|Dead Space 2|
At the conceptual level, the series sounds like an excellent opportunity to offer a rich and compelling experience (and for the most part, it does) by mixing the adrenaline-inducing action sequences with the tension building most common in the horror genre. The game's designers certainly aimed in this direction, if the PR material is any indication.
In execution, however, it falls short.
By far the worst mistake this series does is its extreme reliance on trickery - that is, cheap scares in the form of enemy after enemy jumping out and charging at the player at every single turn of the game's environments.
The following template is followed verbatim in about 80% of the game's levels:
|So long as you pay attention to|
nearby vents and breakable walls...
*Enemies enter the room from inconspicuous places (mainly ventilation shafts).
*The player kills every single enemy.
*The player spends about five minutes boot-stomping every enemy in his immediate vicinity (as the corpses drop additional valuables this way).
*The player executes any plot-advancing actions he is required to.
*The player exits the room, moves to new room. Repeat as needed.
|...you, too, can kill off that pesky|
tension the game hates so much.
While this might work well in an action title, a horror game (which to reiterate, is what Dead Space 2 sells itself as) needs to have some contrast between moments of action and moments of calm. Consider this alternative: What if the player only encountered enemies in, say, half the game's areas? What if, instead of relying on cheap startle tactics (such as enemies popping out of visually obscured areas), the game builds up tension by providing a few minutes of calm in between the actual encounters? What if, in the vein of "true" horror, the enemies are less common, thus preserving their "exotic" and "uncanny" status, instead of degrading them to mere loot containers?
|Meet the horde: Visceral's greatest|
weapon against atmosphere.
Tension is best generated during periods of calm that either lull the player into a false sense of security or instil uncertainty; after all, any perceived threats become increasingly menacing when they're unexpected. In the aforementioned Dead Space 2 example, entering two sequential rooms with no encounters could (potentially) magnify the impact of finally facing an enemy in the third room, precisely because the player would either not expect one or because they'd be uncertain of when the enemy appears.
|This is just the beginning... literally.|
Screenshot was taken in Chapter 3.
Ultimately, it's worth remembering the age-old axiom: "Quality over Quantity". Limiting the enemies' flow will often work better than letting loose a huge, constant stream, especially when paced properly; designers with horror aspirations should take note, as tension can build a truly horrifying experience that will be remembered long after the actual game concludes.
*Dead Space 2 Official Website
*Visceral Games Official Website