We've got a guest editorial / review rant for you today! It comes from the rage-seethed fingers of Platformers.NET forumer Hanku. Oh yeah this probably has SPOILERS.
Hm, we need some kind of spoiler-warning beard symbol.
-Ed (I've always wanted to type that)
I should start off saying that I didn’t play Dead Space 2 the way most people probably did, that is on the Normal or Survivalist difficult setting. I went full on Zealot, a difficulty so crazy that if you beat the game on it, you unlock the achievement aptly named Mission Impossible. I chose this because the original Dead Space seemed easy for me. I suppose Visceral Games thought so too, adding two more difficulty settings, Zealot and Hardcore.
There are some story elements and how its presentation is irksome, but I won’t focus on those here. What I want to discuss it that through playing Zealot mode, Dead Space 2’s design flaws stick out, ruining what otherwise might be a great game. Let’s start off discussing Zealot’s mechanics in general. It gives you less health and less ammo than you would get on any of the lower difficulty settings. At first this makes sense. “I don’t need your damn charity, game!” you’ll say, and for about the first 8 chapters, I was fine with this set up, except for one instance: The Daycare Center. This is the probably the most controversial thing in the game, although I am not aware if this has caused any sort of news agency to cause a ruckus, yet. For a scene that seemed to try for emotional exploitation, it only created frustration.
In this daycare, which by its looks and design I will call Happy Sun Inevitable Death House, you fight necromorph babies. “Oh,” you say, “I did that in Dead Space 1.” No, what you fought were one-year-old babies that shoot projectiles out at you from their tendrils made from intestines. Here in Happy Sun No Way Going To Die House, you fight newly born infants. They explode. And there are a lot of them. They go down in one hit so- Oh. I only have three shots in my Plasma Cutter. Whelp. And that’s the problem with Dead Babies 2. It will create enemy encounters that force you to be genius with your ammo rationing, and then it will throw you a standard necromorph hoard right after you go through this Dead Baby Alley. And yes, that hoard will include said exploding infants, leaving you with one ripper blade and two line racks. Whelp again. Miraculously I was able to pick up enough ammo from the toddlers (spindly little necromorphs obviously from the remains of slightly older dead children), and was able to survive the hoard to… just get to the other side of the daycare? Damn it Visceral.
Later on in the game, we return to the good ship Ishimura, a blast from the recent past, and for the initial section of Isaac’s return to this Doom Tomb, I rather enjoyed it. It sent you to some of the most memorable sections of the first game, and there wasn’t a necromorph in sight. The environment, a mix of the old ship and reconstruction equipment, was the terrorizing body, not the plethora of undead bodies. I was more disturbed by this part of the game than any part of Sunny Dead Baby Land Center. That feeling was soon lost when the game sent me into the medical section, bathed in black lights. Here’s the thing about an entirely violet-blue environment, and mostly black necromorphs. They tend to blend together. “Not a problem,” you say, “the sound of necromorphs will alert me to their presence.” “Ha,” I say. “Ha.” No, this game wants to live up to the horror aspects of its declared genre. And that means Ninja Necromorphs.
Ninja Necromorphs are any necromorph that decides that instead of running towards you, making a huge clamor and screaming, it will stroll up behind you at the worst moment, and say “Hello” with its scythe-arms. These Ninja Necromorphs only have some heavy breathing cuing their existence, a sound that can be drowned out by any other noise the game has. Is a necromorph screaming while running at you? Won’t hear the stealthy one behind you. Are you shredding through limbs? Backstab City. Are you desperately stomping at the enemy at your feet because you just ran out of ammo oh god please DIE DIE FUCKING DIE? Your head is now on the other side of the room. Perhaps this was intentionally designed, to keep you on your toes, and to frighten you mid-battle. But that would be for lower difficulties, where you’re not constantly standing on one leg, gobbling up medpacks as you find them, getting into riskier combat situations to get to a crate that might have a small med-pack, and wonder what it was like to have full health ever. These Ninja Necromorph are cousins with another hair pulling creature I called Ceiling Bastards. Two varieties on this one: the regular wall-crawling necromorph, a fiendish fellow that can attack you with a pounce and then right after, a tail stab, usually a deadly combo in Zealot difficulty. While you’re busy dealing with the mess on the ground, these guys will come on down on you, and during Isaac’s reaction animation, will pierce your head with their tail. Then there’s the good old Drop-from–the-air-vent Bastard, in which you put your back to a corner to assure nothing comes up your ass, and a standard necromorph comes from the ceiling panels to ruin your day. What was for a scare is now the constant paranoia that you will die.
All right, so we’ve learned our lesson from all previous experiments: You will never have enough ammo, and the enemy will come from everywhere. We’re good, we got this. You are now placed on a moving platform where enemies crawl up the side, and in the distance, baby necromorphs throw projectiles at you. But before this barrage happens, an acid-spewing necromorph jumps up from the opposite side of the platform where all the projectiles are coming from. These acid-spitters are annoying, because they have two types of acid. One just covers you, disabling the ability to run, so you’re essentially stationary. The other is just a standard acid blast for damage. They are not discernable, not that you want to be hit by acid in either case. But these jerks won’t be fully recognizably dead. If you cut off their legs, they’ll go down and not move for a second. Recognizing this as dead, I faced towards the projectiles, and was given an acid buttwash, received a delayed movement because of Isaac’s reaction, and was at the mercy of three projectiles heading towards me. Yay, reloaded checkpoint time.
Say you completely kill the acid-man, now you’re against 4-5 projectile babies, while other necromorphs come at you. Unfortunately because of our acid friend, I was under the assumption that necromorphs would rise up on both sides of the platform. This was not the case, but I had to die several times to figure out that the game was being charitable in this situation.
Back to the acid-spitters. They are probably the worst things you could ask for in a rush attack. When you’re out of ammo and stasis blast (you will be) all you have left is running. When you’re slowed down, this isn’t an option, so you have to eat your inevitable death, and hope you can focus on the Spitter in the background while two regular necromorphs charge at you.
I could go on about these little incidents, but I want to bring up the terrible “boss battle” as it were. It all takes place in Isaac’s mind, but you’re still attached to physical health and ammo. What kind of messed up person makes you experience the same handicaps in their mind that exist in the real world? So in Isaac’s mind, you shoot a mental projection of Nicole, Isaac’s dead girlfriend that haunts the fuck out of you throughout the game, until the beating heart of the Marker is revealed (metaphors… I guess?) which you shoot. After putting in a few blasts into the heart, the Marker reforms and covers the heart and with that, returns Nicole. But this time she’s accompanied by shadow forms that remind me of the Spindly Toddlers. This wouldn’t be as big a problem if a) the battlefield weren’t a wide-open circle with nowhere to put your back towards, b) the entire screen wasn’t in a shaky, hazy effect in the green colored world of the mind making it hard to see or hear the shadow monsters, which can take you down ridiculously fast, and c) the death animation for when the shadows kill you takes ten seconds. Rinse and repeat twice times (Three hits, the Zelda rule), and you get the end of the game.
I’m not sure what happened to Dead Babies 2: More Dead Babies. Maybe it’s my fault for wanting a challenge and getting screwed in that attempt. Maybe I just suck at video games and need to accept my limits. But I just want to mention one more thing. In the developer commentary for Half-Life 2: Episode One, a developer explained the importance of making sure the player didn’t become fatigued from combat. He would discuss that puzzles and longer interactions with Alyx would allow the players to recharge themselves, to get over the anxiety of the previous battles. Dead Space 2 doesn’t do this. You are constantly on edge, afraid of the environment, what’s next, and what’s behind you. And sure enough your paranoia is well founded. The only breaks you get are in very closed off rooms with a Store and Save Station, and that’s after you clear them out half the time. Those rooms also mean a forthcoming, grueling experience again. There were only two bits of catharsis and emotional release in the game. The first was just after Isaac sent his only friend away on an escape ship to protect her (because being near him dooms you and he knows it), and then had a melancholy discussion with the hallucination of his dead girlfriend. The second was after the boss battle, where the destruction of the marker has caused Titan station to collapse, and Isaac just sits there waiting to die, accepting it as a break from the hell he’s been through. This is, of course, interrupted by the friend he sent away, and then the game throws you into a tense chase scene to get on her ship.
Visceral Games, you clichéd bastards.