I've recently been playing through Dead Space 2, which oddly enough is the sequel to Dead Space, it’s essentially a horror game set in space involving shooting lots of weird alien-like creatures on board huge spaceships. Though the actual story behind what's happening is a little more complex than that.
It's world has certainly had quite a bit of thought put into it, but it just isn't all that interesting, there’s an interesting device in the 2nd game in which the lead protagonist is going insane possibly due to having all sorts of experiments performed on him causing him to have weird hallucinations, and it leaves you questioning how much of what you’re seeing is real. It’s the unreliable narrator idea but unfolding before you in real time.
The game certainly brings some interesting ideas to the genre, most notably the convention of the zombie horror genre, and indeed any game where you have a gun, that says you shoot enemies in the head is done anyway with for the idea that for these creatures, you have to shoot of their limbs until they stop moving. And even they may get up again until all of their limbs have been removed. You can do this oddly enough by stomping their limbs, quite how you can crush people limbs off quite so easily, is something we'll just chalk off to a bit of artistic license.
There's certainly an intriguing atmosphere to the game, creepy use of music and distant sounds of screaming and squealing of aliens, but it fails to truly be scary by hitting you with too much too soon. There's no building of suspense, there's no silence, right from the start you’re running away from the creatures.
To compare with Silent Hill 2 - the often cited master of the video game horror genre has you wondering empty streets and alleys for 10 minutes before you encounter a single creature.
Now it's fair enough that DS2 is more of an action game, it's not aiming for the more abstract psychological scares of SH2, but there's still something to be said of the ideal that less is more. It just needs to let things build a little more to allow suspense to build. Even in the quieter moments of the game, there's still too much noise constantly going in your ear as the game throws a series of Clichés at you, the “hearing a noise and it turns out to be the cat type things, these have a place, but when it's doing it all the time it loses its impact.
The use of silence is something that would really benefit this game, there's nothing creepier than a sudden prolonged section of silence when you've been conditioned to expect noise.
In spite of all this the game manages to be a great deal of fun because all the game mechanics are well-designed and well-paced, but it's a shame the horror elements just don't manage to really get under your skin though.