Of the entire spectrum of human emotion, there is none more manipulative, more intense, or more transforming than fear. Perhaps even more disturbing (or fascinating, depending on your outlook) is our culture’s seemingly morbid curiosity with it: Parents spin tales to scare children into behaving, films centered on terror-filled topics are made yearly for the consumption of millions, and some even harness fear as a tool to coerce the cooperation of people on a societal or even global scale. My significant other admits to being terrified by movies about demons and possessions, yet she was quite eager to see Paranormal Activity 2. After experiencing the original film, she forfeited the following two nights of sleep, convinced that the moment she lost consciousness a lost soul from the netherworld would use her body as a demonic playground and come after me. Yet no matter what I could say to try and sway her mind, she viewed the sequel regardless. To my intrigue, however, she came back with a rather banal expression. Despite being a fine sequel that properly utilizes all of the scare tactics from the original film, she said it just wasn’t as scary. “When you know how [the film makers] are trying to scare you, they’ve already lost” I remember her mentioning. Much like the original Paranormal Activity, Dead Space brought us a new and terrifying experience for its genre that left the gaming community yearning for a sequel. And much like Paranormal Activity 2, Dead Space 2 deepens the universe introduced to us in the original and sharpens many of the game mechanics used before, but loses much of the ‘scare factor’ that made the original game famous.
While D.S. 2 continues the story of protagonist Isaac Clarke, it is not required to play the original game in order to enjoy the sequel. Visceral Games provides an introductory sequence that properly touches upon the major points from the first game before starting the new campaign. Engineer Isaac Clarke, having narrowly escaped the necromorphs aboard the U.S.G. Ishimura, has been in a coma for the three years. He awakens in a space station orbiting one of Saturn’s moons as hell begins to break loose all over again. If the tale of Dead Space 1 was one of Isaac discovering fear and true terror, then the sequel would most aptly be a tale of Isaac confronting and surviving this fear. Not only must he fight the same creatures he encountered before, but he is also struggling to hold onto the bits of sanity he still has. Haunted by his girlfriend who committed suicide on the Ishimura, her memory begins to prey on his fear and manifests itself in the form of her image. Over the course of the game, it becomes apparent that Isaac is fighting a losing battle in his mind, which provides for some very stunning—and very disturbing—moments in the campaign. This tag-team between biological and mental fear plays out very well throughout the game, but falls short in terms of real terror. I can vivdly remember several moments in D.S.1 which sent me a few inches off my seat, yet the sequel provided maybe one or two moments that caught me unexpectedly. Though disappointing, it is a small complaint amidst several redeeming qualities Visceral Games were smart to include.
Unlike the original game, which had Isaac doing a lot of backtracking through several sections of the ship multiple times, D.S.2 is a completely linear adventure that will never . The sense of exploration and slowly-evolving horror from the first game is replaced with a much quicker paced, action-oriented experience. Instead of boss fights with various monstrosities every now and then, the sequel opted for more adrenaline-infused set pieces that sometimes send Isaac hurtling into space, giving him only seconds to find safety before suffocation. Moreover, the designers at Visceral streamlined the combat and menu system to allow for a more uninterrupted playthrough. Instead of opening the menu to use health packs or stasis recharges, a press of a button will automatically use them without stopping the action for even a moment. Almost all of the weapons from the original game return with a few new tweaks that provide much more functionality than before. For example, the new pulse rifle comes equipped with a grenade launcher instead of a 360 degree firing alternate fire mode, providing much more flexibility when it comes to the game’s larger enemies. I enjoyed having a more open approach to using the weapons I felt like using, although many enemies are designed to be weak against a particular weapon. That said, Isaac’s trademark Plasma Cutter remains the most dependable weapon throughout the campaign.
Although the campaign is well worth playing through at least a few times (and encouraged, with the addition of New Game + that allows you to keep all of the upgrades you made to your weapons in your previous play through), the multiplayer portion of Dead Space 2 is also noteworthy. Taking design nods from the Gears of War and Left for Dead games, four players square off against four other players who take on the roles of the necromorphs. As the human team attempts to retrieve special equipment, or survive long enough to evacuate, the opposing players try to eviscerate them. After a few rounds, the teams switch sides and continue playing, and the best of all rounds wins the match. Surprisingly, the opportunity to play as the necromorphs proves to be much more entertaining than the human side, despite the fact that you end up dying much more frequently. Their attacks are easily mapped to the control and most of the enemies move just as fast as their human counterparts. Once I became familiar with the different beasts the addiction started to set in, and soon I was playing dozens of matches a night. There are various modes of play for those who are more prone to Capture-the-Flag or Horde styles of multiplayer, but they lack the unique appeal the traditional multiplayer offers in conjunction with the opportunity to play as the bloated monsters from the campaign.
When I think about fear, I begin by telling myself that it is a biological response to the presence of danger. When we are young, the majority of our fear stemmed from what we did not understand, and in response we try to stay away from it. But as we mature, that same fear stops becoming such a booming voice in our head and we start looking closer at what we thought to believe were our deepest and darkest fear. Moreover, our culture has long carried the philosophy that we must eventually confront our fear in order to conquer it. Whether it is a gentle rustling in your closet at night, or looking down from your city’s tallest skyscraper, fear exists only in our perception and distortion of reality. And while a movie, novel, or video game may present us something we never knew we were afraid of, our response is a drive to confront it and break its grasp over us. It is a timeless lesson we all share at some point in our lives, and it is one that Dead Space has thoughtfully reminded me of—for better or worse.
See you in the Next Level,