Dead Space 2 doesn’t lend itself well to Expo demonstrations. A lot of the first game was spent stomping around familiar corridors, looking quizzically at giant space machines. Machines that were unnecessarily grand. Unwieldy machines. I have seen the future and it is a planet-sized water cooler.
Since the sequel remains essentially unchanged in format a lot of players at the Eurogamer Expo (myself included) found that, for a time, they didn’t know what do to. Either they asked one of the EA attendants for aid – “mEAdic!” – or they put the pad down and quietly slinked away from the stand, a corrosive embarrassment quickly going to work on their delicate psyche. This unlucky multitude, they made a discovery: even when you are surrounded by geeks of a much higher calibre, it is still possible to be ashamed of yourself.
So, there are still massive, unknowable contraptions. There are still necromorphs. There is still the parting of limbs from body and the grand set-pieces which form the unique selling point of the series. And it is still very much a jumpy horror title as opposed to true, terrifying suspense. Dead Space 2 is the kind of game that is happy to pull the sudden scare card instead of – HOLY FUCK-MONGRELS IT’S AN ANGRY TODDLER WITH SHARP BITS AND MALE PATTERN BALDNESS.
As said, essentially unchanged. Which could be a good or bad thing depending on your reception of the original.
The game relies heavily on this scare tactic. It is a pity then that the demo set-up had no headphones present. The noise from the Expo floor drowned out any of the atmosphere the sound is supposed to help build in a horror game. The sound effects of the original Dead Space were superb. Distant creaks would echo through corridors – a metal pipe, expanding in the heat of a star’s ray? Or an unknown terror, scurrying over the remains of a ravaged control room? I’ve always thought those responsible for such effects are absolutely the unsung heroes of Visceral Games. So imagine the disappointment when I couldn’t hear anything beyond gunshots from the telly’s speakers. In Dead Space, no one can hear Isaac Clarke scream. No, really. You could see his radio transmitting. But all you could hear was –
“Wow. Killzone 3 looks really bad.”
“You’re supposed to wear the 3D glasses, fuckwit.”
For this reason, I can’t judge the sound. A major annoyance. Someone at the Expo or at EA should be slapping themselves hard in the face for such a careless (yet innocent) oversight. That said, if I have faith in any developer in terms of spooky groans and spatial discord (oh, that gorgeous suction sound upon entering vacuum) it’s Visceral.
Isaac’s voice was an especially interesting feature which players missed out on because of this. In contrast to the last game, Isaac is to be given a place in the dialogue and a splash of character. His psychological well-being is slated to be a major theme, revealing a man who was not meant to be Gung-Ho Space Marine #179 but a man who is slowly falling apart at the neurological seams. The first time I saw Isaac unmasked in my playthrough was when a necromorph grappled him, tore off his helmet and vomited a steamy torrent of acidic liquid straight into the poor man’s face. He fell to the floor, clutching his throat and began vomiting himself, before slumping. Inert. Dead.
As deaths go, this was the most visually disturbing to me. Far worse than the time he was ripped to pieces by some rampaging beast with a gammy arm. Worse than the time he was torn asunder in the vacuum of space by the same creature, when his disembodied hand floated neatly past the screen – a piece of gory, interstellar flotsam. This feels like a game that isn’t satisfied by simply relaying one man’s plight – it wants to include you in his nightmare. It wants to traumatise both of you. I died nine or ten times, always in different ways. I’m not sure, but I think that is more times than I died during the entirety of the first game. It may be fair to say the difficulty has been ramped up.
Although the constant dying never got irritating (it was always some error of the player) it seems Dead Space 2 is not without its frustrations. When a set-piece monster grabs you, you become unable to swap weapons. If you have a stupidly precise weapon equipped it can become difficult to hit the monster’s dedicated sweet spot. More so because the camera insists on shaking like a malfunctioning Buckaroo with choleric fever. Spectacle is good. It was a defining element of Dead Space. But when you aren’t sure whether it is possible to fire off a shot or not because of the cinematic camerawork it becomes interference in play.
Quicktime events also make a reappearance, although they all seem to involve simply bashing the X button over and over, so maybe that doesn’t qualify as quicktime. I’m not really bothered about this kind of feature but I know it is something that gets people’s goats. It gets their goats and it does awful things to them. Poor goats.
Apart from giving Isaac a voice, a personality (hopefully) and a jetpack, the sequel doesn’t seem to be doing anything dramatically different from the first. On release, the new setting, enemies and weapons will undoubtedly reveal whether it does more than simply appease the fans. The formula seems to work though. It remains enjoyable despite the familiarity. Perhaps appeasement is all Dead Space 2 has to deliver, being less concerned with changing the formula than it is with applying the formula with style.