Dead Space 2 First Impressions

So I’ve logged some time with “Dead Space 2,” and I thought I’d stop by and give you a bullet-point on what occurs to me so far.

-It’s still not scary to me. And this is something I will never understand. I am the biggest wimp in the world, I love being frightened and it easy to do. Something about “Dead Space’s” intense gore and constant firefights just dulls the nerves that would induce a fear response from me. I encountered this over-stimulation in the original, which reviews are now calling “minimalist” by comparison to its younger brother, so the effect obviously amplifies here.

“But surely you get, like, nervous, right?” Well, yes, but that’s not a response to the game’s aesthetic. I’m absolutely petrified before a difficult race begins in “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit,” but it’s not like that game is “scary.” Good game design elicits a certain frazzled reaction, and “Dead Space 2″ is well designed. But it’s still not a frightening experience in the sense the creators intend it. I take comfort in knowing they don’t really care; gore has become the focus of their artistic vision.

-It’s a refined take on the original. I liked “Dead Space” quite a bit, but “Dead Space 2″ shows me that it was actually lacking in some key ways. Most of them are gentle tweaks, not even really obvious stuff, but these finer points really bring the game up another level. For instance, your telekinetic powers function almost identically to the last game, but this time the campaign forces you to rely on them for a couple of minutes before it hands you a gun. In the original, it was easy to forget you even had those powers in the heat of the moment, and they often went neglected. Visceral has clearly learned a lot about guiding the player.

-The writing has improved. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “good” writing, I might say it’s “good for a video game,” and I don’t mean that as a totally backhanded compliment. The opening scene, wherein Isaac is confronted by a disturbing vision in the middle of a psychiatrist session, is brilliantly executed; I actually leaned back from the screen, trying to get away from what I was seeing. It’s telling that this was such a singularly chilling moment, and yet it featured no gore; there’s a lesson there, Visceral Games.

Also, Isaac having a face and a voice is a good choice, because playing a survival horror game as Master Chief just doesn’t work. We need a vulnerable, relatable person to experience terror with. He’s rendered quite vulnerable this time around, starting off wounded and without his suit, and I honestly wish this state had persisted longer. Feeling tough is antithetical to being scared.

Overall, I think “Dead Space 2″ is off to a rollicking start. The game is the belle of the ball right now, but that’s only fair, because Visceral really put together some fine game design on this one. I hear the multi-player is nigh worthless, but I haven’t had a chance to take it for a spin yet. Speaking of which, fair warning: EA packages the game with one of those redeem codes, and if you buy the thing used, you’re not getting the multi-player features.