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How I keep trying to ruin games for myself – namely Dead Space 2

I consider myself a relatively good videogame player. I play Rock Band on expert, I tend to finish Call Of Duty matches at the top of the scoreboard, and I’ve almost, almost completed Super Meat Boy.

So, it was with this misplaced hurbis that I started a game on the Zealot difficulty setting. “I played Dead Space on Impossible”, I thought with a self-satisfied grin plastered across my asinine face. “This Zealot setting will be a walk in the park for me!”

Well, it was a walk in the park. If during that walk I was repeatedly mugged, beaten, humiliated, and defecated on by a bunch of rabid raccoons. Dead Space 2’s Zealot mode truly punished me. For the first two or three hours of the game I struggled through the corridors of The Sprawl, Isaac’s life always hanging by a thread, and with never more than a few scraps of ammunition available in my inventory. I hacked my way through encounters patchily, utilising the environment, Kinesis and Stasis the best I could.

My crushing defeat came during one section set in The Sprawl’s elementary school. Standing upon a stage in the canteen I had to hack a wall panel to proceed, after which a screaming horde of mutated children came wriggling and running towards me. I simply had too little health, too little ammo, and too few credits to purchase anything to overcome the encounter. I conceded defeat, opened the pause menu, and knocked myself back to medium difficulty. I then breezed through the section with little difficulty.

And the same goes for the rest of the game, really. I died a few times, but mostly out of my own stupidity. But you know what? I loved it. I wasn’t fretting the whole time, I wasn’t getting aggravated, I wasn’t shouting at the television like some crazed mental patient. I was simply enjoying the atmosphere of the game, its story and its characters. I was able to feel more involved with the narrative, fully enjoy the sound and art direction, and become immersed in the world Visceral had created without feeling distracted. I enjoyed Dead Space 2 so much more for experiencing it as that which it is intended to be – a haunted house ride of the epic proportions – rather than that which it didn’t need to be; namely a frustrating, overly-challenging game of stops and starts. In playing the game on Zealot, I almost ruined an experience I’d waited for over two years to enjoy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I will be going back to the Zealot setting for a New Game+ playthrough, but I’m beginning to feel like that’s what the harder difficulties on Dead Space 2 are for – second playthroughs. This is a game that should be experienced and enjoyed first and foremost as the cinematic experience that it is. Putting insurmountable obstacles in my way just sullied its entertainment value. The more ‘gamey’ elements of the Dead Space 2 experience can come later; I want to be immersed first, challenged later.

There’s a lesson for me to learn here. Instead of hunting trophies and achievements and setting out to prove I’m such a great gamer, I’m going to save those harder difficulties for later down the line. The first playthrough of a narrative heavy game is something to be savoured, not aggravated by.

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  • ShadowarGET

    Nice article though playing on difficulty lower than Zelot is pretty much ruining the experience already. It’s a horror survival game, on medium difficulty you simply have too much ammo and health. While on Zealot with little ammo, little health and high enemy damage, you are literaly scared of your next encounters. For example when you first met Stalkers on Zealot difficulty you’re terrified since you don’t know enemy abilities and you know that if you get hit you die. While on Medium difficulty you can rush in the middle of the room and handle them like it’s Arcade Shooter : )
    Point is that playing on lower difficulty turns Dead Space into Arcade Shooter.