Pacing is key. Carpenter knew it and we got The Thing. Konami knew it and we got Silent Hill 2. Matheson gave us I Am Legend. All seminal works that appreciated the truth that good horror demands pacing. Without it you’re stuck on the merry-go-round when you want to be bawling your eyes out on the roller coaster.
Severed falls into the same trap Resident Evil 5’s awkward sophomore episode of DLC Desperate Escape did: there is no pacing. It shoots its load within the first three minutes by granting you access to all the weapons from Dead Space 2 before hauling you through countless rooms rammed-full of Necromorphs. Much like that sentence, there is little in the way of punctuation.
Dead Space 2 was hardly the king of patient escalation but it managed to intersperse the all out insane combat with frequent moments of tautness. Severed sticks with the former and the lack of foreplay makes for a painfully disenchanted second tour of the Sprawl.
Starting out in the shadowy mines Isaac Clarke frequented midway through Dead Space 2 doesn’t help its cause either; the drab caverns are no more gripping a second time through. But 95% of the environments in Severed are recycled and all you’re doing is rushing through them in reverse, concluding in the hospital that Clarke’s esteemed tale opened in.
And that familiarity only helps keep the atmosphere at bay. You’ll know exactly which crevices and vents the Necromorphs will leap out from and in which rooms they’ll try and perform open surgery on you. Visceral even throw in a few of the set pieces from Dead Space 2 including the upside-down shooting sequence. You can see it all a mile off and the flagrant shortage of creativity does no justice to one of the most memorably spooky games of recent memory.
Gabe Weller (hero of Extraction) fills the boots of Clarke but once you step inside that hellish suit and start stomping corpses into Ribena it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing as.
Gabe shares more than just fashion sense with Clarke though for he too is in search of his misplaced lady friend, playing knight in shining armour through hell to save Lexine from the clutches of more twisted Necromorphs. Now I have nothing against saving princesses but there are other reasons to be wandering casually through an alien swamped space city, right? Like how about trying to get the fuck out.
There’s no time to get attached to the characters anyway and the reunion with Lexine is short lived. I can’t help but feel an episode in the shoes of Isaac’s colourful companion Ellie was the greater prospect here, playing out the scenes during which her and Isaac part ways or the events prior to their encounter. Ellie was sort of interesting and more worthy of starring in a concise downloadable episode than Gabe, who seems to have been plucked out of no man’s land. But then we’d only have to stop every twenty minutes for tampon changes and a phone call. Silly me.
Severed is a challenging expansion, if only because you’re thrown in at the deep end without an upgraded arsenal. Twitchers make the jump from Extraction and provide something vaguely fresh to dissect. They jitter about like a VCR on pause and are highly resilient to being shot in the kneecaps. Even so, it’s an hour’s content on the normal difficulty and the two chapters will probably take longer to download than play through.
Ultimately Severed reeks of a squandered opportunity to build upon a masterfully crafted world. The Sprawl bled atmosphere and believability but here it’s reduced to a set of shadowy corridors populated by the same mutants we’ve seen time and time again. Where’s the brooding sense of terror, the clever system of upgrading and the nervousness that accompanied exploring new ground in the Sprawl? The chapter spent in the elementary school was exceptional; nothing in Severed dares rival that.
For Dead Space zealots, the opportunity to revisit the Sprawl might be enough to paper over the truth that this combat-focused episode offers little that wasn’t previously documented during Isaac Clarke’s gauntlet. For the majority though, Severed is going to arrive packaged with a regrettable sense of déjà vu.