Sunday, November 13, 2011

games of our lives, part 6: Dead Space 2

CONSUMER ADVISORY: This is a repost of my original review from January because I couldn't bring myself to rewrite the whole damn thing.

Back in 2008, G and I played Dead Space, a survival horror game set on a monster-infested spaceship. By the time we'd finished, I knew that I'd be checking out any future installments, though I doubted they could be anywhere near as frightening.

Yeah. Color me wrong, because Dead Space 2 surpassed its predecessor on that front and then some.

When DS2 begins, Isaac Clarke, the protagonist from the first game, is suffering from amnesia in a mental hospital. He manages to escape, but of course he's not free and clear; not only does he have to deal with monsters, but the few uninfected humans on the ship are all members of Unitology, a religious cult that worships a Marker of alien origin and wants to capture Isaac for nefarious purposes. And why does Isaac's dead (and very angry) girlfriend keep talking to him?

In handy list format, here are the things that rock about this game:

  • The original game had an awesome feature that they were smart to carry over: instead of constantly pulling up and consulting a map, you press the right joystick, and a glowing blue line shows you where you need to go. This is a terrific idea, especially for people like me who have trouble reading maps, and they improved upon it by adding different colored lines to lead you to the nearest store (where you can buy ammo, healing, and weapons) or bench (where you can upgrade your rig and weapons). They also kept two other innovations from the first game, though they didn't change them: stasis, which allows you to slow things down, and kinesis, which lets you pick up them from a distance.
  • Isaac didn't talk at all in the first game, but he does in this one, and they picked a great voice actor. Actually, most of the voice acting in DS2 is good.
  • The graphics and sound design are absolutely stunning. I wanted to stop and admire the backgrounds many times, but I was usually too busy trying not to get slaughtered.
  • Most of all, THIS GAME IS FUCKING TERRIFYING. It's the second most frightening game I've ever played. (The first Silent Hill game takes the bloodstained sash.) There were times when I almost didn't want to go on because my nerves were so frayed. And DS2 doesn't rely strictly on jump scares, though there are plenty of those. The atmosphere will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. From blood-spattered walls to whispering from people you can't see, DS2 will have you tense from the second it starts. And oh god, the monsters! There's a new addition to the series that looks sort of like a large plucked bird, only not as funny as that might sound. They tend to lurk in open areas, and you'll be walking around and suddenly see one of their heads pop out from behind a crate or wall. It's like a sadistic game of peek-a-boo, because when you aim your gun at them, they hide. Then, just as you think you can start moving again, they charge at you making THE MOST HIDEOUS NOISE I'VE EVER HEARD. I don't know if that noise triggered some long-buried traumatic memory in me or what, but if it was my turn to play and I heard them running around, I had to pause and pass the controller over to G. I absolutely could not deal with them; they're like the satanic pets of Silent Hill's skinless demon children. During one area that was particularly rife with those fuckers, I was practically rocking back and forth on G's couch.

Bad things about this game: uh, it ended? (Though considering what a toll it took on my nerves, that might not be such a bad thing!) The story can be a bit confusing even if you've played the original Dead Space. It's REALLY difficult at times, which can lead to frustration. And there were a few zero gravity sections that made me nauseated, so if you get simulator sickness and don't have someone awesome like G to take over during those areas, you might have a tough time of it.

Anyway, if you have the intestinal fortitude and you love survival horror games, it doesn't get much scarier than Dead Space 2. I think its tagline should be "In space, no one can hear you shit your pants."