Making a video game scary is incredibly difficult, and requires a total commitment to that goal at the expense of all others. So when EA and Visceral keep assuring us that “Dead Space 3″ will be frightening, no matter how much non-horror stuff they pack on top of it, I just don’t believe them. I’m a big fan of Isaac Clarke’s adventures, I’m sure I’ll be the first guy scooping up the game when it comes out, but I feel the need to issue a reality-check here: there is absolutely no way “Dead Space 3″ is going to be frightening, I can offer five very good reasons (in order of weightiness) why.
5. Co-Op is the Death of Horror. It’s a fact that’s been proven over and over again, although never quite as dramatically as with “Resident Evil Zero.” REZ was virtually identical to the “Resident Evil” Gamecube remake, save for a new co-operative play feature, and even had the advantage of being new material, yet it was about as scary as a wet carrot (background info: wet carrots don’t tend to be scary). “Resident Evil 5″ versus “Resident Evil 4″ also affirms this: neither game is trying to be scary per se, but both are definitely meant to evoke sweaty palms and blood-shot eyes, and the latter is far more successful than the former. Two people working together is so inherently comforting, so fundamentally antithetical to the horror process, that it would take a game engineering miracle to overcome it.
Solitude is an essential component of horror in any medium, from Edgar Allen Poe to Stanley Kubrick. Characters don’t necessarily need to be by themselves, but they must absolutely be isolated. There are precious few (if any) horror classics in any medium that end with the hero turning to their trusty sidekick and saying, “But through it all, I’ve had you here to help and support me, and you’ve never let me down or given me reason to doubt you.” That’s just not horror. “Left 4 Dead” probably comes the closest to beating this rule, and it does so by making the individual profoundly weak, forcing four people to share limited supplies, and over-cranking friendly fire, thereby adding an element of suspicion and mistrust to the gameplay (and even that doesn’t produce fear exactly, more like agitation). I suspect DS3 will not emulate this, so it’s just not going to be scary. End of story.
4. Guns. Guns. Guns. One thing the E3 demo of “Dead Space 3″ made very clear is that traditional gunplay is really going to rear its ugly head this time around. Thanks to the miracle of zombie infestation, Isaac will now grab cover and fire at people who fire back. I’ve been afraid this would happen and it finally has. So unless “Uncharted 3″ gives you the heebie-jeebies, get ready to yawn your way through however many sections of this crap they decide to put in the finished product. I’m guessing quite a few.
3. Snow. I want you to name me a scary video game that’s set in the freaking arctic. A few flurries, maybe even a blizzard? Fine. But the arctic? I don’t buy it. It’s not so much because snow can’t be scary, it’s just because once you set a game like “Dead Space” in that environment, the developer can’t help but blow the lid off the draw distance and show you sweeping vistas, epic boss fights, and other eye-candy that shoot any hope of a dread-soaked atmosphere in its big dumb face. If I thought Visceral was going to use the snow to blind, mislead or disorient you, I might get behind it, but the E3 demo honestly looked like a lost chapter from “Halo” or “Gears of War.” They just can’t help themselves, they want to have their cake and eat it too. And you can’t. The original DS achieved wonders with tight corridors, and while DS2 opened up a bit, it kept the shadow quotient high. DS3 already looks brighter, sunnier and less shadowy, which I can’t help but feel is going to undercut its attempts at eliciting dread.
2. Familiarity. This is the third time we’ll be undertaking pretty much the same bad guys, and at this point, aren’t we all getting a little comfortable with the Necromorphs? They unnerved me the first time I saw them, and I freely admit that the zombie babies (what IS it with Visceral and evil babies?) in DS2 were the stuff of nightmares, but beyond that I’ve been shrugging indifferently at these things for 1.5 games by now. Let’s face it, these aliens have never ranked in the pantheon of great video game antagonists. They’re functional and they provide stiff resistance when needed, but they don’t haunt your dreams like the Big Daddy/Little Sister combo, the Creeper (deny it if you dare), or Pyramid Head.
And the NUMBER ONE REASON “Dead Space 3″ won’t be scary…
1. None of the Others Were. Come on. Let’s all just admit it. “Dead Space” is a beautiful, exciting franchise with some of the best art direction and survival gameplay in video game history, but…it doesn’t keep you up at night. I love Visceral, but that’s just not what they do. True fear, the kind that the original “Resident Evil” or “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” creates in the player, has always escaped them, because they’ve never been single-minded in its pursuit. They like the idea of DS being scary, and they nail the superficial surface components, but they’re unable/unwilling to sink their teeth in and let go of anything that might disturb the fragile ecosystem horror requires to grow. The scariest games of the past few decades have all been methodical and slow-burning, and the hyperactive kid inside Visceral Games has never had the patience for that.
Frankly, I don’t see that as a problem. “Dead Space 2″ was, in my opinion, a flat-out masterpiece, and came close to de-throning one of my favorite games of all time—”Resident Evil 4″—as the king of survival-suspense (rest assured, it didn’t). It was tense, it was exhausting, it was wall-to-wall with jaw-dropper set pieces and “oh no they didn’t” gore. But scary? No, of course not (except for the zombie babies). Even when they fired a loud noise at me I barely moved, because I’d been hearing loud noises the whole game.
I honestly wish Visceral would own this a little more. The greatness of James Cameron’s “Aliens” lies in the fact that he admitted he wasn’t making a horror movie, which freed him up to do something arguably even more exhilarating. “Dead Space” is up to some great things and it’s a wonderful franchise, but when they insist on being thought of as something they’re not, they undercut themselves.
You’re not scary, “Dead Space,” and that’s okay. Stop pretending to be.
you’ll be who it sucks to be