Saturday Morning Gaming: On Silent Protagonists
I talked about Dead Space and Dead Space 2 back in 2011. (I thought I had a post about the original but it came out in 2008. Which means that I may have written about it on my Livejournal and there’s no way, no how that I’m going back there. Not even to look.)
It’s a tight-perspective 3rd person survival horror game set on a mining spaceship, mostly. Think “Resident Evil 4 on the ship from Event Horizon”. You play Isaac Clarke, an engineer who has been called in to fix the mining ship Ishimura and, of course, it is crawling with space zombies. One of the things that makes the game awesome is that you are mostly using tools to fight against the zombies rather than guns (yes, there are guns but they aren’t as effective against the zombies as your trusty Plasma Cutter, the Line Gun, or the Ripper).
As you go through the story, you find out what happened that created all of these zombies and they do a *GREAT* job of really exploring horror themes beyond merely having zombies jump up and try to eat your face.
In 2008, the protagonist was silent for the whole game. In the remake (which I am currently playing!), they’ve given Isaac a voice actor.
And lemme tell ya: This ain’t an improvement.
In the original, they had the various “dialogs” with your character be 100% utilitarian. “The problem is only fixable from your side of the chasm between us. Go and fix the problem.” Then you would run off and fix the problem. You’d have a bunch of thoughts in any given interaction and you’d see Isaac keep his thoughts to himself and so it was *EXCEPTIONALLY* easy to project your own thoughts onto him. This made him feel like *YOUR* character. You’d get in a fight and yelp when you ran out of ammo, you’d say stuff like “that’s really messed up” when you’d read a particular text log, you’d say “oh no!” (or worse) when you were in a particularly juicy cutscene.
What do they do now? Well, they have Isaac interact with the other characters. At best, it doesn’t really do anything much. Something like “I need information!” “Here is some information!” when, in the old version, they’d do something like “I need information!” (Isaac wordlessly sends file by tapping the computer on his forearm.) “Thanks for the information, Isaac. Here’s your next objective…”
Sadly, it’s not limited to “at best”. For example, Isaac curses during fights. I find this irritating because cursing during fights is *MY* job. I don’t need the game to do it for me. Personally, I think that my cursing is more colorful and eloquent and displays more enthusiasm than the cursing given me by the game. So that’s a negative right there. The fact that you’re interacting directly with your co-workers (a couple of whom end up dying shortly after the interaction) might add a little bit for the people who prefer to have their exposition a hair more explicit… but, personally, I think that the game has taken away more than it has added.
By giving Isaac a distinct personality, the game has shifted from this being “your” character engaging the world like this to being their character.
As a result, the horror is now less horrible.
Still a good game, though. Just not as good as it used to be.
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is the absolute best moment in the game: Finding a node. Screenshot taken by the author.)