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Dead Space 2 opens up the horrific web of the fear created by the first game. A chilling hunt, rather than a gruesome cage, runs through the now cavernous world and mingles a sad loneliness with the original's gnawing horror.
I revel in scary games so Dead Space 2 was a good fit for me. Fighting zombies in a dilapidated mining colony filled with religious zealots, there is nothing about Dead Space 2 that isn't scary. Not a moment went by that something didn't have me on edge, but my biggest worry was that it would ruin my memories of the original Dead Space.
Dead Space was an amazing adventure, akin to Alien in how it chilled from beginning to end. It created a palpable sense of hopeless loneliness as I made my way through the mining ship Ishimura.
Among the most obvious of Dead Space 2's hurdles was that the original ended with such finality for Isaac Clarke, the lead character. I was worried that the reinvention of Isaac would seem hollow, a contrivance just continue the franchise instead of taking a risk.
Quickly though it became clear that Isaac is now a very different person. This man struggles to separate delusion from reality as his mind slowly betrays him. It is understandable. Isaac, after all, had been through hell and back is search of the woman he loved. A woman he eventually had to admit he knew was dead. But driven by guilt, something we only learn at the beginning of this new chapter, he had gone to find her.
The sense of culpability is a revelation that pulls in the few unanswered mysteries from the end of the first game, as well as setting up the psychosis that now grips Isaac. Haunted by his past and the woman he loved, Isaac finds himself used by the government for his knowledge of the Marker, the technology responsible for the Necromoph infection of the colony known as The Sprawl.
As the name suggests The Sprawl is vast. Unlike the Ishimura it is more than a place of work, it has become home to its inhabitants. People are still seen at times, alive and running from the danger or freshly turned in to the monstrosities that hunt Isaac, still half dressed in their old clothes.
And then there are their cries. Sound is a huge part of Dead Space 2, and can prove as horrifying as anything seen. The original game used sound tremendously but the inhabitants of The Sprawl allow a new kind of fear to be realised, through empathy.
It is the promise of safety, or release, that drives Isaac.
From behind doors people can still be heard in residential areas during the early stages. Babies crying out, mixed with the sobs of a mother, tear at my heartstrings as I move down the halls. Weak, unprotected I could imagine them cowering in their apartments. At times these thoughts are a little too much to bear and all I can do is put them to the back of my mind and press on in my metal suit.
Shifting from the confines of the Ishimura to The Sprawl, also creates more room to explore. Gone is the original's claustrophobic need for Isaac to constantly loop back on himself. The action is now constantly driven forward. The back tracking is replaced by a need to keep moving, a constant urgency injected by the illusion of a constant pursuer.
Dead Space 2 touches on Alan Wake's sense of feeling hunted. This is no longer a trap, and now the constantly changing environments and decor flick by almost unnoticed through the panic to reach the next possible place of safety.
It is the promise of safety, or release, that drives Isaac. Objectives and goals change regularly, and each new task is taken in his stride, although adding to the sense of hopelessness.
As long as there is still a task to be busy with the hopelessness never wins. The very idea of being alone and directionless in this lethal world is actually more terrifying than plunging onwards towards potential disaster - at least this offers a chance of meaning.
He displays no attachment to anyone except his hallucinations, something he seems unfazed by.
It's a need for direction that I know is mirrored in my own life. Left alone most people simply become lost, and are more than happy to grasp at any kind of task to keep them focused, distracted.
If there is one, characters are the stumbling block for Dead Space 2. Although gun-play and environments exceed the original, the people of Dead Space 2 feel hollow by comparison. It's a problem rising from their very conception.
The nature of the story means that everyone Isaac meets isn't present long enough to really feel like anything more than a one dimensional shell. This extends beyond the people you meet to Isaac himself. Although silent in the original, he finds his own voice here. But rather than adding an extra dimension, it actually underlines how much of an automaton he is, simply acting out of a necessity to survive. He displays no attachment to anyone except his hallucinations, something he seems unfazed by.
Dead Space 2's success in surpassing its predecessor will be a matter of debate for some time. Faster and improved combat and options mixed with its varied world mean that for many it will prove more enjoyable. I certainly found it hard to put down.
But with such a high bar, it is hard to say that Dead Space 2 surpasses the first game. More importantly perhaps, it lives up to the original. Like Alien to Aliens there is something different about the two titles, but I appreciate each in their own right.
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