It’s November 1st. Later this month, Microsoft and Sony’s next generation consoles will be hitting the shelves and we’ll all be neglecting our previous gen workhorses as we get pulled in by the new shiny ones. I have been planning a Games of the Generation article for a while, and the original idea was for it to have a similar structure to my Games of the Year piece from last year, listing a number of games and writing a couple of paragraphs about each. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that that concept wouldn’t work; there’s just so many more games to choose from that I’d probably end up writing tens of thousands of words, and that’s just too much for a single article. No one would read it, and I wouldn’t blame them.

So I’m going to pick a game every couple of days (or so) and write about that. I’ll then link to previous entries in all of the following articles so that you can keep track of them all. Some ground rules: I’m counting games on 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS and Vita as well as any PC games that have been released since the 360 launched (I know the PC doesn’t have ‘generations’, but I want to include a couple of games from that platform). I’m not counting Wii U for two reasons: firstly, it’s Nintendo’s challenger to PS4 and Xbox One, and secondly, I don’t even own one yet. If the mood takes me, I might even throw in a PSP or DS game (provided it saw release after the Xbox 360 – that’s my cut off point).

One last point: I’m not putting these in any kind of numerical order. I’m listing the games I’ve loved throughout this generation of gaming, not ranking them. It’s often hard enough to rank the best games in a given year, let alone an entire generation.

So, without further ado, here’s my first entry. And considering what day it was yesterday, it’s a very apt pick.

Dead Space 2
ds2banI loved Dead Space when it launched in late 2008. Loved it. A stunning-looking new IP that melded the best bits of Alien, The Thing, Event Horizon and Resident Evil 4? Count me the hell in! It ended up being my second favourite game of 2008 and I immediately began pining for a sequel.

Dead Space 2 launched at the start of 2011, and unfortunately I couldn’t afford it at the time. Releasing it right after Christmas possibly wasn’t the best idea, and I had to resign myself to waiting a few weeks until I could get my hands on it (on the plus side, waiting three weeks meant I only paid £24!). In the weeks that followed release, I got to read a lot of other people’s impressions and it seemed that EA and Visceral had stuffed up. Apparently they’d taken out the horror and turned Dead Space into an action shooter! Dead Space 2 was Resi 5 in space!

Except it wasn’t. When I eventually got my hands on the game, I found these claims to be massively overblown; Dead Space 2 is largely more of the same, and that’s ok by me. The game begins with Isaac regaining consciousness and finding himself straitjacketed in the midst of another Necromorph outbreak, a horrifically gruesome scene playing out before him. Unable to defend himself, Isaac is forced to run, and we’re immediately back into familiar Dead Space territory; dark futuristic corridors, ambient lighting and sheer bloody horror. The first game’s excellent, immersive in-game HUD is back, as are the static-y, hurried radio communications we remember, and it’s not too long before we’ve recovered the now-iconic plasma cutter.

Sure, there may be a few more necromorphs here and there trying to tear your face off, and sure, there are some impressively huge Uncharted-style set-pieces such as that train ride or Isaac’s frankly insane space jump through a debris field, but they fit in with the tone of the game. Dead Space 2 is all about escalation; we’re not on a derelict ship in orbit around a distant world this time, we’re on The Sprawl, an enormous space station built on the remains of Saturn’s moon Titan, meaning that the threat in this sequel is right on Earth’s doorstep (relatively speaking). The Sprawl is a civilian structure, so it presents a number of different environments from the moody mining installations of the previous game, taking in shopping malls, hospitals, an elaborate gothic, almost Giger-esque church and even an elementary school. God, that school… For anyone thinking that Dead Space had given up it’s twisted horror roots for the second game, that school will quickly set them straight. And then promptly live in the space at the back of their minds where nightmares come from.

The atmosphere is there, too. That thick, cloying, suffocating mood backed up with excellent audio design and that maddening quiet-loud mechanic that spends as long as it needs to to get every hair on your body standing on end, your skin prickling in anticipation. Just like Dead Space, this is a game that you will play constantly on edge (especially if, like me, you play it in the dark with surround sound…). Like anything in the horror genre, familiarity can lessen the fear, and that does hold true for Dead Space 2 to a certain degree; you’ll never relive the first time you saw a Necromorph tear an NPC limb from limb, or disappear from sight only to emerge, slavering from an air duct behind you. But this is where the atmosphere and audio design come into their own, backed up this time by a greater focus on psychological horror; Isaac spent much of the first game searching for his missing girlfriend Nicole, only to learn she had died before he had even arrived. In Dead Space 2 he is haunted by crazed visions of her, and it is apparent that he is mentally suffering, visions seemingly seeping into the real world and making both player and protagonist sometimes question what’s real.

So Dead Space 2 isn’t the full-on horror-free action game I had been led to believe, and now, post-Dead Space 3, these claims do look rather overblown. I’ve since seen a parallel drawn between the Dead Space and Alien franchises; people claim that as Aliens was to Alien, Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space. I don’t entirely agree with that either; while both Alien and the first DS were claustrophobic sci-fi horror experiences, Aliens took that template and made a suspenseful, dark action movie out of it. Sure, there are more monsters and bigger set pieces in Dead Space 2, but it’s still a claustrophobic sci-fi horror experience.

There are a couple more things worth pointing out. Firstly, the original game’s zero-gravity sections return, but here they’re much more playable. Zero-gravity in Dead Space meant jumping from point to point and was handled almost entirely by the game; you aim where you want to go, press a button and zoom straight there. In Dead Space 2, you are completely free to roam around in 3D space thanks to the small boosters on Isaac’s suit, and it makes moving around the game’s zero-g spaces not only much more enjoyable, but more creative too. Secondly, though Dead Space was already a very good looking game, the sequel is an utterly spectacular visual feast for console players – it’s easily one of the best looking titles of the current generation, and I’m very interested to see what Visceral can manage in the coming generation.

Oh, and one final thing: Ellie Langford is a friggin’ badass.

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