Let me just clarify something before this Dead Space 2-focused rant starts and GamesRadar Towers (alright, grey, semi-depressing office building) burns to ashes in the ensuing flame war. I think EA’s survival horror sequel is utterly excellent on almost every technical level I can think of. Visceral Games has created a moody, beautiful-looking environment, which shares the same sense of claustrophobic dread as the colony from Aliens. It’s an absolute masterclass in arresting sound design. And the core combat and weapons feel brilliantly judged and balanced.
Yet still, there’s something missing that I can’t identify. Some reason I can’t quite connect with the game, which I’m struggling to understand. So, my question to you, oh wise and learned reader is: have you ever been left cold by an excellent game and had no buggering clue why?
WARNING: ATTENTION ALL THEE WHO WOULD PASS THIS POINT. THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD
Now, I was a massive fan of the first title. Released the same year as Resident Evil 5, it felt effortlessly polished, exciting and fresh placed next to Capcom’s increasingly geriatric horror/action hybrid. From the incredibly well-realised Ishimura (that somehow miraculously managed to make every level of a banged-up spaceship feel like a distinct, memorable environment in its own right), to the constantly satisfying Strategic Dismemberment system; I had one hell of a hoot and a half throughout Isaac Clarke’s adventure.
On the decomposing face of it, then, I should be getting on with the sequel like a house with extremely flammable shag carpets and no smoke alarms. But I’m not. And it’s bothering me like having to share a linguini with a Necromorph, Lady and the Tramp-style.
Above: The new Zero Gravity sections are easily the most improved feature from the first game
As I said earlier, on a technical level, there’s really nothing that bothers me about the sequel. Combat feels just as meaty and visceral as the first game. The new weapons and enemies (I’m looking at you Stalkers and Johnny Javelin Gun) are most agreeable to my DualShock-obsessed digits. Oh, and some of those setpieces? Lets just say I seltzered my intergalactic pantaloons during the early tram crash.
Above: This setpiece is incredible, but I'd have liked a few more on this scale in the first half of the game
So what’s the problem? Well, admittedly my gripes are all small and fairly pernickety. Though I’ve enjoyed exploring the Sprawl, no one part of it has had the same impact on me as the initial approach to the Ishimura or the starling botanical section in Isaac’s original adventure. I’ll confess that I’ve only completed ten of the game’s 15 chapters, but so far, there’s been a little too much backtracking for my liking. Compared to the original, the pacing doesn’t seem to be quite as well judged or carry as much momentum propelling things forward.
I’ve also got a final gripe, which will make me sound like a mentalist of the very highest proportions, who needs to be promptly fitted with a straightjacket and personal padded cell. I don’t like the save system. Specifically, I think there are too many checkpoints. I’ve played both of Isaac’s games on the Hard difficulty. The big difference between the two for me, in terms of harvesting and maintaining a genuinely off-putting atmosphere, comes down to the sense of peril I feel while playing.
Above: The Sprawl might give you some stunning views, but I still preferred exploring the Ishimura
In Dead Space (at least on Hard) there was a fairly punishing checkpoint system, which actively encouraged manual saving. One impromptu decapitation for our space miner and you could easily be looking at having to redo 10 minutes of progress. But the sequel, on the other severed hand, loses a degree of this tension and dread simply because the punishment for death isn’t as severe.
Yeah, I’m aware you’re only given three saves on the highest, granite-hard difficulty setting. But you have to finish the game first to unlock this. Again, I must stress I’m only around two thirds of the way through Dead Space 2. Although so far, I’ve not found it to be as edgy or distressing (eh, in a good way) as its predecessor.
Anyhoo, I realise a couple of the above arguments aren’t particularly rational. That’s the whole point. Even though I’ve moaned about them, none of these fairly insignifcant factors should be detracting from my experience with the game in any significant way. There’s just something which has left me cold in the seven or so hours I’ve spent with Visceral’s title. Perhaps it's because the sense of having a new, amazingly atmospheric, unsettling world to explore has been dulled due to Dead Space 2 sticking so closely to the formula of the original. Or maybe, it's just because I'm a moaning prick.
That’s why I want to hear from you. Help make me feel partially less of a contrary, picky bastard by telling me about any irrational ill-feeling you might have towards a game you recognise is great.
Feb 10, 2011