Verdict: Dead Space 2
A week back Jim was kind enough to tell us Wot He Thought of Dead Space 2. Compelled by a lack of anything else to do this weekend, John played it too. And when two minds of the RPS hive share content, they must examine. Thus, we Verdict. Below is Jim and John's discussion of the space stomping sequel, in which Jim defends while John complains.
Jim: John Walker, did you play the original Dead Space game?
John: I did. For ten minutes. Ten miserable, awful minutes.
Jim: That is not very long. I liked the original, you see.
John: That's because you have a diseased mind. What did you like about it?
Jim: I like stamping on the rubbery corpses of the necromorphs until they splattered all over the place.
John: That's in the first game too?
Jim: Yes it is.
John: I found that genuinely repulsive.
Jim: See, I think this might be a measure of the warpedness of a mind, because I found the gore in Dead Space 2 comedic. It was so hyperbolically nasty that it just seemed silly. I regularly found myself laughing at some hideous evisceration.
John: "Looting corpses" by violently stamping on dead human bodies such that their heads rip off and blood bursts out of them feels, to me, like the lowest form of playing games.
Jim: Well you can loot them by shooting them again, too.
John: This is true. Stamping on aliens, I’m not so fussed. But there's something truly awful about his petulant stomping on dead humans. However, I did LOVE how both his punching and stamping always looked like a toddler having a tantrum. That entertained me throughout.
Jim: Yes, also if you strafe left and right repeatedly, he is clearly dancing.
John: So, tell us about the game in a general way, Jim.
Jim: Okay, a general way to describe Dead Space 2 would be to call it a linear third-person shooter with a sci-fi horror theme. There were some people add "survival" to the horror, but I didn't really find it to be about surviving. In some ways it reminded me of FEAR, because it's supposed to be horrifying and scary, but you are an armoured man with super-weapons.
John: My overriding thought throughout was, "When your core source of inspiration is F.E.A.R. 2, your game's in trouble."
Jim: I dunno if that is the inspiration, really. But it is of that lineage.
John: It seemed to me it was mimicking that game to an embarrassing degree, right down to a completely botched attempt at a spooky primary school.
Jim: Ah yes, it does do the "fright-moment" but that was hardly original when the FEAR games did it.
John: Did it ever scare you?
Jim: There were a couple of "BOO!" moments when something popped out of its box, but there was never a sense of vulnerability. Which is what I mean. The scary games are the ones where you know you can be horrible maimed and there's not much you can do about it. But also, despite its beautiful environments, it never quite hit the heights of scary ambience. Not in the same way as, say, the underground bits of Stalker did.
John: It was so strange to go from jumping a couple of times at the very start, to becoming seemingly immune to fear. Things jumped out of walls, and whether I was expecting it or not, I didn't have any reaction at all. I'm scared the game has broken me. It was simply, "Oh, there is something else to kill." Or equally as likely, "Oh, there is something that has killed me because it jumped out behind me." That's never happened to me before.
Jim: Yeah, I think it became easy to be desensitized to. Also I think the threat of the beasts dropped, because your weapon power increases. I mean if you push up the difficulty it's better, because the ammo is so scarce. And you have to use physics objects to conduct the battles. Which I think should have been how the game worked, physics stuff everywhere, forcing you to improvise, constantly.
John: I found that the physics were so unreliable that I couldn't trust them to work. Half the time that slow time thing just didn't fire when I pressed it, and objects in the world seemed to do no useful damage. So instead I just focused on ramping up the javelin gun.
Jim: On normal difficulty you can pretty much get by without using the physics objects, but if you push on to harder hardenesses of difficulty then you have to use them.
John: Like I say, they didn't work well enough to want to use them.
Jim: I didn't find them that bad, and the sort of fumbling danger of them added to the tension. Relying on super-BIFF guns takes away the horror.
John: My feeling throughout was being a bit bored. There were achingly long levels of identical rooms, ludicrously repetitive. You couldn't plan for battle because everything you fight jumps out of the ceiling. And most of the set-pieces barely involved you. "I hammered E! And then I won!"
Jim: Yes, the set pieces seemed pointless. They should have had a word you had to type really quickly. "H-O-L-Y S-H-I-T" when you are smacked out into space by a tentacle beast.
John: YES. The only parts I genuinely enjoyed were the large room battles where those runny-hidey baddies would dart between crates. Then it was suddenly about using tactics, and the element of surprise was interesting. And you could improvise with whichever weapon setup you currently had. Rather than standing in a corridor, killing everything three times.
Jim: Yes, but I actually liked some of the sillier sequences, like the train, or the creature that knocks you into space, so you have to grab a passing spaceship.
John: But I watched Isaac grab a passing spaceship. I didn't get to do it.
Jim: Those sequences were all done with an amazing eye to where the camera should be and so on. It would have made a great movie.
John: We should discuss the story. Was there a single twist that surprised you?
Jim: It had a story? HA HA HA, I make joke.
John: I found myself shouting out loud, "BUT IT'S SO OBVIOUSLY A TRAP!"
Jim: Yeah, the story was pretty bad. Again, it was there to be an excuse for the action.
John: Even the final moment, the credit twist, was so predictable that I told my monitor what was about to happen.
Jim: I don't think I was as bored by the game as you, because I rather enjoyed the general running about and stamping, but I think we can agree that someone needs to read science fiction from the 60s and 70s to remember how it worked before Aliens and Event Horizon.
John: I did like the javelin weapon though. By the end I had it firing, then electrocuting, then exploding.
Jim: Ah yes, that is quite the God Of Hellfire weapon. I mean the game is stacked full of great design.
John: Yes. There's no denying it's quite a feat. The scale of the design is often breathtaking.
Jim: Like the weapons, the monsters, and so on, it really does feel like a high end big studio production. You can taste the money.
John: Even the acting's not so bad, even if the dialogue is hammier than a pile of pigs.
Jim: Isaac talks in this one, which I thought was going to be terrible, but he's admirably earnest and fraught.
John: I was frustrated that the larger theme - the stages of grief - was so badly told for the first three quarters of the game. When that finally comes together near the end, I was like, "Oh! I see! That's what you were trying to do." Which was actually quite a sophisticated story to try to tell.
Jim: I didn't even notice that.
John: And then of course it pisses that up against a wall with its miserably obvious twist. Imagine if the whole game had genuinely been about Isaac's releasing himself from the grief of his lost wife. Which I'm fairly sure is what they were trying to do.
Jim: It's possible that big games will pull that stuff off, eventually. I mean it looks like the prevailing desire for games is for them to be "about" something.
John: Oh, the anti-gravity bits! Those were all ace.
Jim: There is nothing existential about those! But yes, that is something the game does brilliantly (it did it well the first time, but it's even better here) the "feel" of space. Decompression is consistently exciting, and the zero-G bits are all meticulously planned to feel real and believable, in as much as artificial space-gravity machines can be real and believable.
John: Yes. And while the puzzles are all remedial, they're a fun distraction from the corridors. So I didn't hate it. I occasionally felt hate toward it in the worst sections, but that wasn't overriding. I just found it dull. And I'm bewildered that my jump reflex can be switched off. I didn't know that was possible.
John: Are you dead?
Jim: Sorry, was making tea. And the tea bag broke. So I had to make another.
John: NOOOOOOOOOOO! This is true horror.
Jim: It was a real difficult time. Anyway, I feel more positive about Dead Space 2. There were long bits of it not being boring, against dullness. It wasn't scary, but it was FLASHBANGBOOM, which is all I need sometimes. And I still haven't played the multiplayer.
John: Nor me! Multiplayer's for idiots.
Jim: Ok then. That is all I have to say about Dead Space 2, and I said most of it twice. What are you going to have for lunch?
John: I think it's going to be bacon. But more excitingly, I'm slow roasting some pork throughout the afternoon.
Jim: I am going to stamp on some people in the street and see what pops out.