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Revisiting Dead Space

Hanging out in Dead Space 2

Hanging out in Dead Space 2

I loved Dead Space.

So much so that I preordered Dead Space 2 a few years ago with the intention of powering through it just like I did with its predecessor. I only ended up playing about an hour or so. It wasn’t that I disliked the game. I just got distracted with school or other games and never got back into it.

But with the release of Dead Space 3 this week, I thought it would be a good chance to give Dead Space 2 another chance. And I’m glad I did. Not only did I finally finish this fantastic game, but I also grew to appreciate the little changes to the standard third-person shooter genre that makes the game so fun to play.

The Dead Space games follow Isaac Clarke, an engineer who ends up having to wade through thousands of reanimated corpses called necromorphs. The story is uninteresting in the specifics, and the plot tends to be just enough to put Isaac in some really creepy places. The first game mostly just took place on a spaceship, but Dead Space 2 has space malls, space schools and a space church, among others, to slaughter necromorphs in. And the areas are dark, covered in blood and have enough places for monsters to pop out to prevent you from ever really getting comfortable. It’s never quite scary, but the game does a great job at being unsettling. It helps that the game is gorgeous in a grimy way. The lack of a heads-up display is another thing that really makes it easy to immerse yourself in the game. Things like Isaac’s health meter on his back and ammo count on his guns are an intuitive way to show this kind of necessary information without distracting from the environments.

I'm sure the place is empty because it's an administrative day.

I’m sure the place is empty because it’s an administrative day.

I really dislike all of the characters, though. Isaac was completely silent in the first game, which was a little silly, but in Dead Space 2 he has been given a personality and it is not likable at all. Of course, he’s been through some bad stuff and being trapped on a mining colony during some kind of monster attack after being in a psych ward for a few years probably means that not being a jerk is probably a low priority, but I preferred him when he was silent. The characters that bark orders to you all the time aren’t any better. They’re flat and predictable. Even a few hours after finishing Dead Space 2, I can’t remember the female lead’s name because she made that little of an impact on me.

Are there any examples of a science fiction space religion not being evil and corrupt?

Are there any examples of a science fiction space religion not being evil and corrupt?

The Dead Space series doesn’t get enough credit for its combat.  Unlike most shooters where the most efficient way to kill isn’t to aim for the head, necromorphs need to have their limbs removed to go down. These limbs can be the standard arms or legs, or they can be tentacles or some kind of acid shooter depending on the flavor of necromorph. So you end up switching from limb to limb as they get blasted off.  This creates a level of dynamic gunplay that is mostly missing from other shooters. I found myself aiming low so I could take out the legs of bipedal enemies before they can rush me. That’s the opposite of what I do in almost any other game.

And I loved every second of Dead Space 2 because of that. Despite having very standard controls in a very saturated genre, this little change made the moment-to-moment gameplay fresh.

Guess where the weak point is.

Guess where the weak point is.

Having said all that, I am not sure it’s a good thing that I used mostly one or two weapons across both games. The weapons in the game all feel jury rigged together, like they were Isaac’s engineering tools that just happen to be extremely dangerous. The plasma cutter, which fires three bolts either vertically or horizontally, is the first weapon in both games and my go-to gun for my playthrough. It chops limbs off with ease, there is ammo everywhere and it can be upgraded to both hit like a truck and set bad guys on fire. I eventually picked up the pulse rifle and used that for when there were lots of enemies attacking at once, but I still relied on that plasma cutter. I tried using the Force and Line guns here and there in the last half of the game, but I found myself struggling with keeping enough ammo in my limited inventory slots to have much fun. I kept going back to the plasma cutter.

It reminds me of how good the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol was before being weakened in subsequent Halo games. The weapon is good in almost every circumstance, so why would I carry weapons that are slightly better in some situations but way worse in others?  It must be difficult to balance a starting weapon when it needs to be worth using on its own throughout the game but not so good that players automatically choose it over more specialized weapons. On the other hand, the plasma cutter is really fun and satisfying to use. Maybe it’s too fun.

I don't think the doctor will be seeing patients anytime soon.

I don’t think the doctor will be seeing patients anytime soon.

There’s a multiplayer mode, but no one is playing the PC version as far as I can tell. The fact that Dead Space 3 has no competitive multiplayer mode might indicate that it was never bustling on any platform. And that’s too bad. Dead Space feels good in a way that should translate to online multiplayer, so I’m bummed that I never got to try it.

I’m also bummed that it took me this long to get back to Dead Space 2. I enjoyed my time with it so much that I purchased Dead Space 3 before all was said and done just so I could have more limb-shooting fun. There just aren’t any games that play like Dead Space right now.

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