February 9, 2011
Visceral Games: the art of taking established and making it new……
Finishing Dead Space 2 this week was one of my many gaming accomplishments I had set for myself this week. Looking back on what was an amazing game; Isaac’s inner monologue and his freaky glowing orifice girlfriend Nichole were some of the highlights that had me on the edge of my seat. The controls were tight and more refined since the first game and the action sequences were very well done; but I couldn’t help but have the same feeling that I had with the first Dead Space, I have played this before.
When the first Dead Space was released the comparisons to Resident Evil 4 were indisputable. It was an over the shoulder, 3rd person survival horror game and the only thing that changed was the story, setting, and characters. The games controls were very similar with the exception of being able to shoot and move at the same time, something Capcom needs to desperately address in the Resident Evil franchise. The game was met with positive reviews and the studio behind it, at the time was called EA Redwood Studios, was put in the limelight and became what we now know as Visceral Games. After the glowing reception Visceral revealed what they were working on next, Dante’s Inferno.
Dante’s Inferno was an action game loosely based on the epic poem by Dante Alighieri. Upon release the game was hit with that over used term that I have come to hate, it was a “God of War” clone. As it is said Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. After finishing Dead Space 2 I can see all of this with a wider eye maybe that is what this studio does best. It takes established game play and refits it into something new while adding a sense of refinement. Any of Visceral’s games are by no means poor, all of their games receiving positive critical reviews, but there is nothing here that can be deemed as revolutionary. Still, they have brought us a fantastic view of hell and a new king of the survival horror genre, all while retaining what have made some of the greatest games in the past relevant.
There is no denying that the Dead Space franchise is Resident Evil 4 in a new meat suit, Dante’s Inferno is the same way, except with God of War, but is this really a bad thing? Isn’t Mega Man just a Mario clone with robots and a stage select screen? Isn’t StarCraft the same as WarCraft just in different settings? Isn’t every FPS just like the last one that preceded it (minus the setting, characters, and time period)? So why do we condemn something for being a clone when we can take a look at a lot of great franchises throughout time and see they are no different. What Visceral Games has accomplished is more than some of these studios that think their game is “revolutionary”. They have taken something that they know works, wrap in a new story and persona, and refine what has already been established in game play and controls; in many ways out showing the game they were using as a basis.
The world eats up sports games and Call of Duty like there is a hunger epidemic, yet these games hardly change year in and year out in terms of gameplay. So why does something that has an original story and setting yet cloned game play get the cold shoulder? I love the games that have come from Visceral Games, don’t be surprised if Dead Space 2 is close to the top of my list for games of the year. They have proven they are not a one trick pony and can follow up with sequels that vastly improve on their predecessors. I would like to see more successes come from this talented group of people and hope the industry can learn something from them. Sometimes you don’t have to change the gameplay to be a success; it is all in how you present the material.