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Dead Space 2

A friend of mine happened to mention how much he enjoyed Dead Space 2, and although I had skipped the first installment, I decided to take a look at the franchise's new game. There's a lot to like here, and an interesting mix of old and new elements borrowed from a lot of different games, and a lot of different sources.

Warning: spoilers ahead! This is not intended as a "find out enough to see if you want to buy it" sort of article, but a detailed look at a lot of parts of the game's story and design, and it WILL spoil the ending for you if you haven't played the game.

Derivative Space

This may be an unfair criticism, since one of my favorite franchises, Halo, draws heavily on concepts from other works: Aliens, Ringworld, Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, and several others. A broad-stroke summary of Dead Space's story would end up reading a lot like a mismash of ideas from other films. A strange, inscrutable artifact is found that holds vast and terrible power-- much like the Monolith in 2001, like the Halo array in the Halo series, and like the Beacon in Mass Effect. The artifact, which is called the Marker, sends out a signal that makes ordinary people go insane, and makes "smart" people see symbols, at least one of the side effects of which seems to be imparting the knowledge and abilities necessary to build Markers, as well as a drive to take the steps necessary to use the Marker to achieve Convergence, which appears to be a unification of all humanity into a single being, much like Instrumentality in the Evangelion universe. The Marker is revered as a holy artifact by a religion called Unitology, a thinly-veiled doppleganger for Scientology, and they are one of the groups struggling for control over the Marker and those exposed to its signal. They seem to be actively working towards Convergence, while others attempting to exert influence over the Marker and those exposed to it-- namely Earth's government-- seem to be working towards something else.

The supposed immense power of the Marker explains why our protagonist, Isaac "I See What You Did There" Clarke is so important. In the first game, the mining ship Ishimura, with Clarke's significant other on board, found a Marker on a planet called Aegis VII. The Marker's signal caused people to transform into Necromorphs-- hideously distorted, murderously violent zombies with a wide variety of super powers and biological attacks. In other words, space zombies. There are a lot of similarities between Dead Space and Left 4 Dead in their pantheon of opponents: large, powerful creatures with devestating melee attacks, creatures that attack from range with fluids, little creatures that hop on your back until you throw them off. The Marker, I guess, is Dead Space's version of the AI Director, choosing what combinations of necromorphs to send after the player.

Design-wise, Dead Space 2 is primarily a corridor crawler with a decidedly Doom-like, old school approach to enemy placement, with a few new twists. Enemies usually emerge from one of the many, many airshafts and vents throughout the game's setting, the Sprawl base on Titan, one of Jupiter's moons. Necromorphs don't generally seem to have any agenda of their own, save killing the player, and have no sense of self-preservation. Most of the time they can't open doors, although if the player chooses to use one of the Doom-era tricks of hiding behind doors to escape, heal up, and funnel enemies into a killing zone, they may be in for a surprise: run and hide and Necromorphs get bored patrolling an empty room after a few seconds and return to their air vents-- possibly to emerge from another vent in the room you're in, although this process seems to be a bit glitchy. At least once I saw a Necromorph in an adjacent room enter a vent in that room, emerge from a vent in the room I had escaped to, and promptly and politely despawn. Some enemies just never seem to re-emerge after re-entering a vent after such a sequence, and it's hard to tell whether this is intended as a way for players to bypass enemies they're having trouble with to attenuate difficulty, or a way for the designers to increase the tension caused by uncertainty-- because after you return to that room you're never quite sure whether those Necromorphs are coming back or not, and at least at the default difficulty, surprise is the best weapon most of them have against a well-equipped player. That also explains who so many vents are conveniently located directly above and behind locations where the player has to travel by.

Different Space

There are plenty of differences, though. Most shooters have trained players over the years to go for quick kills by getting head shots, or to go for reliable kills by piling up damage with body shots. Neither technique will be effective in Dead Space, where the trick is to whittle away at the necromorphs' limbs (or, in some cases, tentacles). For most of the medium-sized, bipedal necromorphs, the locations to target are easy to pick out. On larger creatures, usually a yellow or red coloration indicates a vulnerable spot. Going for that spot isn't always a great idea, though-- some creatures carry brightly colored bioexplosives that will bathe the player in splash damage, so the trick is to take out that creature's other limbs without exploding it. It can be safely exploded at range, but the splash damage radius is deceptively large. Other necromorphs contain scads of smaller ones inside and present similar risks.

Nothing Is Free In Space

As in Bioshock, weapons and supplies can be gotten from vending machines strewn throughout the game, and weapons and equipment can be upgraded using Power Nodes at workbenches. At many points there will be a relatively "safe" room or area that houses items, a save terminal, a workbench, and a store-- which doesn't stop the designers from spawning enemies in or around these areas once in awhile just to keep you on your toes.

Your first weapon is free, but after that, new guns have to be bought from the store. You can scavenge ammo from dead necromorphs, but the more valuable items will be semiconductors you can sell at the store, as well as schematics you download into the store that unlock new items for sale-- which includes all the new weapons, as well as suit variations that increase your armor, add more inventory slots, and somtimes confer other bonuses. In fact, for what a lot of the time looks like a third-person shooter, Dead Space 2 has an awful lot of features that make it seem like an RPG. In fact, the inventory and upgrade system is more complex than Mass Effect 2's (although not as extensive as Mass Effect 1's) and it seems as if the primary differences between the two games are Dead Space's lack of dialogue trees or an explicit party system. NPCs never fight with you in this game, you can never control or influence their actions.

No One Can Hear Your Teeth Chattering... In Dead Space

Deep Space 2 generally does an excellent job of maintaining a high level of tension throughout the single- player campaign, although at times I think they tried to maintain too much tension for too long without enough lulls.

One of the more effective episodes in the new game is a level where you revisit the supposedly empty shell of the Ishimura mining ship, where your girlfriend Nicole met death, at her own hand, rather than be killed by the rampaging necromorphs, leading to the feelings of guilt and nightmarish flashbacks that Clarke suffers throughout the game, where an apparition of Nicole-- now apparently a kind of avatar for the Marker itself-- appears before him, often to berate, belittle, and attack him.

What's spooky about the Ishimura level, at least for me, wasn't about Nicole. She'd been pestering me since the opening cinematic and her act had already worn a little thin. It wasn't even the callback to the previous game's environments, and the white plastic and red tape covering all the walls of the ship-- to supposedly cover over damage, bodies, and bloodstains. That might have been creepier if I hadn't already spent hours trudging down corridors steeped in blood, stomping open lifeless (and some not-so-lifeless) thoracic cavities, looking for credits to buy bullets with.

No, what's spooky about the early areas of the Ishimura level in Dead Space 2 is that nothing attacks you. You're constantly waiting for it, thinking that around the corner, things are about to get real, but instead, for awhile all you get are more taunts from Nicole and ambient noise. I think the designers, throughout the game, went a little too nuts with the creepy ambient sounds and music. They're so constant, and so obviously red herrings in many spots, that it eventually becomes ineffective. More silence more often might have helped make the sounds work better when they were there.

Instead, what you often get, if you stand in one place too long, are the sounds of supposedly distant necromorphs raging, as well as plenty of other creepy biological or mechanical sounds apparently associated with the ship, the station, or whatever other environment you happen to be in. Even that's not so bad, but on several occasions, you'll get as ambient noise the sounds made by certain enemies, even when those enemies aren't present, won't be seen and can't be fought. Whether that's intended to trick the player into choosing a wrong weapon, or paying attention to the wrong enemy, I can't be sure-- it may just have been one of many "creepy noises" that could be deployed in an area.

Cinematic Space

Of games I have played recently, none so clearly has aspirations to being "cinematic" than Dead Space 2. While I know there are some who decry this industry trend, for legitimate reasons, I tend to believe that the tools and techniques of the film trade are generally fair game for inclusion into video games, and that a "cinematic" game is one that fully uses those tools and techniques to do what games and only games can do-- not trying to make games into films, but make games do what films do in addition to what games can do.

There are some interesting design decisions in Dead Space that seem to be directly aimed at seeming more "cinematic" but I'm not at all sure they work well, or as intended.

First, the game has no HUD, at least, not a traditional one like you'll find in Halo or Mass Effect. Clarke's health is displayed in lights along his spine, integrated into his suit. (This is true even of the straitjacket you begin the game in, or the tank top your spunky sidekick wears later on-- so much for this being a common sense move.) Selecting one of four available weapons with the D-pad brings up a small holographic display in front of Clarke that is apparently projected there by his suit. It's oriented not towards the player, but towards the character-- which means that if you rotate the camera around so you're looking at Clarke head-on, that display is a reverse image, and pressing left on the D-pad will select the weapon that is to Clarke's left, which is now screen right. That's a high degree of commitment to the design choice the studio made, but isn't really of practical use. Of course, there's no reason to move the camera in that way, and you'd really be better of just putting weapons in slots and remembering where they are if you have to switch during a fight, but it does point out the degree to which the designers were willing to go with the character-driven HUD system, to the expense of player convenience. The same is true of the larger, grid inventory display. Bringing up neither screen pauses the game; they're clearly meant to be used mostly in safe areas, and most of the things you'd need quickly during combat are bound to a single button for convenience anyway-- B to use a healing item, Y to refill your stasis bar.

Stasis Space

Stasis, of course, is not only the key to playing this game but is the only thing you get for "free" although it does cost you time. Regardless of what weapons you have on your person or readied for use, you can fire a blue beam of "stasis" that puts enemies and some inanimate objects into slow motion. The number of shots you get, how long the stasis lasts, and how quickly your stasis bar recovers after use are all controlled by Power Node upgrades in the Stasis section-- you can update your suit (called a "rig"), your weapons, and Stasis. While there are item pickups you can use to instantly recharge Stasis, and when fully upgraded you can get as many as four shots before recharging, stasis is the only things that recharges while you wait in this game. You don't have shields, your health doesn't regenerate, you can scavenge ammunition but not weapons-- but if you find a safe space to wait things out, you can hoard your precious stasis recharge packs and just wait for the bar to refill on its own.

Given that the most potent weapon the designers have against you is surprise, your most important counterattack is to slow things down so you can prioritize targets. Very often you'll be presented with fast-moving, small, weak, or ranged-attack enemies at some distance out in front of you, while the game is readying to have a large, melee-attack necromorph emerge from a vent above you, beneath you, or behind you. The risk isn't merely from their standard attacks, which can be deadly-- in the sequence that teaches you how to use stasis, it's an instant kill-- but from the other scourge of Dead Space 2: the Quicktime Event. More on that later.

After awhile it becomes standard procedure when a new enemy appears in front of you-- target it and hit it with stasis, then step forward a short distance and check your blind spots, which are generally behind you and to your left. It may be my imagination, but it seems like most playspaces in the game have a bias towards spawning enemies to your left. This would make sense, since your character's own body blocks the player's peripheral vision in that direction. A lot of the time, there'll be another enemy attacking you from that direction, which you'll also want to hit with stasis before moving away from it-- especially if it's an enemy with an explosive attack.

You'll generally want to have as many stasis shots as you can before entering a potential combat area-- at least three if you've maxed out stasis to four shots. There are only a few locations where you'll be hit simultaneously by more than three or four large enemies without anywhere to run, and many times there will be only one or two at a time. It generally pays to advance slowly, triggering enemies bit by bit. Using stasis lets you prioritize the targets and stay out of splash damage range.

The real reason to use stasis on enemies that are continually spawning right on top of you, though, is to avoid the scariest part of Dead Space 2: the Quicktime Event.

Quicktime Event Space

When an enemy gets close enough to you, some of them will trigger a quicktime event. You'll be unable to move, fire, change weapons, use stasis, or do anything else until the event is over. You have to mash the A button; do it fast enough, long enough, and you'll win the battle. Sometimes this means killing your opponent outright. In other cases, it just means escaping from its grasp. Nearby enemies seem to be polite enough not to pile on during such a sequence, but that doesn't stop from hanging out nearby and getting ready to take a shot right after it's over. Even winning these struggles can cost you so much health if you're not quick that sometimes it seems better just to take the death and restart at a checkpoint; except that most of these sequences are so interminably long that when you add that to the reloading time (why do games still have this?) death by quicktime event soon becomes something to dread more than the most hideously deformed necromorph. This would seem to be an intentional portion of the game's design; in fact, your first real experiences with necromorphs in the game will be up-close and personal while you're unarmed and in a straitjacket, and that sequence ends with a quicktime event. Here's where I think the HUDless, cinematic aspirations of the game cause a real problem.

Gaming pundits often puzzle over the clumsy integration of elements from narrative film into games. One can point out that, like many examples of the genre, games like Halo are basically science fiction films with extended action gameplay sequences injected into them; that the entire body of work is not an integrated whole, but two separate things, never touching: there are cutscenes that you watch, and gameplay sequences that you play. Halo makes these distinctions clear: the HUD disappears, the aspect ratio of the screen changes, a chapter title is shown, and character dialogue only gets subtitled during cutscenes. There's never any question in Halo of when you're watching and when you're playing, since the two activities are almost entirely separate.

Dead Space 2, on the other hand, doesn't have a HUD, so it can't disappear. At first glance, since it's third person perspective anyway, there's little that distinguishes the look of the screen during a normal gameplay sequence, during a quicktime event, and during a cutscene-- except that during most cutscenes you have no camera control at all (although in at least one you have limited camera control, allowing you to pointlessly pan a couple of degrees left or right. Why, I'm not sure, since there's nothing else to see in that particular scene.)

Without a lot of the cues that gamers are used to interpreting to understand when they're supposed to play, and when they're supposed to watch, it's understandable when LoadingReadyRun's Graham Stark, at the end of the Unskippable episode that covers Dead Space 2, declares "that was a quicktime event? I'm done with this game... I'm immediately done" while his co-host Paul Saunders admits "that was pretty much bullshit." The problem is that, at the end of a sequence where Clarke has to stumble, still bound in a straitjacket, through a medical bay while being threatened on all sides by a number of necromorphs. Any wrong turn means death, and while it's usually possible to figure out which way you're supposed to go in this sequence, making a mistake is not impossible, which leaves you to puzzle out the correct route by trial and error. At the end, the possibility of reaching a door you can lock behind you is used to entice the player into an unavoidable quicktime event. The only hint that this is a quicktime event and not a cutscene is the flashing, pixellated green "A" button-- but like all the other elements of the HUD in this game, this is positioned relative to the character, not the player. So as the necromorph thrashes around in its attempt to kill you, the green indicator moves on and off screen repeatedly, all the while also softly pulsing and glowing. If you think it's a cutscene and you're looking at your own face, or at the necromorph, it can be easy to miss, and it isn't long before it's too late and you have to start the whole sequence over. There's a certain amount of honesty from the designers here: this game world is one which is inherently unfair. A lot of the time they'll give you a fighting chance, but when the chips are down, things are going to get dirty, and everything you think you've learned about the world of Dead Space will turn out to be unreliable, if not downright untrue.

King of Infinite Dead Space

One of those things you think you'll learn about Dead Space while playing through the campaign is that while the designers may play dirty pool with enemy placement, frequently spawning enemies in bottleneck areas so that you can't help but pass by vents where things will jump out at you, they don't usually spawn enemies infinitely, which means you don't need to keep advancing in order to stop the tide of endless enemies. You can hang back, take a breather, move forward at your own pace without fear of wasting ammunition on an infinite sequence of enemies while you tiptoe through a room. This is good to know, because in many ways Dead Space is a game of resource management. Because necromporphs don't use doors, and there aren't always conveniently placed airvents, you can bypass some enemies if you want-- but that means you won't be able to collect credits or items from their corpses. You can decide for yourself, given your own ability and your inventory, whether it's worth it to fight or run away, and if you've got a full stasis bar and have trained yourself well on using weapons to take out limbs and not waste shots on bodies or heads, most of the time it will pay to stand and fight, because you can do so without fearing that the battle is unending. Also, once you've cleared an area, you can (almost always) be confident that it remains clear, so that when your inventory fills up, or you've recovered a power node or two, you can run back to the last store or workbench areas to sell extra items and install some new upgrades, without wasting time peering around every corner for new necromorphs. THat is, almost always.

Most of the time you're also presented with enemies that you can actually defeat, no matter how large or small they are. Bigger enemies have glowing weak spots (useful when not all of a creature's limbs are vulnerable or where, in the case of some, they have no limbs).

There are a few exceptions to these rules, though, and in the game's final chapter, the rules get thrown out.

Puzzle Space

Most of Dead Space's physics puzzles are more of a change of pace than real puzzles. The solutions are usually obvious, and when they aren't, there's often an announcement or some NPC dialogue to tell you exactly what to do. Sometimes there just there to provide some gameplay in otherwise quiet and empty rooms; other times, to give the player another objective to perform while they are also under attack.

In one sequence, in the middle of the game, you need to clear an exit from a room by exploding a large canister by throwing a series of small canisters at it. Doing so will trigger a large explosion you have to run away from by reaching a lift, and right after you throw the first canister, a strong enemy will be spawned in the room to attack you. You can defeat it instead of solving the puzzle, but more will keep attacking. There's no way to finish the combat and then finish the puzzle; you have to finish the puzzle and run away. This example of tricking the player isn't that egregious, since the puzzle solution is obvious by the time the respawning enemies start to appear, and even without knowing the enemies are infinite, a reasonable player would probably manage to complete the puzzle and run away.

That's not the case at all at one particular room early in the final level-- a room that has only one exit, a door that must be opened by hacking a panel in a Bioshock-like minigame. Ever-increasing numbers of enemies, both strong ones and groups of weak, ranged-attack enemies, will continue to enter the room as long as the player remains. The room has no other exits, and the terminal to hack is in one corner, near the door, facing into the corner-- it's not visible from the entrance. The longer the player takes to find and complete the hacking terminal to open the door, the more enemies spawn. The only way to know where the terminal is, without using a walkthrough, is to explore the entire room, fighting as you go-- make it much less likely, once you've found the terminal, that you'll be able to complete it without being killed or seriously hurt. You can exit the room and return to the previous area by way of an elevator-- at least at this stage the designers don't lock the door behind you, a trick they employ fairly seldom in this game-- but doing so won't really help, as the onslought of enemies becomes even more demonic once you re-enter. At some point, if you attempt to bail on the terminal attempt and run for the elevator, you may find that route blocked by enemies; the only real teacher here is trial and error-- you have to spend enough time fighting (and possibly dying) in the room to know where the terminal is, so that next time, you can just stasis the first couple of enemies before heading straight to it. Then, you need to know that it's pretty pointless to try and fight or kill anything at all in this room; you want to stasis anything that can get to you quickly enough to interrupt your hack attempt, and you want to have as many stasis recharge packs as you will need to also get through the door after you've completed the hack. The flow of enemies will make item collection difficult, and the endless stream of enemies makes staying to fight pointless at best and suicide at worst; only the best Dead Space players will net more items from fallen foes than they'll expend in ammunition, health, and stasis packs. Without a walkthrough, though, the only way to find out about the fact that this room follows different rules than most of the rest of the Dead Space universe, is by dying enough times due to expending all your ammunition and still having lots of enemies left to fight. Even worse still would be surviving-- leaving this room with no remaining items in inventory, only to discover that you'll really wish you had them for upcoming battles.

Undead Space, Mostly Dead Space and All Dead Space

The game is called Dead Space, but of course the enemies you're fighting are really the undead. On board the Ishimura, we discover that the destruction of the Aegis VII Marker (accomplished by Clarke in the first game) led to all the necromorphs aboard the ship to dissolve into the same sticky red goop we find all throughout the game-- comprised of human DNA, and reanimated in the presence of a signal from a Marker. Despite being undead, most of the foes you face can be killed-- until the last chapter. Without any fanfare, warning, or premonition, we're presented with a new necromorph that can't be killed permanently-- not that this is immediately obvious. You can remove its limbs, and like the other enemies, it's reduced to a bloody, moaning, thrashing torso on the floor. However, where eventually most other enemies really become inanimate at this stage, this one will regrow its limbs and continue to come after you. Players might be forgiven for thinking this is a once or twice in a lifetime (deathtime?) trick. After all, throughout the game there are necromorphs "playing dead" (is it really 'playing dead' when you're a reanimated corpse pretending not to be animated?) who jump up and attack if you pass too close by. The designers mostly play fair with this aspect-- if you know, either from a walkthrough or from past experience, which corpses aren't really dead-- or if you just suspect something isn't quite right-- you can shoot those enemies safely at range, and they'll take damage before getting up and coming after you. I'll gladly acknowledge the game for being fair here-- it would have been really easy to not have those bodies react until triggered.

Like the infinite spawn room earlier, this unkillable necromorph causes the player to completely change strategies, and not only can't it be killed, but it also uses doors. Take too long to move forward and you'll find it behind you, forcing you to make your way through several rooms before locking the zombie necromorph behind you by smashing a fuse that locks a door permanently-- exactly the opposite of the behavior of all the previous fuses in the game, which instead always opened a previously locked door. The doors and fuses are also positioned such that the only real way to complete the sequence of turns in time is to know where they are in advance, either by trial and error or by walkthrough; just turning left briefly where you should turn right can be enough to let the enemy into the room with you, at which point you might as well quit and load a saved game, because otherwise you're just left with committing suicide by necromoprh or futilely consuming all your ammunition.

I ended up feeling a lot like a cross between a mortician and a custodian through this game. Since some necromorphs can infect human corpses to make more necromorphs, I tend to remove all the limbs from nearby human corpses and/or remove them from the play area to prevent this. I have no idea how common infectors are, or how dangerous the necromorphs they spawn can really be, but the fear of the very idea motivated me to help keep the Sprawl clear of dead bodies. Since necromoprh corpse torsos also can contain items or credits, it makes sense to stomp all of those as well-- and of course, some of them, as it turns out, aren't really completely dead. Just, you know... mostly dead. And just like in the movie, when they're all dead, there's only one thing you can do-- go through their pockets and look for loose change.

Mrs. Dead Space

Three women provide the primary driving force behind Clarke's action in the sequel. The first, of course, is the apparition of his dead girlfriend Nicole from the last game. She starts out as a pretty aggressive character, haunting and haranguing Clarke in equal measures in nightmare sequences through the first two thirds of the game. Generally you're safe from attack, either from her or from necromorphs, during these sequences, although eventually what seems like a usual nightmare cutscene sequence ends up turning into a classic "press X to not die" quicktime event rather suddenly. It's very odd, because it's never clear in this game whether Nicole is actually there, corporeally, or not. Most of the time she just appears and disappears like a ghost; the lighting in the room often changes significantly in these sequences. Aboard the Ishimura, Clarke on more than one occasion seems to hallucinate being attacked by large tentacles that then turn out not to exist at all. Nicole could be an actual necromorph that's simply able to appear and disappear at will, an ephemeral force that represents the marker, or a figment of Clarke's signal-addled mind as the Marker struggles to make him do its bidding, or some combination of the above. At least once an apparent attack from Nicole, trying to stab a needle in Clarke's eye, turns out to be Clarke struggling with himself. This quicktime event, though, bears none of the hallmarks of a hallucination or delusion. Nicole appears to be strangling Clarke, and if we're supposed to believe that's Clarke strangling himself, one would reasonably expect that he'd pass out before he could actually kill himself that way.

The only thing stranger than wondering how Nicole can strangle you to death if she doesn't have a body, or how she can appear and disappear at will if she doesn't have one, is how she reacts when you "win" the quicktime event-- assuring her of how you can't let go of her because then you'd have nothing left. All her nightmarish visage disappears, leaving her with a normal, if sad face, who then says that the key is the "fourth step"-- and it's "acceptance". This extends the three steps given to us by another NPC, Stross-- another sufferer of the dementia caused by the Marker's signal, who apparently has its design and instructions so firmly embedded in his mind that it's driving him insane, and the extraction and manipulation of which-- in both Stross and Clarke-- is what led Earth's government to commission the experiments at the Sprawl that led to the construction of a new Marker to replace the one Clarke destroyed in the first game-- and apparently constructed from the signal as reconstructed, at least in part, from Clarke's own mind.

That Nicole's conversion is temporary, and probably a deception, is more than obvious. What's not obvious is that why, if her objective all along was to get you to willingly cooperate with using the Marker to initiate Convergence, she starts off by trying to haunt and intimidate Clarke instead of being nice to begin with, or why bother with either of those approaches if that goal can be just as easily achieved by having the necromorphs kill and assimilate him. If that goal can't be achieved by his death, but only by willingly choosing to cooperate with Nicole, then why are the necromorphs trying to kill him at all?

Daina Space

Nicole's not the only female NPC with strangely inscrutable motives, though. She's the first we're introduced to, and the last we have to deal with, but in between there's two more. After getting cut out of the straitjacket, we get signals on the radio from a woman named Daina, who claims to want to help to rescue us from both the necromorphs and from Earth government, and to have a cure for the delusions caused by the Marker's signal. She turns out to be a Unitologist who wants Clarke for her own purposes-- presumably initiating Convergence-- which comes as little a surprise to the player as it does to Clarke himself. What is surprising is that as soon as Clarke reaches her, she immediately has two goons seize Clarke before embarking on a moustache-twirling evil monologue about how she tricked Clarke and how important he is-- before she and her hired muscle get mowed down by an Earth government gunship.

The problem is that the entire sequence is nonsensical. There's no reason, at that point, to have revealed the deception to Clarke's character, either by trying to seize him violently or with the silly monologue. If Daina's clothes gave her away as a Unitologist, and made her untrustworthy, why not just change them? Clarke was doing Daina's bidding because she was promising a cure. Surely the deception could have been kept up long enough to get away, or long enough to get Clarke to voluntarily agree to be restrained or sedated, in the guise of being given a drug that would cure him? This monologue is directed not at Clarke's character, but at the player, to set up the power struggle between EarthGov and the Unitologists over the marker: it's just that we know that what Daina wants us to do and presumably what Nicole want us to do are probably the same-- initiate Convergence. What isn't known is what EarthGov thought it could use the Marker for-- and as the last post-credit sequence tells us, apparently they've built at least a dozen of them.

Eye Candy

Shortly after discovering Daina's treachery-- leaving us only with the clearly mad Stross and the power mad EarthGov station head, Tiedemann, as NPCs, Daina gets replaced by Ellie, another CEC employee trying to escape from the necromorph apocalypse. Returning to a shopping arcade area visited earlier, we find her blowing away a necromorph horde with ease from behind a security barrier. She apparently wants nothing to do with us, nor any help-- having become the only surviving member of her work team, and already been betrayed by at least one other survivor (necromorph or not, it's unclear). She doesn't want to party up with Clarke, and she urges him not to follow her.

Yet inexplicably, not long has gone by before she runs into Stross and contacts Clarke, whereupon she takes Clarke at his word that Stross, while dangerous and crazy, is important and should be protected, rather than killed. This holds true right up until Stross removes one of Ellie's eyeballs with a screwdriver, and without anaesthetic, in a misguided attempt to demonstrate Step Three. Ellie's only response to Clarke is to deliver a zinger: "you owe me an eye, you bastard". I suppose we're supposed to interpret this to mean that losing an eye to the madman foisted upon you by a guy you didn't trust enough to get into an elevator with makes you dependant on that guy for your survival; the two of you cooperate, in one way or another, until the climax of the game, where there's an entirely unconvincing scene in which Clarke manages to remotely cause the gunship Ellie is prepping for escape to launch prematurely, provoking an unjustifiably emotional outburst from her because you're letting her escape and sacrificing yourself. There's just nothing in the game that establishes that Ellie should give a damn about what happens to Clarke; perhaps there was a crisis romance that got left on the cutting room floor, but as it is, it seems that Ellie probably could have gotten away herself much more easily (and with both eyes intact) had she not inadvisedly honored Clarke's request to not kill Stross, and then, Stross ends up being killed anyway-- by Clarke-- without ever imparting more information about the Marker, where it is, or how to destroy it than what had been given much earlier. Ellie should be hopping mad at Clarke, not for staying behind, but for slowing her down and putting her at risk-- all the things that she said she was afraid would happen if she took on a companion.

And of course it's Ellie who swoops to your rescue at the game's climax, as the Marker explodes-- which only makes me wonder why, if Ellie had control of the vehicle, she didn't return immediately after takeoff? If she wanted to insist that Clarke get onboard before leaving, why not do it right then and there? Once having left the Sprawl, why return to danger to save a guy who nearly got you killed and cost you an eye-- and is probably just as batshit crazy as the guy who took your eye, and for the same reasons?

Clarke himself isn't sure why he's staying instead of escaping. He's only got the vaguest idea about where he should be going, what he should be doing, or what the ghost of Nicole has to do with either. He knows only what the players know-- that the last game ended with a Marker being destroyed and so this one probably does as well, which means soldiering on to the end.


The climax of the game is the final confrontation with Nicole, who has already told you to "go into the light" and to meet her in front of the Marker. When you finally reach the Marker, there is indeed a blinding light there-- but it's not Nicole, it's the EarthGov toady, Tiedemann. His actions and motivations throughout the game have been about as inconsistent and inexplicable as everyone else's. He's got some role in the project to use "patients" like Stross and Clarke to build Markers, for some reason-- but when necromorph attacks started to occur on the Sprawl, he ordered it evacuated, apparently against the instructions of his boss, named only "Overlord". He tells us that the apocalypse going on around the Marker now is caused by the huge number of necromorph bodies that are pressing against it-- more than they had ever planned for-- who only reached it because of the heroic efforts Clarke took in order to get there. It ends up looking a lot like things might have ended better for the human population of the Sprawl if Clarke had died early on in the game, and that's a bit of an odd revelation.

Of course, in Dead Space not even a blinding light can be trusted, and Tiedemann attacks you with a javelin gun-- attacks which cannot be countered in the normal way (and Tiedemann cannot be attacked before he attacks you, even if you know where he is) because it's another quicktime event. Why this was necessary I have no idea. It also shows how Tiedemann's behavior throughout the game is also inconsistent with his goals. He rants on and on about stopping Clarke from reaching the Marker, without ever giving any idea that he understands why Clarke is going there, or what it is he is afraid Clarke will do. The player assumes that Clarke wants to destroy the marker, and so assumes that Tiedemann is stopping Clarke from doing that. That may be true, but it also seems true that Tiedemann is trying to prevent Convergence, and that stopping Clarke from reaching the Marker, or at least stopping Clarke from making it possible for all the necromorphs from the Sprawl to reach it, would have achieved that. It just seems like Tiedemann could have spent a few extra words at any point in the game to explain why it wasn't a good idea for Clarke to go to the Marker, instead of just talking about everything he was doing to try and kill him instead. Clarke is a pretty despondent and troubled guy; it seems that if Tiedemann told him he could save humanity by killing himself, he'd do it. Instead we get nothing from Tiedemann but idle threats and macho posturing.

Summary Space

Dead Space 2 seems to set out to keep the player jumpy and nervous for the entire playthrough time, and it succeeds admirably at that; it just seems that in its rush to appear cinematic, it used some techniques that undermine the game in unintended ways, and not nearly enough thought is put into the character of Isaac Clarke, Nicole, Ellie and Tiedemann to make the climax as emotionally satisfying as it should be.