Dead Space 2 Session Notes (part 2)

Dead Space 2 tries to walk a fine line when it comes to pacing.  Given how subjective the perception of pacing is, I’m not surprised that sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t.  The long “exploratory” segments (by which I mean, explore the artwork in the linear corridors) raise the tension level for me to a point but often spill over into boredom.  Not to be too formulaic, but an encounter every 3 rooms or so seems to be what I find myself expecting.  I suppose defying expectations is part of the challenge of keeping players on their toes.  So, its’ a catch-22.  I like the deliberate pacing, except for when I don’t.

I wonder if the developers tested out random encounters or some kind of respawn system.  I can imagine conversations about controlling the experience carefully and the needlessness of respawn in such a linear game but I think one or both may have a place here.  The environment is supposed to feel dangerous.  When I plod along through an area that wasn’t designed with backtracking in mind (say to revisit a save point, workbench or store) I find it distractingly safe.  My mind wanders from the game and resets my tension meter to zero.  The same principle applies to slow forward progress.  If I’m really dragging ass through a large area once its cleared out, the game could detect my slow pace and add a few encounters to the room to bring the danger level right back up.  I’m all for rhythm and pacing but adapting to the player’s style might go a long way toward keeping the tension bar high.  (NOTE: I can’t be sure but it looks like there is re-spawn in Chapter 13.)

My personal tension bar was also lowered by ammo in this play session.  I’m playing on normal difficulty and I’m generally conservative with ammo in shooting games but I’m also a terrible shot.  However, Dead Space 2 seems determined to make sure I rarely come close to running out of anything.  It’s not broken in my view but the generosity of ammo makes the game far less challenging and frankly reduces the overall urgency of the experience.  This is another area that might benefit from some play style based experience tweaking in real time.  Players that are loaded to the gills with extra ammo could be confronted with extra encounters that don’t drop ammo by design.  Perhaps as a reward, the encounters drop cash or something else of value so they can stock up at the next store.

I don’t mean to criticize at every turn.  The stalker type enemies are really fun.  These are the guys that hide, pop their heads out and charge.  They’ve got lots of personality without coming off as goofy or arbitrary.  The contrast between their inquisitive corner peeking and aggressive charging gives me a sense of a dangerous, but real animal.  I find myself wondering what it is about the relationship between the marker and humans that turns them into all these different creatures.  I don’t expect a satisfying answer.

The spitting flesh mounds are also a stroke of great design.  They are often hidden but make a hideously distinctive sound that has me on my tip toes checking every corner lest one should take me by surprise.  The animation of the probing “fingers” on top is also a great design choice as that disturbing wriggle let’s the player know that its still dangerous.

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