Electronic Arts and Visceral Release New Chapter of Horror Sci-Fi Adventure
You start Dead Space 2 wearing a straitjacket. You couldn’t wield a weapon if you had one. Wanna live? Then mash the RUN key and run for your f**ing life, while hideous monsters called necromorphs chase you down, each of them eager to take your body apart in high definition.
Dead Space 2 adds to the list of Electronic Arts (EA) Games I’ve raved about (namely Mass Effect and Dragon Age) that make EA the MGM of Video Games. These are more than just video games, they make you feel like the lead character in a movie. The level of detail in every aspect of the gameplay is sick. In a good way.
I just completed the game, and the folks at Visceral should be proud. They really did their homework. Check out this article from Wired that covers their disturbing analysis of anatomy. The writers spin an intriguing story, and the game designers know the tricks of pacing and timing. The musical score would give Howard Shore goosebumps, and I was pleased to hear Russian Circles contributing some audio kick-ass to the soundtrack. Dead Space 2 has an engaging plot, puzzles, environments, characters, conflicts and complications that distract you from the horror, and then… Well, let’s just hope you have a change of underwear handy.
Those familiar with shooters like Doom 3 are in for a surprise.
There’s no pause button.
Browse through your inventory for too long, and your body parts are likely to become inventory for something else.
Ammo and weapons are scarce, so you can’t just shoot at everything that moves. You eventually inherit a plasma cutter that’s about as dangerous as large Swingline Stapler. You’ll scavenge for clips to reload it, and you better make every shot count. No spray-and-pray here, Choirboy.
No more gentle deaths, either.
No more, “Oh I’m floating up into the sky, looking down at my body! How peaceful! Is there a tunnel?”
Trust me, watching yourself get pummeled, crushed, dismembered, skewered, decapitated by necromorphs or chopped in half by an airlock is not for the squeamish. One screwup, and you’ll get a lesson in internal anatomy: yours.
And just see if you can make it through a mini-game of running a drill press into your own eye. You need a steady hand for this one. In fact, you probably won’t get it right the first time, and even if you get it right and “win” it still looks painful.
Instead of downplaying the gruesomeness of the game, EA and Visceral Games embrace the horror. Check out www.yourmomhatesthis.com to see Moms’ reactions to this game. Marketing Genius.
More of the Same?
I won’t lie, Dead Space 2 is simply an extended version of the original Dead Space with a multiplayer option and some general improvements.
You play the same character, Issac Clarke, and your story picks up several months after the end of events in Dead Space 1. I recognized plenty of graphics textures and sounds from the original game, as well as many of the monsters and weapons. Health monitor, stasis, suits, stores, benches, power nodes, upgrades and more are all straight out of the first game.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The original game was top-notch, and 2 is as good if not better. It’s safe to say that if Dead Space didn’t put you in the loony bin, you need Dead Space 2.
So What’s New?
Multi-horror… er, I mean Multi-player
Dead Space 2 adds in the ability to play with/against others online. I dig the occasional multi-player mayhem, but I certainly did not buy Dead Space 2 to play with/against others. The multiplayer option of Dead Space 2 seems like an afterthought to compete with L4D2 or cave in to fanboy demands, very similar to the way F.E.A.R. handled it.
I’d gladly trade in the multiplayer component of Dead Space 2 for pretty much anything else. More content in the single-player version, or a reduced price. Maybe they could sell the multiplayer component as a separate add-on for people who actually want it?
Zero G x 360
Dead Space 1 had a short section of Zero Gravity, but all you could do was jump straight across the room. In Dead Space 2, you have micro-thrusters built into your suit, so you can maneuver around in zero gravity. The controls are intuitive and you can press “Z” to reorient yourself to the floor.
Zero G is unsettling all by its self, but when you add in 3-D 0-G puzzles, traps, necromorphs and a fricking countdown timer that shows how much air you have left before you DIE… well, the results are uberharrowing.
The story from Dead Space 1 continues in the single-player version of Dead Space 2. You wake up in an insane asylum long after the events on board the USG Ishimura, and you have no memory what’s happened since then.
The military wants you dead for reasons unknown. Religious zealots want you alive for reasons to horrible to mention.
There really isn’t anyone to trust, not even yourself, since your exposure to the artifact has left you with hallucination scenes of your dead girlfriend that are possibly the most frightening part of the game.
Oh, and let’s not forget the necromorphs. Lots and lots of necromorphs, who want everything dead. Including you.
Weapons of Gross Destruction
There’s your old friends the line gun and plasma cutter, the assault rifle (my primary weapon), and the force rifle and flamethrower which are perfect for swarms of necromorphettes.
But one of the new kids on the block is the Javelin gun, which pins bad guys right to the wall. Gotta love that rag-doll physics engine.
Use the line gun to sever creatures legs to slow them down, or their arms to limit their attacks, or their heads to limit their lifespan.
Ah yes, and you stomp on corpses to loot them, crushing them into bloody bits. Genius. And the sound is spot on. [Editor’s Note: How do you know this?]
In fact, anything you can pick up is a weapon: chairs, magazines, plants, debris… What the hell are all these long, metal spikes laying around for? Heh. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more disgusting, use your telekinesis power to pick up and hurl body parts as weapons.
Never thought I’d be comfortable playing an RPG without a map, but the stellar ‘breadcrumbs’ feature from Dead Space made me a believer. Just press a button, and a line on the floor shows you which way to go. No more getting lost or turned around. No more pulling up maps that take you out of the game.
In Dead Space 2, the breadcrumbs feature gets an upgrade. Now you can also use it to find the nearest store, game save location or upgrades bench.
Opportunities for Improvement
Weapons Improvement Matrix
I like the idea of using power nodes to upgrade your equipment, but whoever thought up the weapons improvement matrix should be shot with their own line gun.
Power nodes aren’t handed out like Pez, you gotta work for them. Plugging power nodes into a matrix where they don’t actually increase weapon stats is a poor return-on-investment.
While you can reallocate your power nodes, it’s still frustrating to have to pick some arbitrary upgrade path just to improve the features you want. Please. Either one upgrade per power node, or make them cheaper/more available.
EA Download Manager = Way Too Little, Way Too Late
Dead Space 2 comes bundled with an optional utility called “EA Download Manager”. Beware. This is simply a poor knockoff of Steam, a utility created by Valve that was released over a year ago and is Far Far Superior:
- Steam works with almost all game companies. EA Download Manager connects you to the EA store, which only sells EA Games. You can actually buy Dead Space 2 through Steam, but you can’t buy Blade Kitten through EA Download Manager. Nyah.
- Steam software keeps your installation media and keys in the cloud, and keeps your game software updated in the background. EA Download Manager only updates EA Games. Supposedly. It didn’t show Dead Space 2 after I installed it, even though that’s the game it came bundled with. WTF?
- Steam offers in-game voice chat
- Press F12 in game to grab an instant screenshot, and choose to share it out to Facebook or Twitter.
- Steam offers social networking. You can find your friends and see what they’re playing, and the lobby feature lets you gang up and hang out ‘backstage’ to make sure everything is working before launching into the game.
- Steam tracks stats and achievements.
- Steam did it first, and does it better.
Business 101 – if you want people to switch to your product, you have to offer something the existing competition DOES NOT OFFER. No one wants to run two gaming clients in the background, and no one’s going to ditch all their existing Steam friends, achievements, and purchased games just so they can run your limited knockoff.
The only thing EA Download Manager might be useful for is updating your EA game software. But shouldn’t this ability should be left built into the game? Don’t separate a necessary component from the game, connect it to your online store and call it a fucking feature.
Usability vs Piracy
The video game industry is still struggling to strike a balance between PC game accessibility and protection against piracy. Obviously, the game makers can’t just leave the game unlocked, but they also can’t have you calling in to their office with a note signed by your mother each time you want to play.
Dead Space 2 hits you up for e-mail, username and password each time you start up. Annoying, but you can cancel past that if you just want to play the single-player version.
Sadly, if that’s what it takes to make the game companies comfortable releasing games to the PC market, then I won’t bitch too loudly about it. Of course, these copy protection schemes doesn’t stop people from breaking the games and dropping them on torrents.
Yes, I could probably get Dead Space 2 for free, but I don’t want game companies to drop the PC market for the console market. Notice that Red Dead Redemption is NOT available for PC, which is a shame. The way I see it, my money goes to a good cause, and is also a vote to keep game companies interested in the PC market.
Executive Summary: UberHorror + UberAdventure = UberAwesome
Dead Space 2 is a disgustingly, gruesomely horrific masterpiece sure to give you paranoia, high blood pressure, a nervous tic, seizures, a heart attack, and (if you survive all that) post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other words, bloody awesome fun, and worthy of the Conrad Zero UberCool Seal of Approval