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Dead Space 2

It’s confusing for me to enjoy Dead Space 2. I am not sure why I liked the first, and indeed, by the end of the second I nearly didn’t want to play anymore, but there are a few key things I’d like to highlight about the series that are currently pushing video games in a positive direction.

Isaac stands in darkness, with a slightly open sliding door providing light from afar.

Dead Space has a solid atmosphere - I found myself disappointed by the environments on several occasions, but lighting and circumstances play a huge role in any horror game, and at least for lighting Dead Space nails the atmospheric tension properly; not only does light pour into the game environment from the next room, but total darkness is often experienced with nothing other than a flashlight. Many games toy with this concept, but as with many other techniques DS2 charges into complete darkness with no remorse; if you don’t use your flashlight, there are times when you may not be able to see anything. Is this a good thing? It certainly works; it’s certainly possible to use no other lighting than your flashlight to navigate a tight corridor, and yes, it’s rather stressful. But at the same time, Dead Space is better at making me “uncomfortably stressed” than it is making me afraid for my digital life. This contrasts heavily with something like even the first Silent Hill game, which had me consistently in a state of terror for much of the game relentlessly.

Isaac looks out a window at a large space city.

While much of the game is in the same types of metal corridors, there are moments in which the player gets a glimpse of something larger, and it’s always a pleasure to see. The game has moments of great visual appeal amongst some of its repetitive nature, much like it has moments of good tension amongst a lot of repetitive action. So what is the appeal? One of Dead Space’s biggest strengths is intensity, which is a concept that I’ve brought up before. One of the reasons that Dirt 2 is so good is because of the intensity of the experience; the sounds, the crashes, the mud that flies onto your windshield, and Dead Space has a very good feel for intensity. Unfortunately, it is not as well-integrated into the standard gameplay. There are a few sequences, including the below, which have the right idea but are too scripted to let the player enjoy them on one’s own terms.

[zanmantou file=”http://chris.software/images/2011/02/dead-space-2.f4v”]

This video highlights a few important things; first, note how much Isaac is thrown around. There are a couple of big games that heavily utilize such violence toward main characters, including this game, and the Uncharted series. We see many animations dedicated to depicting painful events that the main character experiences, and the animation is of such high quality that there is some entertainment value here. It’s also a very cool sequence in general, taking us out into space in the middle of a corridor shooter, and there are many player-controlled sequences in which free movement in space is involved. In standard gameplay, exploding enemies throw Isaac backward. There are a couple of rooms that have an excellent source of danger - when the wrong windows are broken, a vacuum threatens to suck you into space and end your game immediately, throwing the player into an instant little minigame where one must shoot a switch to close the window hatch while sliding on the ground toward impending doom. The difference between such a sequence and the above video’s sequence is that it is more gameplay than cutscene. I’m disappointed to even have to bring this up, but Dead Space developers need to show… not tell.

Isaac shines a light down a dark corridor.

Interface is something that the first Dead Space nailed, and Dead Space 2 continues the tradition - your entire HUD is integrated into the game, so that there is nothing taking up your screen space but your character. Videos are played through a device within the game, game-relevant menus are displayed similarly, and the immersion factor goes up immensely because of the way in which you interact with the game and its menus, text, and videos.

Baby monsters charge at Isaac.

The main disappointment with DS2 is also the main thing one will be doing throughout the game, and the main reason why I couldn’t like it as anything more than a generic action corridor shooter. The enemies. There is only one so-called innovation to Dead Space’s combat (aside from the weapons, which are all relatively fun to use and have neat features), and that is the ability to shoot limbs off of enemies as a main function of combat. But this is a paper-thin construct, and it’s not any more fun to do than killing enemies in any other way. Yes, you can blow off some legs and make enemies crawl, but that’s just about the extent of the possibilities. Leg, head, next enemy, leg, head, et cetera… this is the structure of the combat unless you go to lengths to spice it up, and even then it’s just not fantastic. Frankly, it’s boring, and near the end of the game when endless waves of enemies attack I got bored enough with the game to not want to play anymore.

Some dead bodies loom over Isaac in a dark, yellow room.

There are a few moments in _Dead Space 2 _that made the game worth playing for me, but it’s a shallow action game with repetitive combat and an uninteresting story. It’s also not scary, aside from making me jump with loud noises or surprises; there is no internal terror to be found here, and with such a glorious space backdrop it would have been nice to see some more interesting developments in the horror and storytelling elements. Having the main character speak was a marginal improvement, but hearing Isaac’s generic dialog didn’t add much to the game. The developers toyed with a sanity concept, but it didn’t bring anything other than a couple of heavily scripted sequences to the table, and in standard gameplay it doesn’t manifest at all.

Here’s hoping for a real horror-in-space game in the future.

Rating: Not Worth Playing