On the Digital Playground

Mar 23, 2014 | Posted by in Video Games
I’m having quite a prolific week with my posts. Turns out one of those rare times where I finish a video game is upon me. I’m going to write about both Dead Space and Dead Space 2 -I never said they’d necessarily be new games-. I recently replayed Dead Space and finished it a while ago so that I could work my way through the franchise. I have never gotten around to the sequel until now so I’ll do a quick review of both of them.

Dead Space

I have played through this game a few times since it was released in 2008, I remember the initial trailers making it look a lot like Resident Evil in space which, if done right, isn’t a bad thing. Early buzz always mentioned that it was bringing back classic survival horror instead of the over reliance on action heavy set pieces as were becoming more common in horror themed video games (see the aforementioned Resident Evil).
As far as I’m concerned Dead Space more than delivered on this promise. The setting is claustrophobic and atmospheric, the army of Necromorph creatures are appropriately terrifying and the game is punctuated with a sense of frantic urgency that really puts the player in silent protagonist Isaac Clarke’s situation as he tries to survive a ridiculous onslaught of terrifying creatures.

The story is quite simple. The game is set in the far future where humanity have spread out across the galaxy in search of resources, in order to gather these resources massive ships called planet crackers are used to…well crack the planet. One such ship is the U.S.G. Ishimura which has went silent for reasons unknown. Isaac and a team of engineers are sent to investigate and find that the ship is just floating in space with minimal power. Upon investigating they quickly find out that the ship has been overrun by Necromorphs which are created from the corpses of the crew.

Bow down before your lord and saviour

Isaac has a bit of a vested interest in this mission as his girlfriend Nicole is stationed on the Ishimura so he’s naturally concerned for her safety. As the plot continues Isaac finds there’s something deeper going on here, levels of corruption he never thought possible. Basically the Necromorphs are part of a larger plan conceived by the church of Unitology who actually worship these things, so in effect the real enemies here are the humans (despite the fact that you never fight one directly).

The game is fairly large, 10 chapters all in of a decent length. The Ishimura is an amazing setting, looking lived in with broken equipment and unmade beds as well as various recreation rooms etc. There is an ever present undercurrent of tension as the player is kept on their toes by the various creaks and noises made by the ship. I never knew when I was about to be attacked or whether there was a piece of equipment left on in a nearby room. The graphics are excellent, the Ishimura is wonderfully detailed down to minute things and the Necromorphs are stunning rendered.

Naturally you are attacked a lot and the onslaught of Necromorphs is quite a challenge, there are several varieties and ammo is at a premium as are health items so in true survival horror tradition you are fighting for your life with very little in the way of resources.

Impressively the story world is very well built. Isaac is an engineer, not a soldier so most of his “weapons” are mining tools that he is using as weapons – makes sense as he knows how to use these given his training. The suit that he wears (Or RIG) tells the player everything they need to know. Health is on the spine and the ammo for any given weapon is displayed on the weapon itself. Similarly the inventory is real time so retreating to the inventory to reload your weapons or use a health item while being attacked is not an option. This all adds to the sense of urgency as you have to think on your feet at all times. Combat can be mixed up by using stasis to slow down enemies and using kinesis to throw things at them.

There’s some nice originality in the various zero gravity sequences forcing the player to think laterally about how to cross a room since the target destination might be upside down or sideways (relatively speaking). In some cases you are forced into a vacuum situation where your suit counts down the oxygen remaining while you try to reach your destination before running out. Since there’s no sound in a vacuum it’s easy to be snuck up on with absolutely no warning forcing the player to keep their wits about them in these situations.

All told this is a great game, one of the finest of the last generation and definitely a great first entry into a new franchise, there’s a reason I keep coming back to it.

Dead Space 2

I’ve had this game since release in 2011 and only recently got around to playing it. Reasons for this are quite simple, every time I went to play it the updating process took so long that I lost all interest in it but finally I’ve played it.

Picking up 3 years after the first game Isaac Clarke wakes up on a facility orbiting Titan called The Sprawl, not long after waking up he finds himself in the middle of another Necromorph breakout and has to fight to survive again.

Gameplay is much the same as the first one with a few additions. There are now thrusters on Isaac’s suits so that he can fly around in zero gravity. This vastly improves the experience, making for more fluid movement in those instances. The control scheme has been altered slightly which took me quite a bit of getting used to coming right off the first game.

The pace of the game is much faster and there are quicker Necromorph’s to offset it a bit but generally Isaac moves much more swiftly than in the first game. The story moves along at a much quicker pace too as more seeds of corruption are discovered and Isaac’s place in the whole situation becomes a little clearer.

Disappointingly Dead Space 2 moves more towards action than claustrophobic survival horror. It’s a good action game but with so many out there I’d prefer something that stands out a little more. It doesn’t feel in keeping with Isaac’s character to be such a gung ho action hero either. It also feels shorter than its predecessor (despite the fact that its 15 chapters instead of 10) but maybe that was just me completing it over less time. The graphics are about on par with the first game.

Dead Space 2 is very enjoyable and a nice continuation of the franchise, I personally would have preferred a more streamlined horror experience like the first entry.