EA Redwood Shores make a game just for me. It is called Dead Space; a loving homage to sci-fi/horror whose sole purpose is to make me shart myself by unashamedly rolling out every tired, hackneyed trick, cliché and genre trope in existence. :(
Redwood Shores, now Visceral, try to serve me up more of the same tasty necromorph pie, and for the most part it tastes good. I say for the most part because it leaves a slightly sour taste on the palate - what at first glance appear to be juicy currants and icing sugar turn out to be mouse droppings and icing sugar. I icing sugar.
Why the tortured metaphor? Because this game (moments of brilliance aside) is a bit of a mess. But before I start on the negatives, I will say that both Dead Space games share many positive aspects: great graphics, frankly amazing audio, improved Resi 4-like controls and high production values and well optimised on PC. Both games are highly polished products.
The initial six chapters are a dog's dinner and make the Transformers movie look like a masterpiece - even the action sequences here reminded me of the pointlessly indulgent sequences from Transformers. After a wonderfully unsettling opening sequence (one of only two bits where Isaac’s dead wife is actually scary) a contrived sub-plot comes into play that sees Isaac place his complete trust in a mystery woman at the end of an intercom. She claims that she is trying to help him, but instead leads him into a trap.
These chapters do nothing to advance or affect the overall story. Isaac 'tools up' and the player gets to familiarise him/herself with the controls by shooting necromorphs in lots of candle filled corridors... filled with of candles. After six chapters of pointless tomfoolery, mystery woman (I can’t even remember her name) unsurprisingly betrays Isaac and is promptly killed off, which really has no weight to it at all because we know naff all about her. Isaac ends up sitting on the floor saying, "Oh, me is a dope... what me do now?" Yes, this is what the new talking Isaac sounds like ;)
The main story begins at chapter six - destroy the new marker. This essentially involves two other characters... Strauss and Ellie:
Strauss is a mentalist (not the good type like Patrick Jane), who - along with Isaac - was tortured by Earthgov and forced into revealing the secret eleven herbs and spices that make a marker so tasty.
Ellie is just a tough talking random survivor who falls in with Isaac and Strauss. And she is lovely.
We learn next to nothing about Strauss apart from he is mental and that Isaac thinks he is indispensible in the quest to destroy the new marker - that is until Isaac stabs him in the head for lulz. But this is only after Isaac, knowing that Strauss is deluded and becoming increasingly violent, pointlessly forces poor Ellie to baby-sit Strauss until he eventually snaps and gouges out her right eye :’(
Ellie is a decent character, but her instant bond with Isaac is a bit vague, as are her actual motivations for tagging along on the magical marker quest and babysitting a murderous mentalist.
Eventually, after a lot more necro-culling 'fun', Isaac gets to the final boss - who turns out to be the apparition of his dead wife, Nicole. This would be fine if she hadn’t already popped up more times than a .
Nicole starts off in the game as a ghastly spectre who re-enforce Isaac's separation from reality and provides booga-booga scares. Sadly, like the other irksome excesses, Visceral just throws her into the game every ten minutes - turning her into Isaac’s guardian angel - and then turning her nasty again and expecting the player to still be unnerved by her.
There just seems to be a lack of judgement and an absence of the adept pacing that made the first game such an enjoyable ride. Any time there’s something interesting to look at - you can guarantee that wave after wave of Necromorphs will start pouring from the walls. Most environments, whilst varied, have little in terms of personality, unlike the first game. That said, amongst the copious filler and action there are some genuine WTF moments and white-knuckle set-pieces.
In my opinion Dead Space 2 truly comes into its own in the moments where Visceral has shown some restraint; advancing the plot and allowing the player to roam unacossted; letting the player use their imagination whilst wandering around the sanitized, yet battle scarred Ishimura or floating in the (mostly) silent vacuum of space, high above the sprawl.
There are some welcome additions to the game world in the form of intimidating new enemies. The raptor-like Stalkers and The Pack (infected children) are my pick of the bunch. I also appreciated the sound design of the exploding zit things. Truly shart inducing.
The zero gravity mechanics have had a complete overhaul; the controls are tight and add a new layer of game-play. There are also some new weapons in Isaac’s arsenal which are fun, distinct and change the action drastically. I especially enjoyed the javelin and its alternate shock-attack.
All in all, I think Dead Space 2 is good game that should have been great. As of a fan of the series, I was underwhelmed or downright annoyed with many parts. I think the action elements are too gratuitous which spoils the overall pacing - or would spoil the pacing if half the narrative wasn’t superfluous. For me, the original Dead Space is the better game by quite a margin. Whilst the storyline wasn’t going to win any awards for originality, it had focus - everything fitted together, and it was pitch-perfect for the genre. EA Redwood Shores had momentary clarity of vision and produced a highly confident gem of a game.