Now that I’ve exiled Mass Effect 2 from my life I’m back with Dead Space and I forgot how tense it can be. Â The whole game is tension and release, with your heart racing near the end of a level and a huge exhale as you board the tram when its time to move on. Â It is so tense that I generally can’t play more than a stage at a time, and today when I was done I booted up the Blur beta just to bring myself down from the near-heart attack.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed that seem to contribute to the game that increase the tention to a level where it is almost unplayable:
- Strobe lights: Â The game is dark and almost every stage Â has some kind of broken lighting system blaring flashing lights at you
- Darkness in general. Â The game is dark.
- Limited ammo- You are constantly hunting for more weapons, and constantly scared that you’re going to run out. Â The monster design is pretty corny, but when some big tentacled freak is running at you and you just ran out of bullets, watch out.
- Delayed response. Reloading your weapon, performing a melee attack, switching weapons- all of these things take enough time to crank up the tension.
- Sound design: Â There are sounds coming from the ship at all times. Â Collapsing parts, screaming people, etc. Â In 5.1 you can hear it all around you, but you’re never quite sure where.
- Shakey cam- on certain stages the ship is literally shaking apart and the game presents this as a constantly vibrating and shaking camera. Â This isn’t the quick whip-around sci-fi of Firefly or Battlestar Galactica but just vibration. Â It was so disorienting I was starting to get nauseous.
- Uncertainty. Â While the game is generally really good at telegraphic what exactly you should be doing, a lot of puzzles demand that you make use of the environment in ways that aren’t necessarily expected. Â It can take a while to realize just what you’re supposed to be doing. Â Of course this could just be me.
- Live inventory- you don’t pause the game to go through your inventory. Â Your character brings it up in front of him in real time, and god help you if you try to do so when there’s an enemy in the room. Â Another push and pull between surviving and trying to stay one step ahead of things.
- Architecture- not only are the hallways and rooms of the Ishimura cramped but they’re filled with detritus. Â On top of that the walls themselves have a tiered look that makes them seem even more intrusive than they are. Â They all seem to be shooting out at you.
- This may be the worst one of all, and in a way it is due to the how I play games: The constant question of whether or not I’m making the right choices. When it comes to ammo and armor, purchasing and selling goods at the store, and which weapons I should be taking with me, I’m constantly second guessing myself, and the scarcity of resources makes this a real challenge.
Of course, there’s always the Zen Garden should things go too far.