Dear diary, I played Dead Space 2 and didn’t fear even once. Is there something wrong with me?
As you might have guessed, I spend a shameful amount of money on the recent Steam sale. It happened pretty much exactly as I said it would: money left my wallet gradually in sub $10 increments over the course of the week. Like a fucking conga line made out of $5 bills, stretching from my shaking, sweaty palms to the coffers of Valve. I don’t even know if I will ever even play all of these games. But I did install and play Dead Space 2 because… Well, because you play a fucking engineer.
No, seriously. I had absolutely no interest in the series until I found out that the protagonist is not a military guy, special agent or cyber ninja but a fucking space tech support guy. But more on that in another post. Today I want to talk about the most prominent factor of the game: it’s scariness.
You see, Dead Space 2 is marketed as a survival horror type game. Everything about this game essentially screams “I am a one scary motherfucker, you will totally shit your pants out of fear bro!”. But alas, the pant shitting never occurs. If Steam is to be believed (sometimes it lies like a dog) I’m 6 hours into the game and there was not even a pip on my fear-o-meter. Which is not to say the game is not fun. The game-play is rather fun and the level design is visually interesting. The locations are actually pretty good. I really liked the Lovecraftian themed church and the fucked up playground / kindergarten level. My point is that places like that should be creepy as fuck, but I’m just frolicking through them as if they were some pretty meadow in Skyrim.
Why is that? I’m not sure, but I have an idea. To explain this I guess I would have to compare Dead Space to the two recent games I actually found somewhat unsettling. One of them was Amnesia. I know, duh. Everyone thinks Amesia is freaky. But what does it to exactly that makes it so creepy? I covered most of it in my review of the game so I don’t want to repeat myself here. But let me bring up a few points especially relevant to Dead Space 2:
- Amnesia has one monster that you cannot kill and must run away from. Dead Space 2 has about million and a half and they die about as easily as generic zombies. Nothing makes monsters less scary than dispatching a baker’s dozen of them with a well placed grenade throw.
- Dead Space 2 could take a cue from Amnesia use of sound. The heart-beat and heavy breathing of the protagonist go a long way establishing a creepy atmosphere. Similarly the stifled moans, footsteps and bumps in the darkness are way more creepy than the Dead Space 2 monster sounds. I don’t know about you but to me Necromorphs sound like someone gurgling, and fisting a jar of mayo at the same time. Not particularly scary at all.
- Amnesia relies on slow build up of tension throughout the game. You never really get a break – you can only hide from the monster for a while, and it is at most a temporary reprieve. In Dead Space 2 you clear a room, and you feel like a bad-ass.
Those points are kinda obvious though. Plus it is a bit unfair to compare a shooty action game to a non-combat puzzler. So lets compare it to my second creepy game on the list: Bioshock.
Yes, I found Bioshock to be inexplicably creepy. In my review I mentioned that the lights-out moments in the game freaked the shit out of me. Once again, these moments were all about the brilliant use of sound. But that was not the only thing. There was something off about Rapture that made me feel uneasy from the start of the game to the finish. There was madness in the air there that was almost palpable. There was just downright creepy shit in there. Like the plaster statues that would bleed upon being hit with an attack. Or the bee plasmid. Or the fucked up named splicers with their deranged obsessions.
Hell, Splicers in general made my skin crawl. And I killed hundreds of them, and they died just as easily as Dead Space 2 monsters. But they never became as safe, cuddly and non-threatening as the Necromorphs. This sort of breaks down my Amnesia argument that one invincible monster usually beats a horde of easily dispatched ones. Splicers were numerous and weak, but they were always a little bit unsettling. Why?
Perhaps it’s because they were humanoid. No scratch that. They were human. Just stark raving mad. I don’t know, perhaps I’m just weird but to me a ranting lunatic with a crazy old-timey carnival mask is a bit more creepy than a roaring, mindless flesh golem. Dead Space 2 monsters are glorified zombies, and zombies are not scary on their own. I expect to mow them down by the hundreds without even flinching. A maniacally cracking psychopath with Nightcrawler like teleportation powers – that’s kinda creepy.
Does the lack of scariness make it a bad game? No, it does not. Unless of course you buy the game expecting to shit your pants out of fear. Then, I’d say you should get your money back. Other than that, it is kinda fun. There are some good ideas in there, and some really shitty ones as well. But I’ll talk about that when I finish the game and have the big picture in front of me.