Dead Space 2: Keep it Schtum

 

Is giving the previously silent hero of Dead Space a voice a necessary addition, or a pointless extra?

One problem with being a games reviewer is that you rarely get to spend enough time with the games you like. Before you’ve had chance to really dig into a game and get to know and love it (not on a critical level, but more on a personal level), another one is thrown under your nose- begging for attention. Also, as the big titles of the month are shared around, with reviewers getting their names down early for the biggest and best titles, a lot of the time you miss out on a game, as you’re reviewing another at the time. Yep, it’s a tough life being a games reviewer!

But luckily at this time of year – as the new games stop coming and the publishers take a breath as they prepare to dive into 2010- I get time to go through the games from the previous year (and further) and give them a jolly good play. One of these games that I missed first time around was Dead Space, the deep, dark and gritty space-based horror.

Dead Space is an exceptional game, that is genuinely terrifying while still supremely playable. Visually, it is outstanding, with every inch of the Ishimura (the mining ship from which you’re trying to escape) being designed and lit to perfection; and the enemies, the curled up and mutated creatures that they are, look particularly unpleasant. As a game it is superb, as it is packed with surprises, variety, edge of your seat drama and compelling gameplay. Although there may be a few occasional problems, such as the occasionally trudging narrative and the sense of déjà-vu cliché, it’s still a terrific game. If you haven’t experienced the terror that is Dead Space, I implore you to rush out and grab a copy before Christmas; or if not then in the January sales, as I’ve seen it as low as £5.

But recently, I read some slightly despondent news regarding next year’s sequel, Dead Space 2. In an excellent news piece we ran in a recent issue of Phonica, Dead Space 2’s executive producer Steve Papoutsis said that the central character, Isaac Clarke – who didn’t speak in the original game – will now get a voice, through which he shall narrate sections of gameplay and drive the story along.

Personally, I think this sound’s like a terrible idea, and a pointless fix to a problem that doesn’t exist. The whole reason that your character didn’t speak in Dead Space was because it was your character. In a sense you weren’t playing a character, or playing as Isaac Clarke, you were playing as yourself and that’s what made the game so scary. It was you who was going through the emotions of the game; you that was taking your life in your hands with every step. You weren’t guiding a character around, just standing behind him and pushing him in the right direction as he faced certain death; you were that character, and that’s what made Dead Space so compelling.

The perfect demonstration of this concept of playing as yourself is showcased in the exceptional Half-Life series. At no point during gameplay does your character Gordon Freeman ever speak or interact with the cast, and any response to an event, question or direction is orchestrated solely by the player. The other characters talk to you, but they never request or require a verbal response. This sense of actually being involved in the game is one of the reasons why Half-Life was (and still is) so compelling, and it worked superbly well in Dead Space also.

The flip side to this argument is that, in the case of Dead Space, at times you and your character felt like a slave as you were ordered from job to job, around the dreaded sections of the Ishimura- while the other characters just seemed to be kicking back and drinking Iced Tea. In a way, it would have been nice for the character Isaac Clark to occasionally answer back, or at least make some begrudging comment on the matter or his orders. But in a way, this is more a fault with Dead Space’s overall story-telling, than a flaw with the character involvement.

Personally, I’m in huge anticipation of Dead Space 2; from what has been seen and promised so far, it could be a terrific title and every bit as good, if not better, than the first. I just hope that this idea of adding a voice to the central character won’t ruin the experience. The last thing I want to see (or hear) is Isaac Clark coming across a horde of angry mutations, and as they charge at him with enough venom to terrify even the hardiest of gamers, Clark muttering, “come get some you damn dirty freaks!.” Ooo, shudder….

 

Scott Tierney

 

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