Dead Space 2
The Ridley Scott classic ‘Alien’ posited that ‘In space…no-one can hear you scream’; while this might be scientifically accurate, it’s not entirely true. Well, not if the Dead Space series is anything to go by; the neo-industrial sci-fi of EA’s flagship survival horror series not only serves up a fair amount of screaming, but also a multitude of other sounds – flesh being rendered from bone, the heavy breathing of an engineer locked inside a stifling armoured suit, the gurgling of un-earthly creatures and the thump of plasma rounds. Even the vacuum of space isn’t enough to smother a soundscape this rich. Along with numerous other additions, developer Visceral Games have added a few more noises into the mix for the sequel, with a curious leaning toward childhood – the squeals of demonic children, the cries of shuffling, vomiting babies and the tinkling music of a children’s nursery. The question is, have the studios efforts orchestrated a better – and more terrifying – game? Or does Dead Space 2 mark the moment the series was sucked into space and left drifting?
If the original Dead Space was built around tension that you could cut with a knife, Dead Space 2 marks the moment when the game’s hero, Isaac Clarke, becomes the knife. No longer a mere mechanic fighting desperately to save himself, Isaac 2.0 feels more deadly, more assured and, well, more chatty. This Isaac has taken a number steps towards becoming a more standard action hero – a trajectory that, in fact, the game as a whole follows.
This isn’t to say that Dead Space 2 isn’t scary – it most certainly is, and it unquestionably maintains the series’ position as one of the best in the scaremongering business. However, this instalment does feel slightly less pure than the original, with its focus shifted away from wringing out a core emotion (i.e. terror!) from the gamer until they reached a point where every corner, every noise and every flicker of a light set synapses tingling. Visceral Games still want to scare you, but they also want to wow you, to shock you and also move the series into a position where it can compete with more action orientated heavy hitters such as Uncharted and Halo.
Assuming you’ve played the original, there is an underlying sense that you – and, indeed, Isaac – have been here before; that you’ve already dealt with these horrors and you can deal with them again, something that inevitably drains away much of what made the original so special. It could be argued that this is entirely fitting, as it shows a degree of character progression, mirroring Isaac‘s increased confidence. But it does feel less claustrophobic, less terrifying and, dare we say it, more comfortable; in light of this, it is easy to feel that something has been lost.
Dead Space 2 is set three years after the events of the first game; awaking in a hospital on a vast space station known as ‘The Sprawl’, Isaac has no memory of the years that have passed since he first fought the Necromorphs and destroyed the mysterious Marker. It’s not long before the necromorphs raise their rotting, razor sharp limbs and make an appearance on The Sprawl, and Isaac once again finds himself plunged into a battle for his own survival and that of any other crew members who have managed to resist turning into a twisted-alien-demon-freak.
In honesty, the game’s incessant reliance on ‘go there, fix that’ questing makes it difficult for the narrative threads to really come to the fore. Played as an episodic (‘This Week on Dead Space 2’) affair, individual chapters work well, but it doesn’t really succeed in telling a compelling story. Newcomers to the series in particular will struggle to get to grips with what on earth is going on, even if they’ve watched the five minute ‘Previously on Dead Space’ recap video. The pacing also borders on the repetitious side, almost following a Grunge rock-esque quiet-loud-quiet loud formula throughout; Visceral Games do throw curve balls at you – and also openly mocks you with knowing winks – but the steady rhythm of scare/action/lift/scare/action/lift can begin to grate.
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