Monday, January 23, 2012

"2 Games, 1 Genre"

Survival-Horror is a genre that aims to shock players and build tension within its gameplay. In a nutshell they are action games. Still, their purposes are alike. However, simply because two games are of the same genre doesn’t mean their gameplay will be identical.

In Dead Space 2, you are tasked with ridding the world of the Necromorph. To do this you must successfully navigate the environment while strategically dismembering your enemies, limb by limb. Navigation in Dead Space 2 is pretty simple, you push up (forward) on the left thumb stick to move and the right thumb stick controls the camera (and your aim). If you are lost, you can click on the right thumb stick, which reveals an illuminated line on the floor that directs you to your next objective (navigation beacon). Shooting works much like you’d expect, you aim with L1 (L Trigger on 360) and fire with R1 (R Trigger on 360).

In Dead Space 2, you play as a mining engineer who wears a heavy “space suit” uniform, so you are not very agile. However, you do have access to a few melee moves. Including a vicious stomp and a powerful right cross. The enemies attack in waves and usually spawn from vents within the ship. To defeat the enemies you must strategically dismember them. Headshots are not important in Dead Space 2, the dominant strategy would be to cut off their legs, which causes them to crawl towards you and often slows them down. Cutting off their arms first also works, especially for weaker enemies. You can use your kinesis ability to pick up their sharp appendages and use it as a projectile- sticking the enemies to walls. Another ability to use is the stasis ability; you can use it to slow down the faster enemies, which aids in lining up those crucial shots.

In Alan Wake, you play as the title character; a writer who is caught up in his own story that has come to life.  The darkness is your enemy in Alan Wake and to defeat it you will need to stay in the light. The weapons at your disposal are of the typical variety: Pistols, shotguns, rifles, etc. However, the most important weapon in Alan Wake is the light. You find yourself in the forest at night with only a flashlight and a pistol. You must navigate the environment around you while avoiding the dangers. Your flashlight is a powerful weapon, but your battery life is limited. The HUD consists of a compass that assists you in finding your way to your objectives.

When you are facing enemies you must repel the darkness that protects them like a shield and then finish them off with a shot from your firearm. Left trigger boosts the light in the direction of the enemy- effectively blinding them and slowing them down. Holding the light on them for a few seconds takes down their shield of darkness, leaving them ripe for the kill shot. The enemies carry weapons of their own that they often throw at you. Thankfully, there is a dodge mechanic at your disposal that you can use to get out of the way of on-coming projectiles.

There are also various enemy types that come at you out of the darkness. Some are small, some are big and others are fast. Defeating them requires you adapt your strategy while conserving ammo and batteries packs. Other weapons at your disposal are flares; flash bang grenades that explode in a flash of light defeating all enemies in the vicinity and a powerful flare gun that acts as a grenade launcher. There is no melee combat mechanic in Alan Wake. Instead, if you are out of ammo and/or down to your last battery you must run away from your enemies to find the nearest light source. Light sources can be a street light, a power generator or any brightly lit town area. Streetlights serve as check points in Alan Wake and they also refill your health meter. The dominant strategy in Alan Wake is to know your surroundings, like taking a look around when you enter a new area. Look for light sources- they are the key to survival.

Both Dead Space 2 and Alan Wake share many gameplay similarities. Both characters are trapped in a living nightmare and must use all resources at their disposal to fend off their enemies. The similarities don’t stop there; both titles have some elements of environmental puzzle. These include hacking through a security door in Dead Space 2 and operating construction machinery to clear a path in Alan Wake. In Dead Space 2, you must dismember your enemies if you hope to survive the onslaught and you can use their sharp limbs as weapons to conserve ammo. Alan Wake differs slightly in this respect. Conserving ammo is still important, however, running is just as good a strategy as any. Alan Wake has a stamina system in place where your character becomes fatigued after running a few yards, whereas is Dead Space 2 you can hold down a button and sprint continuously as long as the button is held.

This changes gameplay because you have to be more aware of the environment around you. If there are various enemies pursuing you and you are low on ammo and/or batteries, you can make a break for a nearby light source. The dodge mechanic works especially well in these scenarios as well. In Alan Wake, you will often feel that the odds are against you. You have no tangible navigation system- aside from the compass and traversing the forest environments often means enemy encounters. Using light is crucial because if you do not shine light on the enemy your bullets are useless. This is the major differentiating element that separates the two games. In Alan Wake, you will not survive the adventure without consciously using “the light” to your advantage. In Dead Space 2, you have many other means to disposing of your enemy than just bullets. There’s your stasis and kinesis abilities provided by your suit (rig) and your melee stomp and right cross attacks. This removes the focus of the core element of gameplay- Strategic Dismemberment, and places the focus on just pure action and combat. Alan Wake keeps its emphasis on its core mechanic, the Light by using the environment, the enemies and combat to encourage and promote its gameplay mechanics.