Monday, August 6, 2012

Scary Games: F.E.A.R. vs. Dead Space

I bought a lot of games during this most recent Steam Sale, and many of them were in genres I never thought I liked or just never got into. Deus Ex: Human Revolution has re-affirmed that I indeed still do not like stealth mechanics, but that's a topic for another article. Instead, I'll talk about horror shooters. Specifically, F.E.A.R. and Dead Space.

I finished F.E.A.R. a few weeks ago and I'm about a third of the way into Dead Space. Clearly, I am not a veteran of either franchise, but it was a genre that interested me. Now, I can see that grouping these two games together under the same "genre" only really works as far as "shooter". The two have a similar goal in mind: scare the player. They go about it completely differently, and with varying degrees of success.

The Plan

It's important to separate what it seems that each game was intending to do from what each game actually successfully accomplished, because they are not the same. Each has its own individual downsides.

F.E.A.R. went for a subtle creepy approach, in a sense. There's a creepy little girl who is clearly supernatural right from the early stages of the game. She generally appears when you are in a compromised position and can't react properly, such as when you're crouching through a tight space, descending a ladder, jumping down off a balcony, etc. It's a good idea, and it caught me off guard a few times and gave me the jitters.

Dead Space is a much more blatant in your face approach. There are horrific zombie/aliens that come in various shapes and sizes and jump out from behind corners and generally appear behind you when you're just starting to feel safe. They want you to always be on the edge of your seat, expecting a horrific alien appendage to begin brutalizing you from any direction at any time.

The Result

In F.E.A.R., the thing that they really overlooked in these creepy segments is that they are never really dangerous. The little girl appears, or you're briefly warped to a bloody hospital hallway, or a shadow realm, or whatever. They are intended to be scary, but they have the opposite effect after a while. There are a few minor exceptions (and one notable one), but really these sequences are the part of the game that started making me feel the most safe. "Oh, the little girl is around, that means there aren't any real enemies." I was free to explore at my leisure, with no real fear of anything bad happening to me.

Dead Space almost has the opposite problem. Nothing is sacred. There is no safe zone. I must be constantly vigilant because supplies are limited, and healing is expensive. I can't afford to take any damage or else I'm probably going to be screwed in the next area. It requires so much constant focus and concentration that I simply can't play for a long time at once. Every time a new type of enemy has been introduced, it has completely altered how I have to approach combat. Not in an Anomaly: Warzone Earth way where it just undermined all your previous efforts, but in a way that builds on what you know. It's great game design. It's just also intimidating given the rest of the atmosphere of the game, and it makes me put the game down and stop playing for a while.

Do I even Like the Genre?

Honestly, I don't know. I finished F.E.A.R., but I kind of blitzed through the end because I was getting bored. The gameplay wavered between the borderline silly "creepy" segments and the borderline brutal "combat" segments in a way that really had no intelligible flow. The overall experience was forgettable, and hopefully something that is remedied in the sequels (although hearsay reports that I should keep my expectations low).

I haven't finished Dead Space, but I don't know if I have the willpower to do it. The controls for PC are atrocious (the worst I've experienced in any game in my entire history of gaming), which makes it difficult to go back and play when I have smoother alternatives like Deus Ex: Human Revolution beckoning. I feel like each of these games has good ideas, but there needs to be some balance struck between the two.

And for the love of sanity, Dead Space, why would you not allow saving at any time in a modern game? I thought we were past this. Another article for another day, though. I should really make a list of these somewhere.


If you're going to pick up one of these games, get Half-Life 2 instead. It mixes all the elements mentioned here in a game that has proper flow. You're not constantly on the edge of your seat, expecting something bad to happen to you at any turn, but you are sometimes. The game successfully mixes puzzle solving segments with action sequences and fast zombies in a way the other two games just couldn't emulate.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tips and experience, but I am 12 and I've finished Dead Space 1. The trick is using the XBOX 360, the playing to me is scary. Went through a lot of $*1* creeps to finish the game. Stay in corners, you'll have protection from your behind (unless if a vent is behind you), and there's less dangerous angles of hostility for you to worry about. And the aiming gets easy for the 360. But to finish the game, for my advice, just "suck it up," and think about what the hardcore friends will say to you.