Here we have the sequel to the acclaimed space horror game ‘Dead Space’ from Visceral Games and EA.I first heard about the original game not through your typical gaming channels but through an unrelated search on YouTube.
Once I had found and watched one Dead Space vid, I saw that there were dozens if not hundreds of them on there. On closer inspection, it became apparent that there was a thriving community of folks posting vid clips of particularly disturbing or gruesome scenes from the game; ‘Fatalities’ if you like (to quote a well known Mortal Kombat term). And very inventive and stomach churning they were too!
Now I’m a horror lover and a bit of gore hound, so dutifully I thought it only right and proper to see what all the fuss was about, so I downloaded the playable demo from the PS3 store…….yikes!!
Ok so I’ll admit that it took me a while to pluck up the courage to actually complete that demo, let alone the entire game. This is one scary mutha of a franchise, there’s no doubt about that. The game is a mix of Alien-esque environments and serious mood lighting, coupled with a curiously disturbing almost Cronenberg-like approach to extreme body horror. And this is I think key to Dead Space’s violent ‘fatalities’ being so popular on YouTube; it’s very creative with its blood soaked imagery and the savage ruination of the familiar.
Dead Space 2 continues the story some three years after our original hero [Isaac Clarke] was rescued at the end of the first game, although subjectively to the very confused Isaac, little or no time has passed at all. We begin on board what appears to be a medical/psychiatric facility within an enormous space station (The Sprawl). Eschewing the norm in advanced games these days, there isn’t a lengthy introduction or cut scene to watch before actual gameplay commences. In fact there really isn’t much time to take a deep breath and brace yourself before you’re in control of a helpless, bewildered and straitjacketed Isaac and literally running for your life.
It’s a great way to begin a game that’s for sure! That is if super high adrenalin panic due to immediate threat of painful dismemberment is your thing. The game starts as it means to go on, by raising your heart-rate and keeping you on edge, in danger and bewildered as to what the heck is happening, right from the off, with very little respite.
This jump straight in approach could well be confusing for players not familiar with first game, and it seems the makers felt the same way and provided an abridged ‘story so far’ link on the main menu page. This short film does a decent enough job of quickly filling in the back story, and enables newbies to get a feel for what’s gonna happen once they commence the game proper.
Now if Sci-Fi body horror is your thing then DS2 is certainly going to appeal. It’s realistic, immersive, disturbing, gruesome and relentlessly gloomy, and be warned, this game more than earns its 18 certificate. But you do have to be the type of gamer that can suspend their disbelief and inwardly occupy the environment and situations you’re being presented with. The alternative is to see it as nothing more than CG pixels and mentally check out of any kind of involvement. Indeed this is exactly what happened when I started the game. There I was, warning my 4month pregnant wife that this was gonna be some full on twisted gameplay, and she was like “yeah, whatever” – I reiterated how serious I was about it, worried that she just wasn’t ‘getting’ the message. She then explained that she just doesn’t invest in games the same way as movies, and that it didn’t matter how disturbing or unpleasant the game tried to be, she just wouldn’t be particularly phased by it…..just a bunch of pixels after all. Well whatever the wife feels about it, it gives me the willies!!
To my eyes DS2’s graphics look a good dose sharper and more convincing than the first game, the environments, design and lighting are absolutely top notch. Weapons, interactive devices etc are inventive and clever, and the gameplay has a reasonable dose of problem solving in amongst all the viscera and decapitation.
The controls are pretty intuitive and don’t feel obstructive or cumbersome. Isaac seems to want to do the things you want him to do, rather than fight you. Once again ‘in game’ vitals, status and equipment are handled by the ‘Rig’ concept which the character wears at all times. It’s a nifty conceit and brings the management, control and status of Isaac’s particulars within the narrative of the game, rather than being something only you as the gamer are aware of (if you see what I mean?).
The environment is vast and labyrinthine although both the design itself (e.g. You’re in a room and there’s three operational doors, but only one is unlocked, which way then? Duh!), plus the inclusion of a nifty route finder device (literally showing you which way you need to be heading); serve to make actual progress a little predictable at times. It actually pays to check out some of the rooms and hallways the router says to bypass as there are often handy pickups in them. These pickups are important and include credits as well as things like ammo and valuable items that can be traded for yet more credits at the automated ‘stores’ that are dotted along the way (usually near ‘save’ stations). These ‘store’ stations can also be used to place unneeded items in, as Isaac only has limited space for carrying things in his rig. As you progress through the game you are able to use your amassed credits to upgrade your equipment as and when upgrades are found or become available in the store.
The only area where I think the game is a little behind the best in class would be the quality and realism of the character animation. In particular, facial and gestural movement. I think there are games out there that take this area more seriously. Of course our hero spends most of his time behind his supercool featureless mining helmet, so convincing facial expression is something of an academic point for him and therefore not as high on the agenda as it might have been otherwise.
Overall it’s a very impressive 2nd instalment of a now well established franchise, and definitely succeeds in its stated goals. So much so in fact that I found I could only play it in relatively brief sessions. I would be quite relieved to happen upon a save station and withdraw from Isaac’s tormented world for a while and rest my ticker!
So what else is there? Well the PS3 edition of Dead Space 2 also includes a whole separate additional game, quite apart from the main game. It’s called ‘Extraction’ and is a first person ‘Rail’ style adventure shooter designed to be played with the new ‘Move’ motion control equipment, although it can also be played using standard 6-axis joypad (which is how I tested it).
It’s a completely separate story centring around a whole different set of characters and situations set before the original Dead Space time-line. It’s an arcade style ‘Rail’ game whereby you travel through the levels with predetermined movement (although you can influence direction a little), and features multiple chapters that you can access randomly. The controls are a little different to the main game (naturally), which made it interesting to switch to for this review. However, I quite enjoyed it, but felt it’s probably more fun with the ‘Move’ gear hooked up.
There are various other additional features included with DS2 that add appeal and flexibility, such as a multiplayer mode and downloadable packs.
All in all it’s a very competent package. The main game is incredible and nerve shredding in the best tradition. Add to this the first person ‘extraction’ game and it really represents terrific bang for your buck.
Just don’t play it alone mwaaaaahahaha!!!