Saturday, March 19, 2011

Altman be praised, indeed

Now that Dead Space 2 is finished I feel better giving my reactions to it. This was a game that I could have played through in one sitting if time allowed. The cliche 'reluctant hero with amnesia' opening doesn't last long, with what little plot there is metered out at just the points. Game play wise it is functionally the same as the first game, but enemies come at you in more interesting and dangerous combinations. I never remember using the stasis ability outside of puzzles in Dead Space. This time around it was being used during every other encounter, often times just to catch my breath and avoid getting backed into a wall by explosive babies. Most weapons feel just barely powerful enough to get the job done with the limited ammo available, which adds a great deal the tension already created by creepy environments and sounds. Remember in the first Resident Evil how running out of ammo is an honest possibility, making every handgun or shotgun round count? Dead Space 2 retains that scarcity for most of the game. By the end I had hoarded more rounds for the rifle than I knew what to do with, which was good because the last boss would have been a bitch without it.

Isaac has gone from the guy in the cool looking armor to an actual character. All he really was in the first game was a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time who happened to be looking for his girlfriend amongst the legions of reanimated, multi-limbed dead. He never did find her, alive at least, as she killed herself to avoid being diced to death, and the first game ended with her ghost (or something akin to that) attacking him in the escape pod. Isaac has a face and voice now, not to mention a very tenuous grasp on what is real and what is not. There is some question early on in the game if what is happening only exists in Isaac's head, as his dead girlfriend keeps showing up to harass him. Sometimes she blames him for letting her die, other times she just crouches menacingly in the corner and looks scary, but the encounters are never pleasant. He never really accepts that she is real, fighting the visions off only to be left in a situation that is not in his head and that is just as bad. Isaac eventually caves in and admits that she is real, causing her to not be so scary looking and try to help him out.

Until she betrays him like almost every other character in the game.

Isaac doesn't do too well with any of the other humans he runs across. The first slits his own throat, the second batch tricks him into turning himself in and are all then gunned down by a space ship. He stabs another patient in the head with a long needle, guns down the half dead commander of the station and releases the monster hoard on his army, killing them all and leaving a big mess on the floor. The only 'good' character takes shots at him when they first meet. She is still the least crazy of the bunch and Isaac eventually sends her off in a ship to save herself, condemning himself to death by monsters or death when the station explodes.

By the time the game is done Isaac has saved the day from the evil marker and whatever is was going to become using the bodies of the entire station as building material. The station is getting ready to self destruct, he is out of ammo, his dead girlfriend who he though he had made peace with turned out to be the agent of an interstellar lovecraftian horror, and he is seriously sick if all this shit. Isaac sits down on the steps for the first time since the beginning of the game and waits to die. The credits even started to roll; I was impressed that the game had the guts to kill off its protagonist in the name of good drama. Very few games have the balls to make the game writers work a little harder in the sequel by killing off the main character (Red Dead Revolver almost did it) and there are quite a few who should have (I am looking at you, God of War III, let Kratos die already). Dead Space 2 was going to do it!

Oh wait, no, last second rescue, guy gets the new girl, blah blah, this shit is why terrible things happen in the world, like Indiana Jones 4.

The cheap ending is honestly my only complaint about the game proper. Separating the multiplayer out and forcing anyone who didn't buy the game sealed and new to pay extra for it is loathsome, but it didn't effect the way I played the game, so meh. It also never really got as unnerving as the first one. Neither of these games hold a candle to the heavyweights of scary games (and neither have the new versions of those old scary games, for that matter), but the first Dead Space did at least make me feel uncomfortable, and it did it without resorting to exploding babies, killer zombie children and a what I swear was a toddler in a clothes drier. More thrills and kills this time, but fewer chills.

Whoever designed the marker should get special recognition. So simple, yet totally disconcerting. I want one for my desk.

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