Dead Space Extraction (Wii)
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Dead Space 2 may not scare me like games used to, but it's so involving that it had me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Dead Space, the sci-fi horror hit of 2008, didn't scare me. There's no denying how fun it was. Dismembering gangly mutants was as superbly sadistic and captivatingly childish as picking the legs off of tiny beetles. The ensuing de-limbed gooeyness was realized in beautiful definition, even if it lacked a bit in hue. All the same, Dead Space did not scare me, but then games rarely do.
Games were scary when I was younger even though sometimes they probably shouldn't have been. The low, rhythmic hum of the veritably harmless Ghouls used to make me reach for my BBC Micro's off switch. Other times, like seeing my character dissolve into bones in Shadow of the Beast II, my nervous reaction was more appropriate.
As I grew older and testosterone entered my brainstem with thoughts of girls and beer, I became less fearful of games. Reality was far scarier; by the age of 18 I'd (legally) stuck my hand inside a dead person (ed: I imagine that is a long story?). Once you've done that, ghosts and ghouls lose their fear factor.
Returning to video games, survival horror titles can still make me uneasy. They don't make me jump, but the disempowerment of games like Resident Evil and Dead Space unsettles me. Games normally bestow you with weapons so gratuitous they can turn cities into chilli con carne. To have that all taken away, to have silly little things like ammunition and aim actually matter, well, it's a bit much. It may not scare, but for all my bravado it does get me riled up.
Dead Space 2 is similar. It doesn't scare me, but it does come damn close. If Dead Space was as tense as a first kiss then Dead Space 2 is the wedding night, after 40 years of abstinence, which she wants to tape.
The world of Dead Space 2 has that sense of an eerie societal afterlife.
At first Dead Space 2 doesn't seem all that different. Visceral, the developer, clearly focused on injecting previously absent colour and narrative right from the off, but the deliberately stifling controls, the amputating combat, and the scenery of outer space are all very familiar.
But slowly, Dead Space 2 reveals itself to be a subtler, and more unnerving, beast than the gnashing and salivating of the original. Beyond narrative and colour it now creates an environment which is much more gripping. The first game's grey ad infinitum has been replaced by backdrops full of character and detail. The world of Dead Space 2 has that sense of an eerie societal afterlife. It makes me curious, it makes me edgy, but most of all it directly engages me with a world.
I love how, at points, when the mutants attack the room comes alive too. The closing scene in the day-care centre is inspired. I shoot an army of wailing mutant babies and disconcertingly fast mutant toddlers, all to the backdrop of a children's theatre complete with cheesy music and flimsy animatronics. I feel like a kindergarten teacher overwhelmed by the monstrous transformation of his class on his first day. In Dead Space this would have just been another big, grey or brown room.
Dead Space 2 makes me curious, it makes me edgy, but most of all it directly engages me with a world.
By contrast, Dead Space 2 is peppered with memorable set pieces like this. The game resists the easy option time and time again, always trying to keep things fresh and new. Be it the claustrophobic lift sequences or getting dragged helplessly through the innards of a building by a huge ogre thing, Dead Space 2 keeps me wondering what's round the next corner.
It refuses to relent. Even after I survive another last-ditch bloody fight with my health bar down to a slither of red, it throws a disturbing hallucinatory vision just to keep me on my tippy-toes.
Dead Space's narrative was quite standard, quite dull, and so the atmosphere didn't seem so relevant. With Dead Space 2 Visceral brought in the psychosis angle of Dead Space Extraction (Wii) and pulls it off perfectly - especially towards the end of the game.
Even if Dead Space 2 cannot scare me like games used to, it's a little unnerving how much hold it has on me. It doesn't let me pause for breath and insists I remember old skills like aiming and ammunition management if I'm going to survive.
But more than the challenge this attention to detail creates, it's impressive because at the same time it creates a tense and disempowering experience. In a sea of derivative shooting games that merely ask that you turn up to get to the end, Dead Space 2 stands tall and genuinely got to me.
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