Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Monsters 2D Shooter

Posted: October 9, 2012 by Jenny Dreadful in Games, News

Hey, gamers. Check this out.

Philly-based developers QuadraTron Games need funds to complete Monsters, a creepy retro shooter. ¬†Check out their Kickstarter page to learn more about the game and to lend your support. There are 8 days left now and they’re oh so close to meeting the goal. Let’s make this happen, people. How can you say no to that face?

Resident Evil Retrospective

Posted: October 3, 2012 by crowbait in Games, Reviews

With the newest video game sequel released and yet another film in theaters, it’s time to take a look back at one of my favorite horror games. Resident Evil was the console game that brought horror gaming into the limelight and for many players it was their first exposure to a game meant to scare as well as entertain. Sure, there were others before it, but RE was the one that popularized the genre.

As time has gone on and sequels and spin-off titles have been made, the focus of the games has slipped away from horror and into fast-paced action. The latest games, Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City have been compared to Michael Bay films; placing an emphasis on over-the-top bombast and explosions instead of the horror elements that were the roots of the series. I think that’s a shame because I still have a lot of love for the old frights from Resident Evil, especially the REmake.

In the early 2000’s, Capcom¬†was one of the most earnest developers for Nintendo’s Gamecube¬†console. Considered by many to be the “loser” of that generation, when compared alongside the PlayStation 2 and the XBOX, the Gamecube¬†was underpowered and boasted the most awkwardly designed controller of the set. Still, Capcom¬†showed an unflagging support for the system and even some of their popular PS2 games began their lives as Gamecube titles that were “ported” into versions for the console. Resident Evil, originally a title for the PlayStation made the switch to the Gamecube but with some impressive updates.

The remake of Resident Evil stuck to the story of the original but with all new art, redesigned environments, some control and system updates, new undead enemies to face and even new rooms and outbuildings added on to the map. It was an impressive overhaul of the original that pushed the graphical processing power of the Gamecube and kept the horror of the mansion the central feature of the game.

In the story of the original Resident Evil, a group of specially trained police are trapped in an abandoned mansion while investigating reports of cannibal attacks. The mansion is the secret testing ground of the bizarre bio-weapons of the evil Umbrella Corporation, a combination pharmaceuticals and weapons company with endless money that is soon responsible for everything evil everywhere. Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, the playable characters, must make their way through the mansion, running from or killing zombified researchers and test subjects and escaping all manner of mutant weapons including reptilian gorillas, giant snakes and spiders, a giant venus flytrap, a trained killer shark, and a hulking prototype super soldier.

Our heroes were almost constantly outgunned and outnumbered but the real tension and the real fear came from exploration rather than combat. The mansion itself was an expertly crafted environment of gloom and dread with every kind of wicked and spooky environment you could hope to find in a ghost house movie. Richly appointed dining and sitting rooms, claustrophobic bed chambers, drafty attics, and then, inexplicably, underground laboratory facilities and abandoned mine shafts. It was a wide-reaching environment and the desire to discover the next room was balanced against the fear of what manner of creature would be waiting on the other side of the door.

For the REmake, Capcom added in new features such as the Crimson Heads. Normally putting down a zombie in a video game means a corpse that vanishes once off-screen to save on rendering power. In the REmake, if you left a zombie corpse in place it would mutate further and leap back to life, no longer a shambling husk but now as a running, clawed Crimson Head zombie. To stop the mutation, the bodies of foes had to be burned with kerosene. Another resource that was in short supply, adding to the tension. Is it safe to back track through¬†a room if you killed the monster but didn’t burn the corpse? New defensive weapons were added as well. Now if a creature got into a grapple with Jill or Chris, they could pull out a knife and stab it into the monster’s head or zap it with a taser to force it to release it’s intended meal. These features didn’t necessarily make the game easier though. Carrying these items meant there was less room in Chris or Jill’s pack for other weapons or additional ammunition.

The crowning touch however, was the inclusion of new sections of the mansion grounds, like the gardener’s house. An entire subplot was developed around Lisa Trevor, daughter of a researcher who was subjected to lab rat experiments by the unscrupulous scientists of Umbrella. Lisa is a perfectly tragic horror monster. Twisted by experiments, she removes the skin from her victims and binds it to her own body. She lurks the mansion grounds seeking her mother so that she can “return her face.” And if the tragedy wasn’t enough, she’s also completely unkillable. After soaking up entire clips of bullets, Lisa will collapse for a few minutes before rising again, just as dangerous and terrifying as before!

If the recent direction of games in the survival horror genre swerving away from scares and into spook house shooting galleries has let you down, then being able to return to this high quality game will be a welcome change of pace. Gamecube¬†games will still play beautifully on the Nintendo Wii, so if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out this gem from the past console generation. It’s one of the rare occurrences when a remake far surpasses the original.

Silent Hill: Downpour

Posted: June 18, 2012 by crowbait in Games, Reviews

For many people summer means more free time. Vacation, school holiday and so forth. So what’s the best way to use that time? Certainly not by going outside. It’s hot out there; and much too bright. No, you’re better off staying in the shade and air-conditioning of your living room and catching up on all those video games that you didn’t have time to play yet.

That’s what I do.

Silent Hill: Downpour

Welcome back; but not welcome home.

The Silent Hill franchise is probably the most respected survival horror video game in the genre. Though it is still outdone in sales by the Resident Evil games, a series that has abandoned horror for spook-house action, Silent Hill is still favored as the horror game that stayed true to its roots and remained scary. The problem that the series has faced is that it was too good at what it set out to do and peaked too early. Silent Hill 2 was a perfect storm of horror elements: A likable but unreliable protagonist, an environment of creepiness and dread, supporting characters with believable motivations and well acted performances, the mother of all video game bogeymen, and a deep seated psychological element to the horror that slowly opened up to the players answering questions and asking new ones to lead us on.

How do you top an antagonist like that? Give him two knives?

Since then however, video game publisher Konami has tried again and again to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle and met with responses of “Good effort, but not good enough.” Well, I can tell you that Downpour is definitely the best Silent Hill game I’ve played since 2. Still not as good or better than its venerable ancestor but it hit me in a way that the efforts of 4, Origins, Shattered Memories, and Homecoming did not.

The story of Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendelton, a prison convict on transfer to a new facility. What exactly he has done to deserve his incarceration is unsaid, though mentions of his murdered son and favors that he did for the corrupt prison guards are passed around in the opening scenes. Accompanying him to his new home is Anne Cunningham, a prison guard who seems to know a lot more about Murphy than anyone else.

On the road a thick fog blows in and it’s not long before the bus skids off the road into a ravine, killing the passengers and allowing Murphy the opportunity to escape. Anne has also pulled through however and she chases after Murphy, driving him through the forest and into the nearby resort town of Silent Hill.

I visited Silent Hill and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.
And dementia praecox.

Fog was an important part of the early Silent Hill games. Video game consoles at the time were very limited in the amount of detail that they could render onscreen at any time. Team Silent, the first developers of the franchise, saw this limitation and made it a feature, making the environment oppressive and claustrophobic by hiding most of the world outside the bubble of clear vision around the character. As consoles improved the mist effect was used less and the fans of the series came to lament the loss of one of the most threatening features of Silent Hill. Downpour, with its emphasis on rain and water brings the fog back in full force. Mist covers the streets and buildings meaning Murphy often has to stumble close to buildings before the features become clear, causing the confusion and terror of the earlier iterations.

Murphy must creep through the streets from dilapidated house to crumbling condemned building looking for a path through the partially demolished town and its road that end in chasms and sinkholes. Along the way he’ll have to solve bizarre puzzles that unlock doors, avoid the vicious monsters that embody his own guilt and fears, and scramble through a nightmare world, a parallel dimension of post-industrial architecture and torture traps that stitches the unstable world of Silent Hill together.

Start running. Then keep running.

One of the most interesting developments in the catalog of creatures that stalk through the town are the ghostly police cruisers. Old style cop cars with rusted panels and chugging engines will roll by in the foggy streets. If Murphy is caught out in the open when one rolls past it lets out a blurt of its siren. In response the sky darkens and the rain falls harder. More rain brings on more monsters and if Murphy can’t quickly find cover he will be overwhelmed by the gray skinned and sodden inhabitants of the town.

Though his journey leads to some beautiful and frightening set piece scenes, the puzzle solving mechanics of¬†Downpour are still nonsensical and sometimes seem to be present just to be a distraction. Though there is the delightful scene in which Murphy must play out the script of a nursery school play to open the way through¬†phantasmal¬†“Grandmother’s house,” there are also three apartments that require a hunt for lost objects. These simple wanderings through a single house have no apparent bearing on the outcome of the game, costing time and resources and offering no immediate reward.

Maneuvering Murphy through his environment may be frustrating to some. The early Silent Hill games had an archaic control scheme, with the character handling like a remote-controlled car and swinging weapons in a simple arc directly ahead. Other development teams have tried to update these controls, making the character move more freely and athletically and adding more features like weapons that will track a foe, the ability to sidestep and dodge attacks and combination strikes. Fans of the series have generally dismissed these “improvements” as the lack of control over the character made for an “everyman” feel, better suited to a character who was not a commando or space marine. Downpour turns the clock back a few iterations and limits Murphy’s movement abilities while attempting to keep the fluid and believable human motion of newer titles. The result is a mixed bag, with combating enemies sometimes being a cakewalk and at other times being a matter of attrition.

Vatra Games, the developers of this sequel have done an admirable job in cherry picking some of the best features of the previous sequels. The handling of firearms from Homecoming, the chase sequences of Shattered Memories, and the danger of the cheap and improvised weapons breaking after use from Origins. In a series with so much history behind it, it’s a much safer path to take rather than striking out on one’s own.

Sic ’em!

While the retro features of the fog and the limited control scheme will please purists, they will also alienate the mainstream audience. Games have done more and more to streamline or even simplify the work a player must do and many are used to having brightly flashing arrows on the screen to direct their movements and flexible controls that let the character move like an athlete. It is these very limitations however that give the Silent Hill¬†series its charm and keep the player scared by limiting the character’s agency. If Silent Hill is to stay true to its horror roots, it will have to always remain a cult classic.

It wouldn’t have been hard to miss Downpour as Konami did little to champion its release. The advantage to you now is that it will be relatively easy to find a cheap copy of the game for your console of choice. Go ahead, take a walk through the streets of Silent Hill. Make it your special place.

Shelter in Place: An Interview with J.R. Blackwell

Posted: October 3, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in Books, Games, Interviews

Cover design by Daniel Solis

We have more than a few gamers out there, right? We may have spent a little time with dice and character sheets ourselves. (We may have.) So who’s up for Romero-style fun with props, improv and lots and lots of running?¬†Let’s take a look at a new live action zombie game, Shelter in Place. First, the¬†description from the official Kickstarter:

Shelter in Place is about survival, teamwork and fun. Designed for ten to twenty five players, the game captures the frenetic pace of a zombie movie in an action packed game. Players can take on the roles of Humans or Zombies in a desperate conflict to survive. Humans must use their wits to survive, making sacrifices in order to live through the night. The Zombies must use their brute, unrelenting strength and teamwork to overpower the humans and eat some delicious brains.

Sounds good, right? I’m certain you want to know more and Final Girl Support Group is proud to bring you an interview with a good friend of ours, the game designer and zombie mistress, J.R. Blackwell.

J.R. Blackwell on Shelter in Place

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your exciting new game, J.R! I’ve already shared the general premise of Shelter in Place with our readers, but I want to dig a little deeper. Not everyone is fortunate enough to know you as well as we do.

Would you mind starting with telling our readers a little about yourself? You excel at an impressive number of artforms. Photography, writing, game design, even performance… Where can we learn more about you and your projects? And are you available to hire?

Photo by Rae Winters

I am a writer, photographer, and bon-vivant. Shelter in Place is my first game, but my love of fiction, photography and gaming tie together with my love of telling stories.¬†¬†I enjoy creating characters and putting them in interesting situations. Even in my days of doing burlesque, one of my characters was an old fat man who would go on stage and dance to a country version of Justin Timberlake’s ‚ÄúSexyBack.‚ÄĚ The whole routine revolved around taking off the fat suit and revealing my lacy burlesque outfit underneath. It was about making the audience believe in one character, only to reveal another underneath. You can learn more about my lacy stuff, book covers, beard and other sundries at ¬†www.jrblackwell.com. I am available for hire for writing and photography projects and I especially enjoy collaborating with writers and other creative types.

I do love a beautiful lady with a beard. Moving on, I’ve always been particularly fascinated with your thoughts on horror. Would you mind telling us about your relationship with the genre? And how does the exploration of fear influence your art?

I have a love/terror relationship with horror. My writing and photography often have horror elements and I think that’s because those themes get into my brain so deeply.  I’m terrified down to my toes by horror films. They scare me not just while I’m in the theater but for days and nights afterward. Films like High Tension have this way of staying with me, of playing again and again behind my eyes, and The Ring made such a strong impact on me that for years I was convinced that girl was just on the other side of the shower curtain. I use writing and photography to cope with that fear, to control it. When I create monsters and victims, I’m now the master of them, and they frighten me less. But lets not pretend here, I’m still terrified. I can have my eyes wide open in the dark in my bed at night because of a trailer I’ve seen. A trailer. Not even a full movie. That’s the kind of penetration horror gets into my brain.

"Day Twenty Eight: Hearts Blood" by J.R. Blackwell

So what is the origin of¬†Shelter in Place? You’re not a horror fan, but did any films, books, or other media inspire you to set your game within a zombie apocalypse?

I came up with¬†Shelter in Place¬†when I was participating in a shelter in place drill at work. This kind of drill is when all the people in the building are gathered into an interior room and the doors and windows are sealed. It’s meant for environmental disasters, such as a large storm, or a chemical spill that would affect the air quality.¬†¬†However, standing in that room with my work colleagues, all I could think of was Zombies. Then I started to dream up a game that would take place in and around a Shelter.

Interesting! This is somewhat related; do you feel you are offering a product that is lacking within the current game industry?

When I was designing Shelter in Place, one of my goals was to create a game that would be easy for new players to jump into.  I founded a role-playing club in high school, and in college, I founded a geek club where we did quite a bit of gaming. I’ve always been interested in bringing in new people. I’ve found that actors and fans of genre media often love role-playing if they have a good introduction. However, there are a lot of games that are difficult for new gamers to learn, so I created Shelter in Place as an answer to that issue. With Shelter in Place you can pick up your character sheet you have in your hands all the rules you need to know, everything about your character and you can get started with playing.  

Turning to the experience of playing Shelter in Place, why choose live-action over the table-top and board game formats?

I am a huge fan of live action gaming. One of my goals with Shelter in Place was to give people the feeling that they were actually inside a horror movie. 

How is playing the game like being inside a horror movie?

I wanted to create an immersive experience for my players, and getting people to actually run away from zombies was the way to do that. Like a movie, you have to actually act out what happens.  Zombies shamble towards humans in mass, doors get broken and replaced with barricades, and your human friends get eaten and join the zombie horde. Surviving is not simple, or assured.

Photo by Rae Winters

What happens in a typical session?

Shelter in Place is modeled after movies, with a director, characters, and three acts. One of the things I wanted was for the game to demonstrate how, over time, the humans lose strength as the zombies gain power. So, in the first act, humans are more powerful than the zombies. In the second act, they are about equal, and in the third act, zombies have the upper hand. However, humans can gather props, such as a shotgun or baseball bat to help them fight the zombies.  

What kind of tone should a new player expect? Is it a deadly serious horror game? A silly adventure?

Shelter in Place¬†can go either way, and a lot of it depends on what the players do with it. I‚Äôve seen people play it seriously, zombies moaning, players screaming as they‚Äôve gotten eaten but I‚Äôve also seen people go the¬†Shaun of the Dead¬†route, as a madcap adventure with zombies writing misspelled notes to humans asking them to come outside and go to their ‚Äúbrains party‚ÄĚ. I think the game tends to trend towards dark humor and panicked fun.

Photo by Rae Winters

You can end up playing either a survivor or a zombie. What makes each role fun? Even more relevant to those considering buying the book, what is fun about running the game for your friends?

If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to survive the zombie apocalypse, playing a survivor is your way to find out. Playing a human in Shelter in Place means that you have this delicious conflict; to act entirely out of self-interest or to act in the interest of the group. Sometimes those two things might be in line with each other, but sometimes those motivations come into conflict. For example, if zombies are eating your friend, do you go out and help them, and risk getting eaten yourself? These are the questions human characters have to answer for themselves.

Playing a zombie is fun because you are playing for a team! You all have one goal, to eat some delicious brains. Players often seem to have more fun playing zombies because they are united in a common purpose, and they actually use a great deal of strategy in their zombie shuffling to take down the humans.

The fun of running the game is putting your friends through the zombie apocalypse, and having control over their fates like an angry, whimsical god! It’s crazy fun. You get to watch the action and turn up the heat, add in extra characters and help determine who lives and who dies.

I’d say that many games advertising simple rules are still daunting to new players. You mentioned earlier that your game is easy to learn.¬†How do players resolve challenges or combat?

Players resolve conflicts by comparing ‚ÄúResolution Numbers‚ÄĚ that are listed on their character sheets. Whoever has the higher number wins. That‚Äôs it.¬†¬†Now, multiple humans can gang up on a zombie and add all their resolution numbers together, or pick up a baseball bat to help add to those numbers, but it‚Äôs always the same ‚Äď just add up the numbers and you‚Äôve got your outcome. It really is that simple.

One more question about gameplay! I see there are optional “twists” in Shelter in Place that can make the session a little unpredictable. Can you tell us about that?

The twists are my favorite part. The twists are optional characters that you can add into the game to shake things up a little bit. For example, we have an optional character in the Kickstarter campaign who is a Time Traveler. This character can ‚Äúrewind‚ÄĚ the film and take things back one act ‚Äď bringing all the people who are dead back to life, but putting all the props you might have gathered right back where they were. The twist characters can throw a unique element into a traditional game of zombies against humans.

Some of the available Kickstarter rewards

I think we’ve learned a great deal about how the game works now and we really appreciate your time. Before we wrap up, what is the current status of your Kickstarter campaign? How long do readers have a chance to contribute? And what are the rewards?

As I write this, we have raised $4431, exceeding our original goal of $2,500. Readers can contribute up to noon on October 13th. The rewards include a PDF of the game, a book, posters, t-shirts, zombie plushies, photoshoots with me and a chance to get me to come to your town and run the game.

It’s great to hear that you’ve exceeded your goal. What is the next step?¬†And when can we get our hands on this book?

We‚Äôve decided that if we reach $5,000, we will put out a zombie anthology called ‚ÄúGimmie Shelter‚ÄĚ which writers such as Mur¬†Lafferty, David A. Hill Jr., Filamena Young, Jared Axelrod and Chuck Wendig. A PDF will go out to everyone who contributed, and at higher levels of contributions, people will get copies of the book. The best way to get a copy of the book is by contributing to the Kickstarter. We are planning to ship the books after the Kickstarter ends with the goal of getting it in our supporters‚Äô hands by Halloween. After the Kickstarter ends we hope to have copies of the book available for purchase ‚Äď but the best way to get it, and get it fast, is though the Kickstarter.¬†

Thanks, lady. It’s been a pleasure.

______________________________________________

That’s the story, readers. 10 more days to contribute to the Shelter in Place Kickstarter.¬†Either way, you should have a chance to safely cannibalize your friends soon.

Horror Video Game Releases – Sept. 6th

Posted: September 6, 2011 by crowbait in Games

Well, well, well.¬†Two horror themed games released in the same week? And it isn’t even Halloween yet! Unfortunately for me however, there’s a steep barrier to entry for one of them and the other isn’t luring any cash out of my wallet so no reviews will be made. Sorry.

First up is Dead Island. A survival horror title set in a tropical paradise. A zombie outbreak on a vacation resort leaves 4 survivors struggling to fight off the infected and find an escape from¬†island.¬†First person perspective zombie punching ensues. Despite some promising early buzz, mainly centered around a trailer that was later revealed to have absolutely nothing to do with the actual¬†gameplay, this combination of Left 4 Dead¬†FPS team based action¬†with the mission structure and weapon modification systems of Dead Rising leaves me with a “been there, done that” feeling. Reviews are mixed, resulting in a middle-of-the-road consensus. Still, it’s a game built around cooperative play and any game is more fun when you have friends along for the ride.

Next we have Rise of Nightmares which I find more interesting. A survival horror game in the tradition of Resident Evil¬†controlled with the XBOX 360’s motion sensing Kinect peripheral. Reviews and demonstrations show a surprisingly responsive control system. Though the player’s body is essentially a collection of button presses, it’s an impressive thing to see and a fine example of what can be done with Kinect when you apply it to an action/adventure game rather than just an exercise simulator. But . . . I don’t own one and I’m not in any position to drop $200 on the game and controller to play it so we’ll just have to content ourselves with some videos.

Nice stuff there. A man’s wife is kidnapped off a train¬†and taken to an evil mansion. The other passengers follow him through the swamps to almost certain doom and are tortured to death before being brought back as reanimated servants of a Frankensteinian madman. And they say the Kinect is just for kids?

If you get any playtime with either of these games, please post your comments. I’m eager about your experiences punching the undead.

The Final Girl RPG cover art

Posted: May 22, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in About Us, Art, Games

I wouldn’t normally pimp my art so blatantly here on the horror blog, but I think we can all agree this is incredibly relevant. Just finished up the cover illustration for The Final Girl, a horror movie RPG by Bret Gillan from Gas Mask Games. Currently in layout, more info will be posted when the game is closer to publication. Until then, is anyone wondering where we’re all getting this name from?

"The Final Girl" by Jennifer Rodgers

The “Final Girl” is a trope from horror films. Usually, an innocent young girl is hunted by an unstoppable slasher along with her more promiscuous friends who die one by one. As the finale unfolds, the terrified and desperate girl reaches a turning point where all of the fear and hatred turns into strength. She fights back, sometimes “killing” the monster, and remains the sole survivor. Changed forever. If you’re going to be strict about it, key examples of the Final Girl include Laurie of Halloween, Nancy of Nightmare on Elm Street, Ginny of Friday the 13th Part 2, Sally of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and… more recently… Sydney of Scream. We like to be a little more liberal with our definition, however, and that means the ULTIMATE final girl is Ellen Ripley of Alien. Show those murderers, monsters and space aliens what you’re made of, ladies. We salute you!

Stealing Cthulhu

Posted: May 9, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in Art, Games

"The King in Yellow," based on the original source material by Robert W. Chambers

Although we haven’t mentioned it specifically yet, the members of the FGSG crew are all involved in the gaming scene in one way or another… playing, creating, testing, etc… I would like to reach a point in this blog where we talk about not only film regularly, but books, games and other media as well. I’m not sure how far off that day will be.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu, a creepy and clever guide to using Lovecraft in role-playing games, is available to pre-order now. If you’re a fan of dice and tentacles, support indie games and check this out.

Why am I plugging this game specifically? ¬†I’ll out myself. The illustrations in the book are mine. There’s a sample on the right.

Thanks for your attention. Whether tentacles are involved or not, I hope you all have a great day.

Dead Space 2

Posted: February 5, 2011 by crowbait in Games, Reviews

The sequel to the 3rd person perspective 2009 survival horror title, Dead Space 2 continues the story of Isaac Clarke, a spaceship mechanic forced to confront monsters corrupted in body and mind by a bizarre alien artifact. With new creatures and weapons supplementing the return of those from the first game and a whole new environment to explore, it’s an iteration of the franchise that carries on the successes of the previous title.

Did you hear something?

My rating:

In Dead Space, contact was lost with the USG Ishimura, a massive mining spaceship. Isaac was dispatched in a search and rescue operation hoping to find his girlfriend Nicole, the chief medical officer on the doomed ship. Upon arrival he found that the ship and mining colony had been overrun by necromorphs, murderous creatures fashioned from the corpses of their previous victims and given life by an alien artifact call The Marker.

Though zombie-like, these creatures are not so easy to destroy. Blasting off a necromorph’s head will only slow it down rather than kill it. To fight these creatures Isaac must dismember them, cutting off arms, legs, claws, tails and spines with mining equipment modified to become weapons.

Isaac fought his way through the monsters, destroyed the marker and uncovered the truth; that Nicole had died and her ghost haunts him in visions. After his escape, Isaac entered a stasis sleep for the long journey home.

As Dead Space 2 begins, Isaac is awoken in the hospital on The Sprawl, a satellite city floating in orbit over Saturn. A new necromorph outbreak has taken place and once again Isaac must fight for his life and band together with a few other survivors as he uncovers the truth behind The Marker, the necromorphs and the Church of Unitology; the powerful religious organization that worships The Marker and its alien originators.

Isaac fights off the Convergence

The Good: Weapon balances have been improved and new enemy types have been introduced which add more variety to the combat but without abandoning the comfortable feel of the previous game’s controls. Players of the previous game will enjoy how some of the tools like the stasis beam and the ability to telekinetically throw sharp objects have become effective weapons rather than afterthoughts. New guns like the javelin launcher, capable of pinning a necromorph to a wall and then releasing a shocking blast, will provide some new opportunities for destructive mayhem.

The HUD used for this game is a perfect integration into the world. Rather than have health meters or ammo counters built into the edges of the screen, all that information is found on the character model. Isaac’s current health is displayed on his “RIG,” a computer interface running down his spine. When a weapon is readied it projects its current ammo load as a floating hologram. This integration of information helps with the player’s immersion.

Environments are much more varied. In the first Dead Space title the action took place entirely on board industrial mining vessels with a sci-fi gothic look and feel. Now on the Sprawl Isaac faces necromorphs in the apartment blocks, the Unitologist cathedral, the mining levels, the solar array and even the station’s elementary school. There’s also a return to a familiar location from the first game.

Much like a good movie, a video game needs the proper pacing and Dead Space does a good job of keeping the player moving forward while not feeling restrictive. There is a definite set path but the game rewards exploring side alleys with hidden caches of supplies and text and audio logs left behind by the other residents of the sprawl that fill in the story around the necromorph outbreak. The feelings of horror and dread come not simply from jump scare tactics of bodies falling out of lockers or necromorphs leaping through ventilation ducts. There is also the constant worry of managing resources as it’s necessary to make each bullet count. There’s nothing more horrifying in a survival game than to be startled by a monster and fire off half your ammo in panic before killing your attacker. After all, there could be something much worse waiting just around the corner.

The Bad: Though a lot of work has been done to keep combat varied, there are still segments of the game that will feel repetitive, breaking down into a pattern of kneecap, elbow, elbow shots with the basic weapon. Though these fights are less common than they were in the first game, it may still be a distraction to some players.

The physics effects and flying body parts can, at times become comical. The use of the havok engine means that corpses and objects will scatter about in a “realistic” fashion but this sometimes results in bits and pieces rolling end over end or rebounding off walls like a superball. On one occasion, a monster’s severed hand balanced on the point of its thumb and slowly revolved like a top. In a game all about chopping the monsters into pieces and stomping on their corpses it is inevitable that a player will encounter these bizarre and distracting effects.

Would I recommend this game? Absolutely. This game is a refinement of all the things that made its prequel so good. It’s a terrifying thrill ride full of surprising twists and visuals both beautiful and revolting. Fans of sci-fi horror like Event Horizon, Pandorum, and Alien will find a lot to love and even if you don’t play it yourself, find someone else who does and watch it over their shoulder.

Play nice, kids.

Does it pass the Bechdel? No. There are few voiced characters and the female characters never interact.

crowbait: I’ve been a big fan of this IP, having repeatedly played the first game as well as the prequel title Extraction on the Wii,¬†read both the novel and the graphic novel and seen the animated prequel film. I’m even playing a cut down version of the game on the iPhone! I’m glad to see that this new iteration lives up to the promise of the original Dead Space. Now, if only the rest of the franchise material could be so good . . . Ignition. Aftermath.