Dead Space 2 was a great action game. Wait… This sounds wrong. Isn’t it meant to be horror? Well I wasn’t scared.
After playing Silent Hill 2, coming to Dead Space 2 was something of a relief. Chalk it up to age and experience but the familiar environments and predictable enemies were a return to a sort of videogame normalcy I recognised from countless games and movies.
Indeed, aside from a few cheap shocks (falling lighting, sudden alarms) no element of Dead Space 2 scared me. Whereas Silent Hill made damn near everything and everybody Other by subverting the familiar and making monsters and environments disturbing fragments of the lead character’s psychology, Dead Space was so derivative of Sci-Fi staples I’ve grown up on that I found myself barrelling through levels, recognising the threat in every situation and handling it with a grin. The horror never surfaced.
The nercromorphs were familiar bad guys, indeed, their appearances were easy to anticipate and their AI was easy to figure out. Furthermore the necromorph design lacked anything truly dreadful.
This sounds disappointing but I still liked the game because as an action title it exceeded my expectations and I suspect the creators intended it to be more action-orientated.
Signs point to it being an action title – the blurb on the back of the box exhorts us to take up weapons and “dominate” the necromorph outbreak. The camera adopts a friendly over the shoulder view and controls are intuitive and easy to use whilst the HUD is stylishly designed – and this is a key point because one of the scariest things about older survival horror games like Silent Hill 2 was the fact that the controls were never as smooth and the camera could be manipulated by the game’s director to build up tension due to concealed threats etc. The smooth controls of Dead Space help to ease fears and, as a result, promote exploration and even admiration of the environments and combat which is the game’s strong point.
The combat is deep when you consider the different layers of tactics that can be reached through utilising and combining non-weapons like stasis, which freezes enemies for a limited time, and telekenesis, which helps you to manipulate objects and the environment. Necromorphs can only be destroyed by cutting off their limbs or totally shredding them to pieces so imagine being jumped by a number of creatures – you freeze a bunch in stasis and then set to work decapitating limbs and positioning yourself for the next onslaught. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the many and varied weapons that range from the useful flame-thrower to the line-cutter, great for slicing off legs from incoming necromorphs.
The game does have a great sci-fi atmosphere from beginning to end. The environments are highly reminiscent of Alien, as they capture a sense of the cold, mechanical and filthy industrial vibe of the corporate world of the Alien franchise.
Apart from the combat and environments, my favourite elements were the set-pieces and voice-acting. The great visuals and sound design of the game ensured that the set-pieces were all exciting – witness the escape from the solar array as you blast through space with nothing but your breathing for sound.
It almost managed to capture a chilling sense of cosmic-isolation but its focus on action tore it away (ironically, this is a feeling better captured in the much more child-friendly Super Mario Galaxy franchise). However, despite the fact that Dead Space 2 is set in outer space, it never felt quite as alien as Silent Hill. That written, there were moments of heart break and desolation captured by the game, particularly in this scene.
Dead Space 2 did carry on the tradition of Blonde’s haunting the protagonist as seen in Silent Hill 2. Nicole was a great antagonist. I’ll miss her.
The more reasonable her, that is.