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Is Dead Space Just BioShock in Disguise?
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on October 27, 2008   |   Episode 76 (Show Archive)  

   

Don't go outside at night ... on second thought, don't go outside at all!
Having just come off the review of Dead Space, I am excited to tell the world that Electronic Arts' newest title is the single best survival horror game since 2005's landmark Resident Evil 4. It has a fascinating new world to explore, tons of new ideas and some of the best graphics I have ever seen come out of my Xbox 360. It also contains a story that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, which is not something you can say about most modern day horror games.

But as good as the game is (and trust me, the game is phenomenal), I can't help but notice that Dead Space seems to revel in the fact that it's almost exactly the same as BioShock, one of last year's biggest (and best received) games. If it was just a few small things here and there I probably wouldn't have thought much about it, but level after level I felt like I was being hit over the head

There's no doubt about it, the Big Daddy suit is way better than that stupid thing you wear in Dead Space!
by the ghost of Ken Levine. So much so that at this point I feel like I don't need to play BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams, I've already experienced it in Dead Space.

But enough with the grossly overstated hyperbole, BioShock and Dead Space are clearly two completely different games. One is set back in the 1960s and the other is based in the distant future. One is about crazy people mutilating their body and the other is about space aliens. One is a first-person shooter and the other is an over-the-shoulder first-person shooter. These are two completely different games. And considering how different these games are, it makes me openly

When making your next game just ask WWKD: What Would Ken Do?
wonder why Dead Space decided to rip out every good idea BioShock (or its predecessors System Shock or System Shock 2) had. Were there not enough good ideas to go around? Was it necessary to ape all of the good ideas Ken Levine had?

If you haven't played Dead Space don't worry, I'm not about to spoil the game's twists and turns. It's not so much the story that I have a problem with, but rather all of the general stuff that seems like it came directly from one of last year's best games. This article will certainly address specific things about EA's very first survival horror game, there's no doubt about that. However, I guarantee that I'm only going to talk in generalities and will not spoil Dead Space for you.

The perfect place to start is in the game's narrative, which is told in one of two ways. The first way is with the use of a holographic projector that allows you to communicate with several other people aboard the USG Ishimura. It's your commanding officers who are telling you where to go and what to do, similar to what Atlas does as you explore the wet world of Rapture. The

Believe it or not, these audio diaries are some of the most compelling parts of BioShock!
other way the game advances the narrative is through the use of taped diary recordings. As you progress through the game you will discover audio tapes that fill in some of the gaps of what happened to this deserted space station. Sound familiar? Well it should, because that's exactly how BioShock lays out the mysteries of Rapture. From beginning to end, both games use exactly the same narrative and exactly the same way.

And it goes well beyond just having a similar narrative, it's also in the things you do while searching around this dark, scary space ship. For example, in one level the whole ship is sabotaged with poisonous gasses. In order to save yourself, the survivors and the ship's plant life, it's up to you to find a cure and get rid of the poisonous air. Anybody who has played BioShock already knows that there's a rather pivotal scene half way through that has you doing

I definitely need one of those ... only, make mine in color!
exactly the same thing. Thankfully the two scenarios play out in entirely different ways, but that doesn't change the fact that you're essentially doing the same thing you did last year when playing BioShock.

And did I mention that a lot of the game's puzzles require you to use your telekinesis power? It's true, you're constantly asked to move barriers and other menial tasks that are best accomplished with the aid of your telekinesis power. Wondering where you've heard that before? Well it shouldn't surprise you that you were forced to solve puzzles and outsmart bad guys using your telekinesis power in BioShock.


It's the small things like these posters that give Rapture its unique atmosphere, unfortunately Dead Space isn't on the same level!
It's not just the big stuff, either. The two games have lead characters that, for whatever reason, seem willing to do whatever they are told ... without saying a word. It's also worth mentioning that both BioShock and Dead Space mask the load times between levels by having you board (but not control) some sort of vehicle. In Dead Space it's a subway train, while in BioShock it's a small round submarine that appears to be connected to the city using a series of tubes. In both games, the only time you ever get into one of these vehicles is in order to complete a level and go somewhere else.

However, the most damning connection seems to be the location itself. In both BioShock and Dead Space you are ordered to investigate some of the seedier sides of their locales. To bring life and a sense of realism to the various locations, the game developers decided to sprinkle around clever advertisements

It goes beyond what I'm saying here, there are specific moments in the story where the two games seem to overlap (not pictured)!
and other small details that you normally don't see in this type of game. What's more, both environments are (at least from the offset) abandoned and incredibly spooky. And the spooky isn't dialed down any when you get to the living quarters, either. For whatever reason, the two games are at their creepiest best when you're (squeamishly) looking around the apartment complexes and space bunks. These two worlds may be hundreds of years apart, but in a lot of ways USG Ishimura is a lot like Rapture ... only without the Ayn Rand stuff or the cool art direction.

As I said before, I wouldn't bring any of this up if it was just a few small things. I mean, if the only similarities were the upgrade system, achievements and the way both games seem to tell you exactly where to go, I would never have spent more than a thousand words trying to convince you that Dead Space is actually BioShock in different clothing. I might have mentioned it in passing in my review, but I certainly wouldn't have wasted your time

I'm not sure why, but I'm shocked that even Hardcore Gamer Magazine sees the connection between Dead Space and BioShock!
showing you how similar the games were. But throughout the entire game I kept coming back to how alike these two games are, to the point where it started to take me out of the experience. I hate to say it, but it does take away from the brilliance that is Dead Space when it feels like it's spending all its time trying to be another game. Even if that game is one of the best games of all time, I still found myself a little put off by what felt like blatant aping.

After I finished the game and wrote my review I was happy to see that I wasn't the only one comparing USG Ishimura to Rapture. When Computer and Videogames published their review they mentioned BioShock within the first paragraph, referencing Rapture a couple more times just for good measure. And they weren't the only ones, GamePro, Xbox 360 World and Giant Bomb all seemed to note the similarities between this and Ken Levine's work. When it comes to reviewing games I

At the end of the day Dead Space is a great game, but as hard as it tries it just isn't as good as BioShock!
rarely (if ever) find myself looking at other people's reviews prior to writing my own, so I was shocked and happy to see that I wasn't the only guy on the planet seeing these blatant connections.

Of course, not everything I mentioned here was created by BioShock (or even Ken Levine for that matter). I'm sure if we dug deep enough we could find other games that have used audio recordings as their narrative and trains to connect you to your next level. I'm sure this isn't the only game telling you exactly where to go or have advertising on the walls. I'm sure that everything I just credited to BioShock can also be credited to some other game. But that isn't the point, it's not about picking apart one or two similarities, it's how many there are and how almost all of them seem to be the things the critics loved about BioShock.

It would be a tragedy if based on what I have said you decide not to check out Dead Space, it really is a phenomenal game that everybody should experience. However, I can't keep quiet about what seem like blatant parallels, especially on a project like this. There are so many amazing ideas housed in this one $60 game, it's a shame that the developers of Dead Space had to rely so heavily on somebody else's game. I expect more from you Electronic Arts. If you think that aping another developer's game is going to put you back in first place, then you have another thing coming.
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