Mirror's Edge, and Medal of Honor. Paying more than the average (roughly $5 at the time of this post) unlocks Battlefield 3 and The Sims 3 with some DLC.And all of EA's share goes to charity.
I know, right?
The offer runs for two weeks, and benefits the Human Rights Campaign, watsi, the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Bought separately, the bundle would cost over $200 U.S. While Origin keys are provided for all of the games, you'll also get Steam keys for each of the games that are available on Valve's platform. Origin is also throwing in the soundtracks for Battlefield 3 and The Sims 3.
Check out the whole bundle at HumbleBundle.com. It's a heck of a deal.
Apr 22, 2013
Are mute heroes better than verbose heroes? Does a voice-acted player character infringe on your ability to put yourself into the story? In this week's debate, Logan says "Yes," while his character says nothing. He wants to be the character he’s playing, not merely control him, and that’s easier to do when the character is silent. T.J. had a professional voice actor say "No." He thinks giving verbalized emotions and mannerisms to your in-universe avatar makes him or her feel more real.
Read the debate below, continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Logan, you have the floor:
Logan: BioShock’s Jack. Isaac Clarke from Dead Space. The little boy from Limbo. Portal’s Chell. Gordon Freeman. These are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever played, and they all made their indelible impressions on me without speaking a single word. In fact, they made such an impression because they didn’t say a word. By remaining silent throughout, they gave me room to take over the role, to project myself into the game.
T.J.: All of the games you mentioned were unforgettable narratives. But everything memorable about them came from the environments, situations, and supporting casts. Gordon Freeman is a great example. What can you really say about him, as a person? I find Shepard’s inspirational speeches to the crew in the Mass Effect games far more stirring and memorable than almost anything I’ve experienced in a silent protagonist game. I was Shepard, just as much as I was Gordon. But I didn’t have the alienating element of not having a voice making me feel less like a grounded part of the setting.
Logan: Ooh, Shepard. That was cold. I’ll happily agree that some games are better off with fully written and voiced protagonists—and Shepard’s a perfect example. But it’s a different matter, I think, with first-person games in particular, where your thought processes animate the narrative: “OK, if I jump into a portal here, I’ll shoot out of the wall there and land over yonder.” In this way I’m woven into the story, as a product of my own imagination. If the character is talking, I’m listening to his or her thoughts—and they sort of overwrite my own. It can be great fun, but it’s a more passive experience.
T.J.: First-person shooters are probably one of the best venues for silent protagonists, but lets look at BioShock and BioShock Infinite. I definitely felt more engaged by Booker, who responded verbally to the action, the story twists, and the potent emotions expressed by Elizabeth... than I did by Jack, who didn’t so much as cough at the chaos and insanity around him.
Logan: But was the result that BioShock Infinite was a better game, or just that it delivered a traditional main character?
T.J.: Booker? Traditional? Did we play the same game? I mean, it’s a tough call to say which was out-and-out better, as there are a lot of factors to consider. But zooming in on the protagonist’s vocals (or lack thereof) as an added brushstroke on a complex canvas, Infinite displays a more vibrant palette.
Logan: Do you think that Half-Life 2, in retrospect, is an inferior game as a result of its silent protagonist?
T.J.: Half-Life 2 was great. Great enough that we gave it a 98. But imagine what it could have been like if Gordon had been given the opportunity to project himself onto his surroundings, with reactive astrophysics quips and emotional back-and-forth to play off of the memorable cast around him? We relate to characters in fiction that behave like people we know in the real world. So yeah, I’ll take that plunge: I think I would have bonded with Freeman more, and therefore had a superior experience, if he hadn't kept his lips sewn shut the whole way.
Logan: A scripted and voiced Gordon Freeman may or may not have been a memorable character, just like a scripted and voiced Chell from Portal might have been. But in a sense, that’s the problem! Because some of my best memories from games with silent protagonists are the memories of my own thoughts and actions. I remember staring at the foot of a splicer in BioShock and realizing that the flesh of her foot was molded into a heel. I was so grossed out that I made this unmanly noise, partway between a squeal and a scream. I remember getting orders shouted at me in FEAR and thinking, "No, why don’t you take point.” I’m glad these moments weren't preempted by scripted elements.
T.J.: You were staring at the Splicers’ feet? Man, in a real underwater, objectivist dystopia ruined by rampant genetic modification, you’d totally be “that one guy” who just stands there dumbfounded and gets sliced into 14 pieces.
Logan: No, I’d be the guy at Pinkberry with his mouth under the chocolate hazelnut nozzle going “Would you kindly pull the lever?” But my point is, I remember what I did and thought at moments throughout all of my favorite games, and those are experiences that are totally unique to me. And that’s at least part of why I love games so much—because of unique experiences like that.
T.J.: I see what you’re getting at. Likewise, a lot of my love for games is driven by their ability to tell the kinds of stories other media just aren’t equipped for. Silent protagonists take us further beyond the bounds of traditional narratives, accentuating the uniqueness of interactive storytelling. That being said, really good voiced protagonists—your Shepards, your Bookers, your Lee Everetts—never feel like a distraction from the mutated flesh pumps you come across. When the execution is right, they serve to enhance all of those things, and lend them insight and believability.
There’s nothing like being pulled out of the moment in Dragon Age: Origins when the flow of an intense conversation stops so the camera can cut to the speechless, distant expression of your seemingly-oblivious Grey Warden.
Logan: Oh yeah, there’s no question that voiced protagonists have their moments. But they’re not my moments, and those are the ones I enjoy the most in games. Valve seems to understand this intuitively, and that’s why it’s given us two of the most memorable characters in videogame history: because I think the developers deliberately build into their games moments that they all understand will be uniquely owned by the players; “a-ha!” moments when the solution to a puzzle suddenly snaps into focus, or narrative revelations like watching horseplay between Alyx and Dog that instantly tell you a lot about how she grew up. Voiced protagonists can give us wonderful characters; silent ones let me build my own.
That’s the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate viewpoints—sometimes including perspectives we wouldn’t normally explore—and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.
@pcgamer it really depends on the writing. Some voiced characters are amazing, and some are whiny and annoying.— Ryan H (@kancer) April 19, 2013
@pcgamer In many cases, yes. I am forced to substitute the absence of a developed personality with my own words and thoughts. I like that.— Rocko (@Rockoman100) April 19, 2013
@pcgamer The volume of the protag doesn't matter, only the skill of the writer: hero voice is just one tool of many in a master writer's box— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) April 19, 2013
@pcgamer The most interesting characters are the ones with a history, with regrets. Blank characters don't have that.— Devin White (@D_A_White) April 19, 2013
@pcgamer Most voiced characters seem to disappoint. I think silent ones express the storyline better through visuals which I prefer.— Casey Bavier (@clbavier) April 19, 2013
@pcgamer Definitely voiced. Having an NPC talk to you directly, then act as if your lack of response is totally normal feels eerily wrong.— Kirt Goodfellow (@_Kenomica) April 19, 2013
@pcgamer Silent! #YOLO— Michael Nader (@MNader92) April 19, 2013
It isn't often we see the words "Origin" and "sale" next to each other, but this week is the exception: EA is running a week-long Player Appreciation Sale which discounts some pretty hefty games in the publisher's lineup—titans such as Mass Effect 3, Crysis 3, and Battlefield 3.
Here's the full list of games on sale and their prices:
Battlefield 3 Premium—$25
Battlefield 3 Premium Edition—$30
Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Edition—$40
Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Upgrade—$10
The Sims 3 Seasons—$20
The Sims 3 University Life—$28
The Sims 3 Supernatural—$15
Dead Space 2—$6
Dead Space 3—$30
Resident Evil 5—$10
Mass Effect 3—$10
The Walking Dead—$10
Batman: Arkham City GOTY Edition—$12
FIFA Soccer 13—$20
Command & Conquer Ultimate Collection—$15
Saints Row: The Third Full Package—$25
Assassin's Creed 3—$35
Assassin's Creed 3 Deluxe Edition—$56
Dead Island GOTY Edition—$10
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City—$25
Normal and special editions on sale? And they're big games? I don't want to spoil this rare opportunity to enjoy a good Origin sale with cynicism, but it's hard not to chortle lightly at the convenient devaluing of nearly half the games EA offered SimCity players for free earlier this week.