Thursday, 17 February 2011

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE: Dead Space 2


I'll admit now that I don't have much patience for the Shooter genre. Both of the first and third person varieties. I've not indulged in many horror games either. So this makes me playing Dead Space 2 a bit of an odd match up. While I had played the first Dead Space, it honestly didn't grab me. Its polish and quality was clear as day, but I just wasn't hooked by its premise.

Dead Space 2, on the other hand, is a mutation of its predecessor. The basics are the same - surviving endless waves of alien parasites popping from air vents and broom cupboards - but Dead Space 2's tone of delivery is different. Very different. Where the prequel prided itself on a silent, creepy atmosphere with a muted palette, protagonist and soundtrack - this game is all about loud, bold action and goofy set pieces; something I enjoy, but struggle to take seriously.

The game opens with protagonist Isaac in a straight jacket, being half-cared for, half-captured by a group looking into the nature of the aliens he'd splattered in the first game. Right on cue, one of these aliens bursts into the scene, violently violates the medic monitoring Isaac, and the player is directed to flee for his life. Restrained by the jacket and with no armour or weapons, Isaac's escape should be a very harrowing experience; but his goofy movement animations, his stomp attack that's heavy enough to shake the screen, and the multiple cut scenes where other survivors are mutilated by aliens while Isaac remains oblivious or just plain uncaring evokes memories of MadWorld, not Silent Hill.

The locations you run through also give an aura of cliché B-Movie horror, relocated to a space station. Take a setting, and add a dramatic "In space!" to the end, and watch it appear in Isaac's jaunt aboard The Sprawl.
Abandoned hospital, in space!
Blood-stained elementary school, IN SPACE!
Ominous church with added foggy graveyard IN SPAAAAAAAACE!

Facetiousness aside, this tone for Dead Space might prove to be a bit of a problem, not because the game isn't taking itself seriously; but because despite the game's pitch-black humour, it still wants to evoke a sense of atmosphere and drama. The decision to give Isaac dialogue and occasional scenes where he's haunted by hallucinations of his dead girlfriend doesn't so much make him human and tormented, but foul-mouthed and cardboard flat. The game tries time and again to get me to care about Isaac, but I'm too busy watching the awesome death cut scenes to notice (Watch Isaac have his arms rather unrealistically removed by an air-lock door without making a Monty Python Black Knight reference. I dare you). The game pulls a page out of Bioshock's book and leaves small video and text files lying around, but they're either unhelpful or uninteresting to read. Isaac's tour of the space station is well-detailed but so incredibly linear, the scare-factor of having to deal with enemies is diminished when you notice that the doors lock behind you whenever there's something in the room you need to tear apart.

So who would I recommend the game to? Fans of the first, definitely. There is a lot of polish to the flow of the game that outshines the original, and most likely other 3rd Person Shooters floating around. But if you're looking for a haunting, atmospheric experience; you're unlikely to find it here. Stomping on corpses to get at the ammo and money hidden within, and flying around with rocket boots is however, a more than satisfying replacement.

This article has been hosted on The Yorker, and can be found here.

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