Archives for posts with tag: Dead Space 2

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.

ds3The Dead Space 3 demo is finally here (though it has been available for about a week for anyone brave enough to sign up to EA’s Origin service), so as a massive fan of the previous two games, I was eager to try it out. I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been quite wary regarding Dead Space 3; the initial reveal showcased a number of things I didn’t want anywhere near a Dead Space sequel, like human enemies, bro-op gunfights and cover. It’s not that I dislike these elements, but I have other games to deliver that kind of experience for me.

I thought I’d be massively hyped for a new Dead Space by now (the last one ended up being my favourite game of 2011, after all), but instead I’ve found myself worryingly indifferent to the game – everything I saw of it seemed to be moving away from what I wanted, so I just stopped paying attention and decided to ignore everything until I could play it myself. While this had the intended effect of allowing me to bypass both the hype and the inevitable internet hate-storm, it also meant I began to care less and less.

But it’s almost upon us, and I can ignore it no longer. Luckily for me, the demo downloaded nice and quickly from Xbox Live and I was able to try the game out for myself and at least attempt to come to some kind of conclusion…

The demo opens with our haunted former space mechanic Isaac Clarke regaining consciousness, seemingly in the cockpit of a ship. Seeing as he wakes upside-down, it’s safe to assume he’s crashed that ship. Isaac frees himself and crawls out of the wreckage to find himself in an arctic waste with metallic debris all around. Fires rage from the wreck as cold winds blow flurries of snow all around reducing visibility to a few metres. I’m initially struck by a comparison to the snowy mountain level in Jake and Sherry’s campaign in Resident Evil 6, except not as awful – while visibility is low here, we can still actually see enough of what lies ahead to not be completely snowblind. Isaac resolves to find rest of his crew. His crew? We know Dead Space 2‘s Ellie makes a return and we certainly know about soldier new boy Carver, but could there be more companions for Isaac this time around? Hmm…

As we make our way through the snow-covered heights, Necromorphs make their first appearance early on. It’s no big surprise or shock when they do arrive, and due to the amount of ammo the demo loads you up with, they’re no match for Isaac. As I reload, I notice the ammo seems to be universal, usable for all weapons. I’m not sure what to make of this just yet – it could be a rare instance of streamlining that proves useful, but it could also erode some of the inventory management you expect from a survival horror. I mentioned Resident Evil 6 before, and I’m reminded of that game yet again as we make our way around a cliff edge. As Isaac tries to clamber over a truck that hinders his path, it unsurprisingly starts to fall over the precipice. Isaac survives the section with some QTEs which seem a bit more heavy-handed than I remember seeing in either of the previous Dead Space titles – wasn’t the only use of QTEs before to shake off the Swarmers? Perhaps there were more and I’m simply forgetting them? Either way, the prompts here aren’t terrible, but the section could just as well have been a cutscene.

We eventually find ourselves in a large snow-blanketed courtyard area with a large metal platform creating a wall to our left. Carver appears above and shouts for Isaac to make his way to the command centre before spinning to fire as necromorphs converge on his location. Ducking into a small room to power the generator, Isaac activates a lift to reach the platform Carver was on. As we slowly ascend, we are attacked by a large, insectoid monstrosity with spidery legs that tears the lift from the wall. Flinging Isaac back down to the ground, it shapes for a fight, and a few throws of stasis and a few shots at its glowing orange weak spots see it off, but not before it helpfully creates a path up to the platform. Thanks, undead spider freak. On the other side of the wall is a monstrosity of a different sort; our first glimpse of human enemies. Ok, so it’s not that bad – it’s actually a three-sided battle between Unitologists, Necromorphs and Isaac, and the Necros convert our human foes into their own kind very quickly, meaning we don’t really get a feel for fighting human opponents.

As Isaac makes his way through the mining facility, we come face to face with a (hopefully) dead example of the spider creature we fought a few moments ago, suspended from the ceiling and numbered, and from the trench painstakingly dug out beneath him, it seems someone has been engaging in a spot of archaeology. What are they looking for, I wonder? Not a Marker, the pit is far too shallow. Hmm, mysteries… But mysteries we don’t have long to ponder, as we face a new enemy. This one is a… well, it’s a head. An evil bloody head that screams like a banshee and attaches itself to any chunk of flesh it can, regardless of limb capacity. It’s certainly an annoying little bugger; by the time you’ve reduced the body it’s in to a limbless torso, it’s already jumped to another, so you’ll have to catch it out in the open and finish the parasite off for good. Do NOT let these things jump at you, unless you wish to see Isaac’s head replaced with a new one.

After this encounter, we stumble from the darkness out onto the snowy cliffs again, in time to witness a beautiful yet incredibly creepy vista of the bright, orange sun setting over Tau Volantis, with an enormous bony Necromorph structure that looks to be about the same size as the final boss from the original Dead Space. It looks like a great, grotesque bone dragon, like some twisted, mutated dragon skeleton from Skyrim, only hundreds of times bigger, though thankfully it appears to be frozen in ice and snow. This towering monument serves as the backdrop to our second three-way battle, as a squad of Unitologists retreat from the Necromorph onslaught. This time, it’s easy to stand back and wait for a winner (that’ll be the Necros, then) to be decided before picking off the stragglers and making your way through the door that the hideous mutants burst from.

Inside, we find a large circular hall, and a huge drill that is being obstructed by two security gates that we need to free with kinesis. The idea is to move the gigantic drill bit so that we can get through to the passage beyond it, but of course, nothing ever goes to plan in Isaac Clarke’s world. As we set the drill free, the circular pit enters lockdown and the drill spins up murderously, following Isaac in a wide circle around the room. Obviously, we need to escape, and to do so we’ll need to hit the drill with stasis a few times to have an opportunity to take out its fuse, hidden in the centre of the whirring drill blades. Of course, while we’re trying to slow the drill and get a few shots off, we’re assaulted by wave upon wave upon wave (no exaggeration) of clawing undead mutants. They certainly know when best to strike, the clever bastards! It’s best to thin the herd a little before taking a pop at the drill, lest the variety pack of Necromorphs keep clawing at both your face and attention. We need to hit the drill three times, degrading its condition further each time, to open up the path before us, and it’s a pretty frantic, enjoyable section; you need to stay out of the path of the increasingly erratic drill bit, evade or take out necromorphs, and try and hit the fuse all at once. It’s good fun, and brought back positive memories of the Event Horizon-influenced engine section that was featured in the demo of Dead Space 2.

As we make our way outside, pulse steadily dropping from the frantic scenes beforehand, we find Carver outside crouching infront of us in a rather peculiar way. There’s a battle going on that he seems to be uninterested in – a bug perhaps? Ignoring Carver’s strange crouching, we notice that there’s another guy too, and he’s on our side. Who the hell is this guy? Well, we have no time to ponder Mystery Dude’s identity, as a sleek dropship swoops in to land troops, and Unitologists take up positions. This time, there are no Necromorphs to distract either side, so a cover-based gunfight erupts. I pull the left trigger to hug a wall, click right stick to crouch behind a crate and start to return fire. Dimly, I realise that I’m not hating this, but I’m not particularly enjoying it either; it’s just kind of… happening. It’s not that the cover shooting is poorly implemented here, but my idea of Dead Space is not hiding behind a box taking potshots at other people hiding behind other boxes on the far side of an arena – it just doesn’t work here, not for me. The untilogists also seem to take a good few shots – I headshot one three times with the Plasma Cutter before he goes down, which just seems to go against everything we expect from Dead Space. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate fighting unitologists.

Blessedly, the gunfight doesn’t last long as that enormous bony ice-dragon thing we spied from the cliff earlier appears to devour all of our pious foes. It almost gets Isaac too, and as our protagonist scrambles to his feet to face the nightmare, the demo draws to a close.

I wish I could say for sure whether I liked or disliked this demo. I’m struggling to work out quite what I thought of it. The setting feels pleasingly in-universe, in that it feels like a place that might exist in Dead Space‘s canon, but I just don’t really like the snowy setting very much – I’ve always been a fan of Dead Space‘s dark, gritty industrial settings, though the more ornate areas in Dead Space 2 also impressed, such as the Church of Unitology’s place of worship on the Sprawl – that worked because the church itself was incredibly creepy, a strange amalgam of gothic architecture and HR Giger, and the primary school was just all kinds of wrong. But a snowy planet with some mining equipment doesn’t unsettle me in quite the same way. I’m hoping that it’s just poor choice for a demo section, but the second game’s demo started off incredibly creepy, in the frosty, cramped cryo bay area. As things stand, I’m a little worried that the snowy wastes of Tau Volantis will make up the majority of the game.

As I said above, I know for sure that I hated fighting the Unitologists, at least in this demo – it remains to be seen if the full game will differ in this regard. Hiding behind boxes and taking pot shots at distant enemies just feels too out of place for Dead Space, and the experience undermines what we expect from our weaponry; Dead Space fans know the Plasma Cutter as a deadly tool of strategic dismemberment, so seeing it take three headshots to down a human foe immediately downgrades it to futuristic pea-shooter. I don’t recall seeing any dismemberment from human enemies either – from what I could see, they just dropped dead, all in one piece. This doesn’t disappoint me because I’m a bloodthirsty maniac that needs to see limbs flying off in all directions, but because it doesn’t feel right within the gameworld.

Having said all that admittedly negative stuff, there are positives. The mini-boss battle partway through the demo gave me hopes that elsewhere in the game we might see some heart-in-mouth encounters like the necromorph boss in DS2 that tries to kill Isaac on the train, and boss battles have long been a Dead Space highlight for me. Likewise, the use of both kinesis and stasis are as enjoyable as ever, and the drill set-piece was a fantastic few minutes of frantic, slightly panicky fun. I didn’t mention the new Bench that allows you to create your own gun combinations (I welded a Line Gun to a Plasma Rifle, both of which can be operated independently), which should open up more avenues for personalisation and tactical play. The issue of universal ammo, I’m not sure what to make of – it should mean never running out of ammo for your favourite gun, but will it detract from the inventory management minigame at the heart of a good survival horror? Only time will tell.

I think it’s a given that I’ll be buying Dead Space 3. I like the story, the universe and the mysteries too much to just ignore it completely. But I’m undecided whether I’ll be buying it on day one. I’d hoped this demo would sway me one way or another, but I just can’t make up my damn mind about it.

ds2s
Yes, it’s a new year, but I still have a ridiculous backlog. Worse, in fact, thanks to receiving games for Christmas, as well as sales on the likes of Steam and GOG.com. As always, the first few months of the year are again jam-packed full of new releases that will also be joining the growing list, while I fruitlessly try to whittle away at it.

And it is one of the upcoming releases that’s on my mind today; Dead Space 3 launches in a little under three weeks, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. The original Dead Space was one of my favourite games of 2008 – I absolutely loved it. Contrary to popular internet opinion, I thought 2011’s Dead Space 2 bettered the original in every way (except for that frustrating monster-rush near the end), and it ended up being my favourite game of 2011, ahead of Skyrim and Sonic Generations.

But Dead Space 3? I don’t know what to make of it. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of it, which is likely to its benefit, but I didn’t much like what I did see – series protagonist Isaac Clarke running around a bright, Hoth-like world called Tau Volantis engaging in third-person shooter battles with human opponents with an AI companion in tow.

At first glance, these sound like the exact same issues that most people had with Resident Evil 5 back in 2009. The demo and the overwhelmingly negative reaction that I noted online put me off playing that game until last year, and when I did I loved every minute, so perhaps I am giving Dead Space 3 short shrift. I can say that I’ve been curiously uninterested in the game since that initial unveiling, yet as it creeps closer to release, I am unexpectedly starting to look forward to it. And I’m quite glad to feel that way – I do love the franchise, after all. I even read the thoroughly mediocre book about Michael Altman and the origins of Unitology…

So, I said I loved Dead Space 2 (and I really did – I feel like it didn’t get enough praise – certainly for the visuals, which I believe are among this generation’s best). When I spied the DLC mini-campaign Severed on Xbox Live for a cheapo price more than a year ago, I snapped it up eagerly. There it has since remained, unplayed, on my harddrive. But as Dead Space 3 began to gently tug at my attention, it occured to me that playing through Severed might be a good way to get back into the franchise before the sequel arrives.

Dead Space 2: Severed is a two-chapter mini-campaign, featuring characters from the enjoyable lightgun spin-off Dead Space: Extraction (and set three years after that game) and is a side story to the events of Isaac’s own traversal through the Sprawl. As far as I’m aware, the gameplay is broadly comparable to the main campaign (though I imagine suit and weapon upgrades must be either excised or handled differently), and I hear it’s just a couple of hours long – perfect for someone who’s trying to clear items from a backlog!

Of course, the fly in the ointment of this plan is that tomorrow will see a Dead Space 3 demo arrive on XBL and PSN, so that will get all my attention (and I’ll most certainly be doing a write-up, you can count on that!); if it’s good, I’ll probably be salivating over more Dead Space content and immediately load up Severed. If it’s bad? Well, I’ll probably be sitting in a corner crying and rocking back and forth whilst holding onto my knees, lamenting what has become of one of my favourite new franchises this gen.

Let’s hope for the former, eh?