Dead Space 2 Review
Developer: Visceral Games / Publisher: EA / ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language) / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $59.99
“It’s going to be too action heavy.”
“You’ve forgotten about your survival-horror roots.”
“It won’t be as scary as the first game.”
These were a few of the concerns expressed by the clearly passionate fan base of Dead Space in response to the initial reveal of the game’s sequel. If you find yourself in this category, I’d like to tell you to politely shut the fuck up. Although, yes, Dead Space 2 is significantly more action-heavy than its predecessor, it also maintains a level of white-knuckle tension worthy of the survival-horror genre. But where Dead Space 2 really shines is in its near perfect balance of these two aspects. This, combined with its polished game design and mentally-broken hero make for an emotionally draining and expertly paced rollercoaster ride that will scare the shit out of you.
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Dead Space 2’s first chapter kicks off with protagonist Isaac Clarke regaining consciousness while being broken out of a Necromorph-infested medical facility on The Sprawl, a mining colony turned full-fledged metropolis on one of Saturn’s moons. Confused, and without even a notion of how or why he ended up here, Isaac has no choice but to follow Daina, the mysterious woman leading him to safety. It’s a pretty kick ass opening sequence that you won’t soon forget.
He later finds out it’s been three years since the discovery of the Red Marker on Aegis VII that led to the disaster on the USG Ishimura. Initially thought to be of alien origin, it is revealed in the conclusion of the first Dead Space that the Marker is actually a man-made replica of the original marker (which was actually of alien origin) found on Earth nearly 200 years beforehand. Isaac’s initial encounter with the enigmatic artifact, along with the death of his girlfriend, Nicole, has left him in a state of mental disarray. It’s an interesting narrative device. The instability of the protagonist is driven home by his frequent hallucinations. It keeps you questioning what’s real, what’s fake, and who should and shouldn’t be trusted. I’ll avoid any big spoilers here but suffice it to say Isaac’s presence on The Sprawl is no coincidence. Conspiracies, cover-ups, and mysteries abound!
And the biggest change from the original Dead Space? Isaac is no longer a faceless, silent protagonist. Gunner Wright delivers a solid voice acting performance that helps establish a much-needed emotional attachment to the character, a critical omission from the first game. Isaac’s a man that can’t seem to catch a break. He has to deal with all these damned space zombies, every piece of equipment he needs to use is broken, and then there’s the visits from his dead girlfriend. You’ll really start to empathize with this guy as you struggle through the game.
Although quite a ride, Dead Space 2’s narrative isn’t without fault. I couldn’t help but feel that I was playing the second part in a planned trilogy. More Dead Space definitely isn’t a bad thing and with the way EA has been supporting this franchise, a Dead Space 3 announcement will surprise no one, but by the end it felt a little disjointed. Some of the events that occur and characters that pop in and out of the story do so rather quickly, making it difficult to get a sense of their significance (or lack thereof) in the Dead Space universe.
One of the more common complaints surrounding the original Dead Space was the amount of backtracking required to complete each chapter. The levels were designed to send you back to the beginning after completing an objective. Dead Space 2 has done away with this structure entirely. The game keeps you moving forward as it ebbs and flows wonderfully between combat encounters, puzzles, and big set-piece moments creating a welcome sense of progression. Despite how linear Dead Space 2 is, the scale and variety of the environments on The Sprawl help keep the game from feeling that way.
You’ll find the sense of tension is almost palpable throughout Dead Space 2. I seriously can’t help but feel like the developers at Visceral Games are experts on the human psyche as they know exactly when a monster should pop out or how much ammo and health is just enough to keep you constantly on your toes. These carefully considered design choices are integral parts of the survival-horror experience.
At its core, the combat remains mostly unchanged from the first Dead Space. Isaac is a bit quicker on his feet. Previously, the Dead Space controls were clunky and slow. I don’t know if it’s the new suit but Isaac is much more maneuverable. The plasma cutter, flamethrower, and a slew of other engineering tools provide original, unfailingly entertaining methods of dismembering Necromorphs. Firing off a shot of kinesis to slow down your enemies then quickly blowing off their limbs is a skill you’ll have to perfect throughout Dead Space 2.
Isaac’s new suit allows you to pilot him around with full 3D control as you fix equipment and solve puzzles in gravity-less environments. It’s a welcome change from the lack of control in the first Dead Space. Some of my favorite moments in Dead Space 2 involve these new zero-G sections.
The Dead Space user interface may be the best in any video game, ever. Your inventory menus and ammo status is displayed in-game, creating a cinematic presentation and level of immersion to the gameplay that’s unmatched. The upgrade system from Dead Space returns, letting you use power nodes found throughout the game to upgrade weapons, stasis, and Isaac’s suit how you see fit.
Let’s be honest here. No one is picking up Dead Space 2 for the multiplayer. It’s by no means bad, but it’s still relatively shallow and underwhelming. You play as either a member of the Sprawl security or a Necromorph. On each of the five maps, the humans have a set objective such as destroying a marker or launching an escape pod. The Necromorphs must do what Necromorphs do and prevent the humans from accomplishing their goal by killing, maiming, consuming, or otherwise dispatching in a blood-soaked manner. You can choose from one of five Necromorphs that all play differently, something most comparable to Left 4 Dead’s Versus mode. Killing other players as a Necromorph can be pretty satisfying but more often than not I found the “die, respawn, die, respawn” cycle to be kind of monotonous. Thankfully, you can still steer clear of all this and go straight for the single-player campaign.
It almost feels wrong to say it but we’re not even a month into 2011 and I already have a spot reserved on my game of the year list come December. Although Dead Space 2 stumbles in a few minor spots, it makes up for it with its blend of shit-your-pants scary atmosphere and non-stop action. It’s a game that shoves its Necromorph claws into your eyeballs in the first five minutes and won’t pull them out until the end credits roll.