Alright! I’m off work, I don’t work tomorrow, I have a WORKING check card (i.e, I actually have access to my fucking money) and since approximately noon Thursday, I’ve been the proud owner of the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition. What does all this mean? It means we can start talking Dead Space.
But, while it may appear that I’ve been entirely unproductive thus far, that’s not quite true: over the last few days, I’ve played through the original Dead Space for a second time. Originally, I just wanted to start a PS3 file so that I could unlock the Plasma Cutter in Dead Space 2, but I ended up remembering how completely awesome the game was, and decided to play through the whole thing.
I defeated the final boss at about two in the morning on Thursday. And roughly thirteen hours later, I started Dead Space 2. So. Being in the process of playing the games back-to-back, how do they compare to eachother?
Dead Space: Two Years Later
Let’s talk about the original Dead Space. Yes, I know it’s over two years old at this point and the world is ready to move on to the much-hyped sequel. But the original Dead Space deserves at least a little attention – mostly because the game is still really, really good. That’s not to say that I expected a two-year old game to feel dated; I just didn’t expect the experience to be as engaging a second time. It was – and possibly even more so. I was thoroughly engaged yet again, for another death-dodging 12-hour romp (or creep, I should say) through the metallic, blood-stained hallways of the USG Ishimura. Even though I knew the mystery behind all the horrors around me, I was still more than happy to experience them again. And even though I’d played through it all before, the game still scared me on more than a few occasions.
Dead Space is a textbook example for building an immersive and palpable atmosphere within an interactive medium. It takes a few pages from BioShock, (as many games do nowadays) builds a similarly atmospheric experience and rounds it out with a more focused, in-depth narrative. As you should all well know, for me to compare a game with BioShock is an honor indeed. The concept behind Dead Space isn’t quite as original, or “intellectual,” shall we say, as the ideas behind BioShock’s narrative. But as a game – dare I say it – Dead Space might be even better. (And for what it’s worth, I can say with certainty that it’s miles better than BioShock 2.)
Honestly, it’s difficult to find issues with Dead Space. Writing, acting, combat, exploration, puzzle elements, graphical presentation, and sound design are practically flawless. There are, perhaps, some minor flaws with pacing and mission design at times – the primary annoyance is that you end up feeling like an errand boy, with disembodied voices directing your every move. Your every attempt to get off the ship is thwarted by some awful coincidence or catastrophy, and after a while it starts to wear rather thin as a plot device. It all culminates in the awfulness of Chapter 10, “End Of Days,” which sees Isaac running back and forth through a suspiciously small area and fighting way too many goddamned Necromorphs, all while – literally – searching for keycards. Come on. Really?
But aside from being an hour or so too long, Dead Space is a class act. And, as all who have finished it know, it begs a sequel. A sequel that I now own, and have played a bit of.
In Which I Describe the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition, Lament How Much it Cost, and Use Many Parentheses
Allow me to take a moment here to discuss the fact that I bought the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition. It comes with a PS3 port of Dead Space Extraction, (which, ironically, might convince me to invest in a Move) a replica Plasma Cutter (which I have to admit is pretty cool, even if it isn’t life-sized) the original soundtrack (which I frankly doubt would be an enjoyable listen outside the context of the game) a “concept art lithograph” (which essentially looks like a Dead Space postcard) and a downloadable Zealot Force Gun and Suit (which I’ll probably be too lazy to ever download or use.) So, was it worth $80? (Almost $90 including tax, and almost $100 if you count the Subway sandwhich I bought while I was out.) Nah, probably not. I just wanted to buy a Collector’s Edition of something, because I’ve never done it before. It felt kinda good. Also, writing all those parenthetical statements amused me.
Dead Space 2: The First Three Hours, and How They Compare to the Original
Okay. It’s actually many hours later now. I’ve played more Dead Space 2. I’m roughly halfway through Chapter 4, and I’ve written down two full pages of notes and then some. (It’s something I tend to do.) So, I’m equipped to talk about it… a little bit, anyway.
Dead Space 2 is a similar, yet different beast. From the outset, it’s clear that Visceral had no intention of re-creating the original Dead Space in terms of atmosphere. Yes, it’s still creepy and unsettling in nature, environments are shadowy and blood-stained, lights flicker, there’s a bunch of unnerving shit written on the walls, and Necromorphs still like popping out of vents and ducts to scare the living fuck out of you. But it’s a few big things, and a variety of little things, that make Dead Space 2 stand apart from its predecessor.
I’ll go ahead and name the big big thing: location. In place of a claustrophobic spacecraft, Dead Space 2 is set in a massive space-station colony known as Sprawl. The atmospheric shift is notable. You’ll walk past windows and be treated to the sight of a massive, futuristic cityscape, complete with Star Wars-esque hovercrafts flying about. Inside, you’ll make your way through residential and commercial areas of the station, with futuristic schools, restaurants, and hobby-shops. At one point, I even found myself inside a child’s room – crude crayon drawings were taped to the walls, lullaby music was playing, and holographic ponies danced on the wall. Frankly it’s somewhat bizarre to see, particularly after having just completed the original Dead Space. But, it serves a purpose – children, like everyone else, are not spared the hideous effects of the Necromorph outbreak.
I’m not saying any of this is a bad thing. Like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 is a deeply atmospheric experience, and I’m totally into it after a few short hours. I’m merely noting the drastic differences, and how they affect the feel of the game.
Aside from the obvious shift in location, more subtle additions tend to alter the feel of the game. As promised, Dead Space 2 features more brutal, fast-paced combat. It also features a lot more ammo. A lot more. I’ve yet to even come close to running out. This may not be the case later in the game, but as of now, the resource-conservation aspect of gameplay is pretty much gone. It’s not gone entirely – med packs, for example, seem to be less plentiful. And while Stasis now regenerates slowly, it does take a good bit of time, meaning you still have to ration it wisely for individual battles. But, frankly, neither of these things are of much consequence when you’re free to pump as much ammo into an enemy as your heart desires. Again: this could very well not be the case in another five or six hours. But it’s the case for now.
I’d be remiss, however, not to mention that combat in Dead Space 2 is still challenging and hectic. You will still fear for your life, and you will still die. By my experience, at least.
This article’s running a bit long, but before I conclude, I’ll touch on one final subject – a subject many might consider the “elephant in the room,” as it were – Isaac’s newfound vocality. To put it simply: I like it. I wasn’t sold when it was first revealed, because I always considered his silence as one of the primary components of the original games’ atmosphere. And I still think that – but it’s not a component of Dead Space 2’s atmosphere, and it doesn’t need to be. This is a different Isaac. He’s been through this shit before, he hasn’t been able to catch a break for over three years, he’s tired of it all, and he has some things to say about it. He doesn’t whine about how shitty his situation is or how terrified he feels. In fact, he’s sort of a defiant sonofabitch, which I like. I appreciate Isaac’s vocality in Dead Space 2 for the same reason I appreciated his silence in the first game: it contributes to the game’s intended atmospheric feel.
Also, I’d be remiss not to mention: occasionally our friend Isaac brings back the silent schtick, and that’s always satisfying to see. Sometimes, he’ll sit silently through a radio or video transmission, content simply to listen – suggesting that, perhaps, he’s just the silent type in general. Makes sense.
Pointless Internal Monologue
That was quite long. Hence why I decided to separate it into segments signified by BOLDED LETTERS. I almost considered breaking it into two articles, but then I realized that would be fairly pointless. Just like this paragraph.
Ahem. I will be playing more Dead Space 2 very soon, and I’ll probably write more about it too. Sound off below with questions, concerns, or opinions about the game if you’re playing it.