Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to Horror Hoedown Showdown Part 2! It’s Friday and you know what’s missing? That’s right, MoarPowah! Join us today as we take another look at the horror genre and decide for ourselves what’s really going on in those creeky hallways filled with brilliant gore, flickering lights, and (let’s not forget) zombies! Today’s match up involves two horror titles that have crept their way into my gaming library and both have done a competent job in supplying my evening’s with the classic thrills and chills. Dead Space and Amneisa: The Dark Descent. Let’s begin…
If there’s anything to be said about EA, it’s that they surely know how to make a spectacle. In terms of production, Dead Space is littered with “ooo” and “ahh.” The environments are detailed, the lighting is well-done, and the mood (thanks to the heavily-laid on orchestra) is set masterfully. Sounds nice huh? But wait. Nice? This is supposed to be a horror game! Since when do visuals take priority over the genre? Unfortunately for Dead Space, the actual “horror” of the game takes a back seat to many of the mechanics and events that occur throughout the campaign. What starts off promising and (initially) satisfying in the opening minutes of the game, turns out to be the running theme for the experience: gotcha moments, violins, and trigger fingers. Just to clarify, being startled is NOT the same thing as being scared. Good horror understands that to truly frighten an audience you must first establish a setting, set a steady pace, bring in mood and atmosphere, and then go about extracting emotions from your viewers.
In Dead Space, everything seems rushed and out of breath. For all the gorgeous setting and attention to detail, the opportunities for a good scare are squandered in clunky gameplay, enemy ambushes, and repetitive actions. Instead of keeping things subtle and paced (Amnesia does this to near-perfection) Dead Space’s cast and crew of lifeless hordes choose to flood the screen in packs while attacking you head on and essentially transcend the encounters into mindless gunfights. Dead Space (for all its attempts at creating atmosphere) is a case of a developer prioritizing “ahh” over “AHH!” If anything, this is what would happen if Left 4 Dead took itself too seriously . . . and into space. To be fair though, this is a very well done game. Visually anyway. The gameplay is varied and manageable, but the horror elements are atrociously unbalanced and it just goes to show that sometimes letting your mind do the work for you is better than having it shoved and clobbered into your face for half an hour. Up next, Amnesia…
If there’s something else to be said, it’s that subtlety is a forgotten form of horror (in video gaming anyway). Yeah, I know slaying zombies with friends like it’s the 4th of July sure sounds like fun but wouldn’t it be better if maybe you didn’t have a firearm? Or even better, what if your only weapon was a sprint function? Frictional Games (developer) seem to think so. Seriously though, Amnesia is horror at its best: unspeakable monstrosities half-glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, no means of survival besides fleeing in every direction but death, and squishy/bloody liquids leaking from the walls. I’ll go ahead and admit it’s not perfect. There’s plenty of aspects of the game that reflect its independent origin. Level designs are hardly detailed, let alone diverse. Sure, the entire game takes place inside a castle, but bricks and stones can sure get familiar after awhile. Not to mention how predictable it is when the ambiance and mood music is stuck in loop. Also, summoning baddies at the completion of a puzzle gets on the nerves in case you’re wondering.
Contrary to my brief rant, it’s actually amazing to me that the game still prevails despite all that. Very well-paced, the mood music (although repetitive) sets the moments excellently, the visuals (definitely not Final Fantasy XIII) are appropriate and at least not distracting, and the gameplay is straightforward with very little to complain about. For those of you who have not had a chance to play this game, please do so. Get a steam account and buy this! You may not like/prefer this once you do, but you can’t deny that what this game does it does competently and with little need for Black Ops BOOM BOOM extravaganza ridiculousness. I wish I could say more to sell this notion but I feel that to reveal anything else about the game could unbalance expectations and spoil the game’s best moments. For those of you that have played this game, what did you think? Is it THE ambassador for the horror genre? Is Dead Space even competition for Amnesia? Is there something else out there that trumps both of these titles? I leave the rest to you…
-Fifth Fleet Out-
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