Haven’t had a chance to post anything about games lately – mainly because I haven’t had any time to play any games lately. However, this week, as I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for Discmakers to finish printing my album, I did manage to pick up a used copy of EA’s Dead Space from Half.com.
It happened to arrive in the mail on the same day that Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 demo was released on XBox live, which was a happy coincidence. Dead Space and RE5 share a common ancestry – just about every review of Dead Space called it as a direct descendant (slash rip-off) of Resident Evil 4, the game that many reviewers name as their favorite of the last generation of consoles. After a few hours of spacing deadishly, I thought I’d try the RE5 demo and see how the two compared. And they… don’t really. Not in my opinion, anyway. I’m sure it will make me a heretic in many circles, but for me, Dead Space just destroys RE5.
For the record: I know it’s not fair to compare a complete, released game to a demo, but the timing was just too perfect. Okay, onward:
Comparison: Dead Space vs. The Resident Evil 5 Demo
Dead Space: A standard faceless, voiceless protagonist, Isaac Clarke, fights his way through the horrors of the USG Ishamura. As with Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, Isaac’s silent nature allows the player to identify with him, and helps put you in his boots, in the ship, fighting for survival. The subtle rendering of low-health or low-oxygen states do a good job of conveying his state-of-being without being too heavy-handed. He’s certainly no Gordon Freeman, but it works.
RE5: Chris Redfield has come to Africa to find the source of zombie virus from the previous games. Chris has a long history in Resident Evil games – he’s sort of the Solid Snake of Raccoon City. The problem is that I don’t really care; I haven’t played the other games much, so all of his dialogue and character development (which are frankly pretty horribly written and acted) don’t do it for me, and his ‘roided-up, super-jock appearance make him hard to identify with. And don’t get me started on his playable sidekick, obligatory super-babe Sheva. Ugh.
Dead Space: The enemies are fast, terrifying alien zombie-growth-things, and they are pissed off. They charge at you, screaming, until you kill them by severing their limbs with your plasma cutter. It is a grisly, fast, and super gory affair, and if they get a hold of you, they rip you apart in any number of awesome, crazy ways.
RE5: The enemies are infected African villagers who appear to be mad at you, but then they walk towards you really slowly while waving wrenches. When you shoot them, they bounce backwards really fast, with no damage modeling, just a red circle of blood where you hit them, kind of like Area 51 in the arcade. When the guy with the axe finally killed me (due to my being unable to move effectively), I just sort of fell over, dead.
Dead Space: Ever the engineer, Isaac re-purposes engineering and mining equipment to shear the limbs off of the crawling horrors aboard the Ishamura. The weapons are really punchy and logical in the destruction they wreak, and their different planes of dispersal encourage a fun amount of creativity. Ammo is scarce, and every fight is a frenzied, limb-lopping battle for survival.
RE5: I had a shotgun and a pistol, and neither one really felt like it connected with anything I shot. What’s more, aiming was a chore, and the laser sight under the gun didn’t really provide me with a good sense of where I was shooting. I got the sense that I would get used to this, and that RE veterans would have no problem with it, but off the bat, it just wasn’t working for me.
The Controls and Display
Dead Space: God, this game gets it right. There is no heads-up-display at all – everything is very slickly shown through Isaac’s suit (health, stasis, ammo), or in holograms that are projected in front of him (memos, radio communications, videos). It means that you can’t pause to access your inventory, and gives the game a great level of immersion. The camera hugs tightly to Isaac’s right shoulder, making everything feel claustrophobic, especially given how often beasties sneak up behind you.
RE5: This game has a (relatively) huge honking HUD in the lower right side of the screen. It is gaudy and distracting, and looks like something out of a late 90’s arcade game. Character names are displayed in big letters, along with their current weapon, and their health in bright green. Blerg. The perspective seems fine, but the controls are ridiculously sluggish – I understand that that’s the cornerstone of RE games, but the whole vibe feels wrong. It’s not scary to have to stand still while shooting, particularly against a crowd of people in a village in daytime. It’s weird, frustrating, and illogical. The game looks, sounds, and is presented like a 3rd-person co-op action game, but it plays like a last-gen survival horror game. That dissonance is a big problem, possibly the game’s biggest.
Dead Space: This is probably the most important part of a horror game, and it’s where Dead Space scores big. This game scares the living pants off of me. I’m on-edge the entire time I’m playing it. Especially on the “Hard” setting. I can’t take it for too long, it’s so fucking scary. Just wondering what new breed of slimy, slavering death is waiting to break out of an airduct behind me at EVERY STEP… it’s intense. And then, just when I think I’m getting the hang of it, a giant fucking tentacle breaks through the wall and drags me into space. This is the scariest game I’ve ever played.
RE5: Somewhere between Dead Rising and Far Cry 2. In other words: not really that scary at all.
I was just expecting so much from Resident Evil 5. And I still might get a copy when it comes out in March. Everyone said it would be this great thing, the sequel to the best game of the last five years, and the graphics looked so unbelievable when I first saw them (back in 2007) that I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.
And I know that demos are shady, and that the full version of RE5 will doubtless be much better than the demo, but even taking those things into account, I’m disappointed. It feels like a port of a last-gen game with upgraded graphics; the gameplay, characters, arsenal, and enemies are inferior to Dead Space in every way. The co-op nature of the gameplay could be cool, but I doubt it will be as fun as Gears 2 or Left 4 Dead.
Dead Space, on the other hand, feels like a game that was designed from the ground up for the current generation of consoles, and made with an eye towards scaring the crap out of the player at every turn. Sure, it steals everything it does from previous titles (RE4, Bioshock, Half-Life 2, and Doom 3), but it does so really, really effectively.
It’s really too bad – thanks to Capcom’s failure to innovate, it would appear that the student has become the master.