Dead Space 2 Reader Review
Well, this is awkward.
You see, I finished Dead Space 2 the same evening I turned it on, on normal mode, without nary a whimper. After a few nights of very good sleep, I've spent the past few weeks with a burning internal argument between my head and my heart. My head is saying, "Well, it's a really good game! It plays well, looks good and fills in just enough to sate your curiosity, whilst leaving enough plotholes for you to expect a sequel!". Fair enough, I thought. That makes it a good game.
And then my heart interjects with its own little argument. "But Kami," it says, "It's different. It doesn't care anymore. It doesn't love you or hit the right buttons. It's a by-numbers sequel that really forgets so much of what it did right! How can we like this, let alone love it, when it feels so shallow so often?"
It seems cliché, but then, there's so much of Dead Space 2 that is overly reliant on cliché and stereotypes. It's really very confusing. I need to write this reader review, if not for others, then for my own sanity - to actually work out what the hell has my head and my heart declaring war on each other... do note, this isn't going to be a short one, so if you don't want to delve into my mind - it's a 7 out of 10. You can leave now.
If you're still here, let's start with the facts. The plot, in itself, is sound. Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the events that took place on the Ishimura. Isaac Clarke (now with a voice and a face that the developers see fit to make you endure at regular intervals) has been sectioned after the events that took place in the last game - fair enough, I'd probably expect this as well of anyone. He is haunted by visions of The Marker, of what happened and of his dead girlfriend Nicole. But very quickly, the necromorphs hit the fan - complete with a VERY well animated and up-close and personal transforfmation of a healthy man into nasty necromorph killing machine. Anyway, there's more on the State vs. Religion undertones, with personal soul searching and more about acceptance, letting go and coming to terms with ones grief, no matter how hard that may feel. Aww, so touching - doesn't help that your guilt, coupled with the marker, have created a physical manifestation of your girlfriend who for a long time is very keen to drive you either mad or kill you. C'est la vie.
Technically speaking, there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with Dead Space 2. Everything handles wonderfully, moves great, sounds great and most of all, seams reasonable and flows with much more fluidity than the first game did. Even with some pretty annoying instadeath moments, everything has a logical progression and you won't really be needing a walkthrough - every step is sensible, obvious and clearly marked. Everything looks fine...
I suppose my first gripe should be there. Everything looks FINE. What I loved about Dead Space 2 is from the very off, it was pretty clear that everything WASN'T fine - it didn't need to show you the necromorphs to start with, because the tension was already there between the characters and a huge planet cracker that felt ominously deserted. Dead Space 2, to provoke the ire of the community, is a bit like Alien Resurrection to Alien to Alien 3 - it doesn't have the feel or the smarts to hold back a bit. It delivers the shocks up close and personal, in a manner that is crisp and sharp but lacks flavour or texture. Maybe too big a budget? It's no surprise that good movies tend to go south when for a sequel, people are prepared to throw oodles of cash at it hoping that lighning strikes twice. It just doesn't feel as convincing or as honest.
Second gripe I mentioned earlier but let's make a meal of it - another thing it has in common with Alien Resurrection is that it feels so heavily reliant on cliché and stereotype to get by.
Now, I can hear you groan, so let us be clear on one thing if nothing else - Dead Space was in itself hardly original. One part Alien 3, two parts The Thing and two parts Event Horizon, it was hardly the flagship for new, inventive horror in its concept. It also used some pretty hefty clichés as well - but with good grace and a knowing nod. No, it wasn't original, but it likely wasn't supposed to be - it was a horror game, and it was fueled by ideas that weren't original. But always remembered it was meant to be scary, and that made it feel fresh, it made it feel clever. Dare I say it, in a time when even Resident Evil had its lips clamped firmly around the joystick of Gears of War, Dead Space felt like it was taking back something that was being lost.
Dead Space 2, on the other hand, doesn't quite do the smart thing and keep the cliché in an iron cage, for you to admire without being mauled by it. Modestly hot chick who betrays you the moment you meet? Check. Nutty, twitchy bloke who was also in the asylum who dies in the end? Check. Evil black guy who is bald and has facial hair? Check on all counts. Tentacle rape jokes? Check. I Eye jokes? CHeck, twice on that one too. Government coverup? Psycopathic Artificial Intelligence? Saving the good girl at the expense of the heros own life, and the girl coming back to save him in return? Let's not forget the moment Ellie and Isaac joke about discovering that there's a big necromorph swell in the medical bay of the Ishimura - and how it is lucky that the tram will go straight to the bridge. Almost immediately, the computer voice jumps in stating there is an obstruction in the way, and guess where the nearest stop is? Answers on a post-it to Captain Obvious...
Not that I am against a little bit of unoriginality, but in Dead Space 2 there is so much of it that I find it all a little hard to swallow, my gag reflex doesn't quite extend that far. It feels like at every turn, there's a joke or reference to old scifi - and that is wonderful, I love a good homáge to times past, but when that's all you have, then we have a problem. You have to look forward, and Dead Space 2 is looking in the mirror - it's narcissistic if nothing else.
But that said, there are moments of great clarity. Despite not being terribly original and handling like an elephant with bird flu, the jetpacks provide some amusement - although I must say I quite enjoyed the leaping of the original, having the freedom to move around wherever in zero-gravity is very nice indeed. It also allows for some great freeform platforming-come-racing, and that is fine by me. Those setpieces were superb, and highlights of the game.
There are some amazing setpieces in the game - some were spoiled for us in the promos, others not, but they do give the game life and mobility, it doesn't feel as rigid as Dead Space did - it flows effortlessly from one situation to the next, and makes for some fine moments. But on a down side, the story just goes batshit insane towards the end - much like Metal Gear Solid 2 did, actually, so even when it's being bad, it's still aping something. Although to give Dead Space 2 SOME credit on this, at least we weren't forced to endure a naked Isaac for ten minutes...
But most importantly, and perhaps to me the most unforgivable thing of all, is simply that Dead Space 2 isn't scary in the slightest. It's all too obvious, all too keen to show everything and strip down to its birthday suit for your pleasure. It's showing off, and in that it feels like it has lost something. It's so keen to show off and ape and quote other notable horror and sci-fi franchises. It's like a child who needs Ritalin. It's too energetic, too eager to please, too keen to get on with things, like it has ants in its pants.
But a horror game without the horror is just an action game - and Dead Space 2 is just another action game. It's a very GOOD action game, mind you. It's a little shorter than the original (despite coming on two discs for the 360 version - more evidence that it simply wanted to show off).
It's also easier - probably in part to polishing the controls a bit and having more freedom in how to do things. I agree that forcing in scares just because the protagonist handles like a bull with a chronic migraine isn't very clever, but so often it seems when you fix the controls, you forget to make the game harder to compensate. In Dead Space, the engineering suit felt heavy, unwieldly. But it also felt like protection, armour against the unknown. Dead Space 2 feels a bit less weighty.
I better start trying to sum up now. To me, Dead Space 2 is certainly not a bad game and I certainly don't want EA to give up on it - but this is a game that has, in a lot of regards, missed the point a bit. It's too into itself, too vain and conceited as if the original love has gone to its head a bit. The multiplayer adds to this as well, I don't see why it needed it - not that the multiplayer is bad either, mind you, but it is something that just seems entirely out of place.
In its defence however, it is a solid action game with a gripping, although predictable, plot and plenty of good times along the way. It also feels... well, complete. So often now games are launched and need massive patches, or hew out massive chunks of the game and then charge you more for it as DLC. Dead Space 2 is a rarity in these troubled times in that it does feel complete, it doesn't really need anything fixing technically and feels like your £35-£40 is paying for a complete product.
Just, as much as it is complete, it's not the same. My head and my heart are both right, of course - it's an amazing game that is just clouded by the fact that the original did it better - it had more restraint, it had better timing and despite it all, the cliché it used was kept minimal as a garnish, rather than served as the main course.
Dead Space 2 is a good sequel - but it is still a sequel for sequels sake. Given time, I will learn to accept it and all its faults... just unlike the original, I probably won't be able to love it in quite the same way - because Dead Space 2 is more in love with itself than with the player...
Pity, that. Any new contenders for the horror crown? Anyone?