Go away 2010. You were rubbish. It's now all about 2011, and the games we can't wait to play. That's why throughout the first couple of weeks of January I'm going to be going through some of the games I'm most looking forward to in the coming year. First up - Dead Space 2.
Dead Space 2 Here's what I did yesterday, on the final day of my holidays. I woke up. I made a cup of tea. I ate a bowl of Weetabix, and then I played Dead Space.
That's it. That's all I did.
Of course, I had a couple of necessary toilet breaks - some of them involuntary (I was playing Dead Space after all) - but for the most part all I did plough through what is easily one of the the best horror games of this generation, in preparation for the sequel, which is released Jan 27.
I almost never replay games - especially relatively linear, set-piece driven efforts, which Dead Space admittedly is - but having never finished the original, despite totally falling in love with it, I felt compelled. But since I was so close to the end on my first playthrough, and hadn't played in well over a year, I figured it was probably best to start from scratch, and have some context when I finally completed it.
It was the right choice. I expected to be underwhelmed, but what intially struck me most was how little the game has aged. Visually, the game still looks incredible - shadows flicker and vibrate violently, gore splatters the screen with a mad visceral blast - it all feels consistent, everything has a brilliant sense of place. Everything feels like it belongs.
And more than you'd expect from a game built around a sequence of scares, Dead Space features one of the best, filled out Sci-fi universes we've seen in a game. Far from a series of disconnected corridors, The Ishimura feels like real place, with a proper history. Every area you visit has a function in the world, outside of gameplay - every task you are set makes sense. Dead Space is known for its power to make you shit your pants frequently, but few remember that it's actually a stellar piece of universe building.
But let's talk about the game's ability to make soil yourself - because in that regard it's truly one of the best.
Dead Space was initially lauded for it's sound design, and rightfully so - it's downright terrifying. Above and beyond the strategically placed clangs and hissing violins, the manner in which Dead Space uses peripheral noise to trick, confuse and scare is masterful. It juggles with the unfamiliar - what initially seems like the stirrings of a traditional horror piece turns out to be churning machinery, what sounds like an incoming horde of necromorphs is merely an engine spluttering. Dead Space blurs the lines, it juggles your expectations to the point where you can't predict the scares, keeping you on tenderhooks for the entirety of the experience.
We have no reason to believe that Dead Space 2 won't be more of the same, but there are concerns - a shoe-horned multiplayer mode, a commitment to larger scale action sequences. There are areas in which Dead Space can improve, but we hope that Visceral Games remain true to what made the original so memorable - a believable universe, incredible sound design, and an ability to stetch the nerves of players taut.
Initially I feared the worst but, somehow, playing through the original allayed those fears. Visceral Games has such a fundamental, intuitive understanding of 'scary'. They do an amazing job of subverting the expectations of horror veterans, and they do it consistently throughout the course of a 10-12 hour game. The fact that the team managed to frame that foundation with a universe worth caring about is nothing short of incredible. Whatever direction Visceral Games decides to take Dead Space 2 in, I'm ready - I'm ready to trust them.
And have the living shit scared out of me all over again.