Dead Space 2 overcomes familiarity factor

(Handout)

(Handout)

STEVE TILLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Dead Space 2

PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Visceral Games/EA Games

Rating: Mature

Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

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I need to get a rant out of the way here: may a thousand undead, pus-spewing, space alien monstrosities gnaw on the gonads of the marketing geniuses at EA Games responsible for the "your mom's gonna hate it" commercials for the new sci-fi horror gorefest Dead Space 2.

Yes, the game is scary and gross and over-the-top with its violence and blood. But these idiotic TV ads, in which focus group moms react with disgust, dismay and outrage at Dead Space 2 footage, really piss me off. Not only do they hurt the perception of video games as a whole, but they're clearly aimed at younger gamers (really, does anyone over the age of 14 think it's WICKED SICK that their parents hate something they like?) who shouldn't be playing this Mature-rated title in the first place.

OK. Deep breaths now. Let's talk about Dead Space 2, the game, and not Dead Space 2, the misguided mess of a marketing campaign.

The original Dead Space made a splash in 2008 for being a relative rarity in EA's portfolio: a game based on a brand new original intellectual property. Not a sequel, not a remake, not an adaptation of a movie or comic book, but an honest-to-goodness new thing.

Of course, the irony is the game did so well that it spawned its own franchise mini-juggernaut: comics, animated movies, spin-off games and now a full-fledged sequel. With Dead Space now a known quantity instead of a fresh new idea, Dead Space 2 has to overcome that familiarity factor in order to impress us.

And you know what? It really does.

Set three years after the events of Dead Space, the sequel once again casts you as engineer Isaac Clarke, whose horrific experiences aboard the starship USG Ishimura - culminating with the discovery of his girlfriend's suicide - haunt him still.

Unfortunately for Isaac, the nightmarish Necromorphs that he battled in the first game are back, this time infesting a massive space station called the Sprawl. Things go from bad to much, much worse, with Isaac battling both the monsters that are trying to tear him to pieces and the inner demons that are driving him mad.

I love the sci-fi backstory foundation that the Dead Space universe is built on, evoking shades of Alien and Blade Runner (so a tip of the hat to Sir Ridley Scott, I suppose.) But this is a horror game through and through, and the folks at developer Visceral Games craft their nightmare with the deftness of a psychotic surgeon.

As you guide Isaac through the Sprawl, every haunted house trick in the book is thrown at you: creepy ambient sounds, half-glimpsed shadows, unspeakable horrors springing out at you from dark recesses, you name it. Combined with the game's Resident Evil-inspired scarcity of ammunition for Isaac's arsenal of Necromorph-dismembering weapons, and you've got a horror game that hits all the right scary, bloody, screamy, splattery, oh-my-God-what-IS-that-thing notes.

Dead Space 2 is linear almost to a fault, but only almost. By leading players by the nose, the game's creators are able to effectively build setpiece moments of shock and horror. And for those who are inexplicably not satisfied with the game's meaty and polished single-player storyline, there's a novel four-on-four multiplayer mode that's interesting, if a tad unnecessary.

And yeah, your mom probably will hate it. Unless she's really cool.

Bottomline: Building on the solid original with new scares, challenges and things that go bump-slither-splat-GRAAHHHH! in the night, Dead Space 2 is frighteningly good. And judging by the ending, there will definitely be a Dead Space 3.

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When I was a wee lad learning about the magic of video games on the now-ancient Apple IIe and Commodore 64 computers, I fell in love with something called Adventure Construction Set.

It was a game in which the object was to make games.

For a kid with a creative streak but no programming skills to back it up, it was heaven.

The games I made with Adventure Construction Set were all crap, largely due to the limitations of the technology at the time.

But if I could have peered through a magic portal to 2011 and witnessed LittleBigPlanet 2 for the PlayStation 3, my little brain might have exploded.

The sequel to 2008's groundbreaking game-designing game, LittleBigPlanet 2 adds a plethora of new and easy-to-use digital tools for budding game-makers to use.

From traditional side-scrolling action games to racing games to shooting games to your own customized version of Tetris, you can create it with LittleBigPlanet 2.

Make no mistake, LittleBigPlanet 2 is still an incredibly fun experience for gamers who are only interested in the "play" part of the game's "play, create, share" mantra.

But to help those who want to use it to bring their own ideas to life, we talked to Christophe Villedieu, a level designer at LittleBigPlanet 2 developer Media Molecule.

Villedieu designed so many well-crafted homebrewed levels for the original LittleBigPlanet that media Molecule offered him a job working on LittleBigPlanet 2.

Here are his pro tips to creating levels that every Sackboy and Sackgirl will want to play.

Play the game

LittleBigPlanet 2 includes 50 pre-made levels designed by Villedieu and his colleagues at Media Molecule. These guys do this for a living, and they are very, very good at it. Let their work - and the work of the LittleBigPlanet online community, which has created and shared a staggering 3 million levels since the original game was released - serve as inspiration.

"If they see a good example of what to do, they can do something as good," says Villedieu. "That's why we (work) to make everything perfect, and we are really proud of the final result."

Pick a theme

It's one thing to have great gameplay ideas for a LittleBigPlanet 2 level, but the best levels always revolve around a single theme or motif. Having a central theme for your level will give you a hook for everything from puzzles to background scenery to characters and enemies. Villedieu uses the example of a circus: with that motif in mind, players might design a level containing cannons, trampolines, clowns, elephants and so on, all of which can be worked into gameplay. (Hint: clowns are the bad guys. Clowns are always the bad guys.)

Write it out

"Maybe I will be old school by saying this, but start with a pen," advises Villedieu. "Every level I design, and many puzzles we made, we draw them on a piece of paper and put them on the wall."

A construction company wouldn't break ground on a skyscraper without intricately detailed blueprints and schedules, and neither should you when it comes to crafting a LittleBigPlanet 2 level. Mapping out your idea on paper first will save tons of time and frustration later on. Think of it as an investment, not an inconvenience.

Ramp up the difficulty

Putting an especially tricky puzzle or difficult challenge at the beginning of a level is a sure way to have players quit early and give your level a poor review.

Villedieu made that mistake in a level he made for the original LittleBigPlanet, back when he was just a fan of the game.

"I made a big maze in the very beginning of my level. But it was too long, like five minutes to escape the maze. And people gave up," he says.

"I saw some reviews and comments on my level. So what I did is I moved the maze to the end, so it's like a boss, it's the final challenge. And people love a final challenge."

Salute without stealing

If you make a wonderful LittleBigPlanet 2 level that revolves around Luke Sackboy, a farm kid from a desert planet who gets caught up in a galactic space war against a black-helmeted foe, fans will love it. If you make a level that revolves around Luke Skywalker fighting in star wars against a dude named Darth Vader, it will likely be removed from the LittleBigPlanet servers due to trademark violation, and all your hard work will be for naught.

"The idea is to make an homage, make something crafty and cute," says Villedieu. While some copyright holders have relaxed their stance on LittleBigPlanet levels that borrow from their characters and settings, it's better to be safe than sorry.


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