Saturday, 31 October 2015


                Sorry, no more Dead Space this week, for a great many reasons. Instead, let us look at one of the greatest surrealist films ever created, the perfect way to end this Halloween week!

                Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) follows the story of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), an everyman who lives in a tiny, claustrophobic apartment forever filled with the noise of industry and the hiss of his radiator. One day, his beautiful neighbour (Judith Roberts) informs him that there was a message left for him – Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) has returned to town, and is staying with her parents (played by Allen Joseph and Jeanne Bates), and Henry is invited to dinner.
                Warily, Henry goes to dinner, only to find the beginning of a nightmare. Nothing seems right in the house, from the people to the food, and Henry is told that Mary has had a baby – his child – but it was born premature and, well, they aren’t even sure if it’s human.
                So Henry finds himself married to Mary, trapped in his apartment with a screaming baby that may not even be human. And so his nightmare begins…

                Eraserhead is weird. Legendarily weird. But it is not senselessly strange – rather, there is a rhyme and reason to its oddity, a method to its madness. There are some things that are clearly defined, despite the insane imagery that may accompany it, and the very nature of the film is to create something that makes the mundane horrifying by elevating it from normality.
                For example, the film opens with a scene about sex, but not a sex scene. Rather, the imagery and its presentation makes it clear that this is, indeed, about sex and the act of conception. You see Henry, overlaid over a planet, slowly growing larger, before he opens his mouth to let loose what can only be described as a twisted sperm, which lands in a crater of water. It is, perhaps not clearly, but in essence, the act of conception, with nary a piece of nudity insight.
                And that best describes much of the film – images that replace a reality for something horrifying, that take the simple and distort it into something unreal. Take the baby, for instance. It acts like a child, but does not look like one – it is simply a repellent variation of something that we know and accept, even if the creature horrifies us in its actions and appearance.
                And it is strange, as I write this, that I find myself unwilling to talk about much more of the film, despite its many oddities and realities, even if there is more to talk about. I have yet to mention the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), or the incident with the pencils, or of the girl next door. In truth, I don’t want to talk about them, as I would hope that whoever it is that reads this may watch it for themselves, and see first-hand the glorious oddities that lie within, and take from it what they will.

                As such, let us talk about the technical side of things. Lynch as a director has always had a visual flair, a knack for finding the most striking or flattering imagery, and one that can beautifully capture both horror and intimacy. Lynch knows well when to cut away from something unpleasant, and when to linger for the best effect, and this is present here in its perfection, despite it being Lynch’s first feature. I particularly love the lightning, which so brilliantly leaves much to the imagination, and hides the restrictions of budget.  Lynch’s fingerprints are also present throughout the editing, with his love of editing trickery ever apparent.
                The sound is also something of outstanding horrific beauty. An ever present hum is in the air, gnawing away at your ears and mind, mixed with a soundtrack that is more industrial than anything else. Constantly throughout the film are drones, whether musical or not, which rise in intensity until the abruptly stop. The actual musical side of the score, which is the smallest part of it, is comprised mostly of pipe organ music, which lends both a disturbingly calm and sinister edge to every note played, resulting in something of a perpetual uneasiness.
                I will say that a few moments are particularly off note here and there, and more often than not, these are moment s of relative sanity, although whether these were planned or simply the result of relative inexperience is hard to say.  However, any moments or seeming weakness in the writing or direction is made up for by some excellent performances (wherein the only note of weakness come from Near’s brief singing).

                However, when all is said and done, a surrealist film is best watched rather than explained, and Erasehead is no different. If ever there were a film I’ve talked about here, it is Eraserhead that I would implore you to watch. If only it be seen through your eyes and mind, and not mine.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Dead Space 2: Severed

                Just before Dead Space 2, as the Necromorph outbreak begins, there is another story that unfolds, and one that placed the seeds for a much larger story.
                The survivors of the Extraction incident, Gabe Weller (Ramon Tikaram) and his now-wife Lexine (Laura Pyper), have forged a new life on the sprawl, only to be thrown back into the chaos as the new outbreak hits the colony. It’s up to Gabe to cross the Sprawl to save his wife, before the necromorphs get to her, or something even worse…

                Severed is a DLC expansion to Dead Space 2 that provides both closure for the survivors from Extraction, as well as teasing new ideas that were to be incorporated into Dead Space 3 and the larger series universe. Because of this, there’s not much more to really say about Severed in terms of gameplay.
                In fact, the only things to really note about Severed in terms of gameplay is that it retools some of the arena-esque maps from 2’s (awful) multiplayer, making the game even more predictable than the core game, but that is made up for in the enemy selection and the sheer difficulty of the game, as well the enjoyment of pushing necromorphs into the environmental hazards.  
                Severed’s greatest asset is in its story, which takes two well established characters and plays with expectations, resulting in an excellent, and somewhat emotional, conclusion to the story. The new elements that are brought up in the plot – or, rather, expanded on from ‘Aftermath’ – show a much broader, more terrifying picture of the overall story, though these elements are only skimmed over in the DLC.
                Perhaps one of my favourite things in Severed is simply how well integrated it is to opening of 2. Since the game takes place in and around the events of 2’s opening, there are several sections where Weller and Clarke’s paths eventually intersect, and the game has plenty of sly references to this in its short run time.
                In the grand scheme of things, Severed is less of a footnote than it first appears, and is easily one if the better sections of the Dead Space series, and makes for an excellent closer for Extraction, and a strong complimentary piece for Dead Space 2.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Dead Space 2

                It’s been three years since the incident on the USG Ishimura, three years since Isaac Clarke (now fully voiced by Gunner Wright) destroyed the Marker on Aegis VII. Now, lost, dazed and confused, Isaac finds himself on the Sprawl, a large space station orbiting Saturn, and one currently in the midst of another Necromorph outbreak.
                Haunted by the ghost of Nicole (now voiced by Tanya Clarke), Clarke finds himself in the middle of another disaster, trying to escape from the clutches of the unitologists, to find a way to end this disaster, and simply to stay alive. Aided by the insane Nolan Stross (Curt Cornelius) and the temperamental Ellie Langford (Sonita Henry), Clarke finds himself heading deeper into the dark heart of the station on a collision course with Station Director Hans Tidememaan (Lester Purry).
                Dead Space 2 (2011, Visceral Games) sets out to expand upon everything that made the original game so good (atmosphere, story), whilst improving those sections that flagged (repetitiveness, turret shooting), in an attempt to make a sequel that can truly be deemed to be better than the original. Whether they’ve succeeded or not is up for debate.
                Dead Space 2 takes a big risk on pulling back on the horror element of the game, and instead places a larger focus on spectacle and action. Whilst this is not inherently a bad thing, it does mean that Dead Space 2 is much less likely to actually scare or creep you out. That’s not to say there is no horror left – there are still several disturbing moments, especially in a sequence that involves you running through an elementary school – but there are less of them, and this makes the entire game feel a little at odds with itself.
                Of course, all the elements of horror from the original game return; the music (by Jason Graves) still scratches at your nerves; the sound design is still fantastic, and the enemies are as grotesque (if not more so) than ever. Add in small moments where Clarke starts hallucinating (which are, annoyingly, mostly at the beginning of the game), and there’s still a fair amount of horror to creep out those with lower fear thresholds.
                But there is something missing here - and this permeates through the entire game – and that’s an understanding of what made the first game so enjoyably creepy. The tight, claustrophobic tunnels of the first game are mostly gone – save for a brief trip into the ruins of the Ishimura – and those little sounds of something moving around you are gone. Whilst there are still a few odd whispered voices, these have mostly vanished; there are few phantom screams in the dark, fewer footsteps running through the corridors. The game feels emptier, but not in the way Visceral probably intended.
                Dead Space 2’s move towards action is not entirely unexpected, given some of the more combat heavy sequences of the first, and the games combat is very much able to cope with the shift in genre, and any minor issues from the first game have mostly been ironed out to provide a stronger experience. More weapon options are now available, including actual weaponry this time around (something that sits less well with Isaac’s character), all of which will be useful with the new Necromorph variants running around. Unfortunately, the ability to switch the camera between shoulders has been removed, which forces you to constantly move or duck out of aiming to see to your left.
                The games design is still fantastic, with the industrial setting changed to a more ‘clean’, public space design, and this results in some great areas to explore, and creates a few interesting set pieces. Areas are now a lot larger, with more odds and ends hidden around in corners, and the audio logs now offer a much broader range of stories and background information due to the different setting.
                Another nice little improvement is that less clear divide between chapters. Whilst the first game would end every chapter by you entering a transport of some kind, Dead Space 2 has largely removed the clear divides between chapters, and therefore the divisions between game areas, and has made a much more stream lined experience. There are, of course, some exceptions here and there, but the game largely flows as a single, long structure, rather than a few separated areas.
                Dead Space 2’s story may not be as strong as the first games, but there is a much different focus between the two. Whilst Dead Space focused more on telling a good horror story with detailed side characters, Dead Space 2 feels more like a character study of Isaac as a man that is trapped in events he never wanted a part of, and is constantly haunted by his failures. A lot of 2’s best moments come from Isaac seeing the effect of his actions, or having to make hard choices, making Isaac one of the more relatable character’s in gaming at the time.
                Whilst much of Dead Space 2 is a strong step up from the original, there are a few weird design choices or issues that sit less comfortably with me. A few of these choices span from the games move away from horror and more to action – the map feature has been removed, most of the weapons are actual weapons, the camera switch has been removed, etc etc – but there are a few that are just slightly odd.
                The biggest of these comes in the form of a looping journey through the same area. I understand that there are limits to what Visceral could do in the game, and making you pass through the same area multiple times to get to new ones isn’t a new thing, but Dead Space 2 has you repeatedly track through one specific area in the game multiple times. Whilst you do tend to reach the room in different ways, and the challenges in the room do change, it’s just very apparent that you’re just circling yourself and you’ll always end up in the same arena to fight a few waves of enemies before leaving again. It may be a limitation based on development time, but it always made me feel as though I wasn’t making progress, but rather failing to achieve something.
                All in all, Dead Space 2 is a very good game – it’s just not a good horror game, save for a few moments here and there.  There are a few issues that pop up now and again, but most of the game is a very enjoyable action/horror hybrid. Think of it as Aliens in comparison to Alien – two good films on their own merit, but operating in different genres.