Reviewed: January 27, 2011
Released: January 25, 2011
In 2008, EA redefined the survival horror genre with Dead Space, a brilliantly conceived action-adventure title set on a mysteriously abandoned mining vessel lost in deep space. Rich in story potential, the Dead Space franchise continued to grow beyond the game with comics, anime DVD releases, an exciting Wii-exclusive rail-shooter, and now, a full-fledged sequel guaranteed to pucker your butt hole and have you sleeping with a nightlight. |
Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the climactic finale of the original game. Once again, you play as Isaac Clarke, who wakes up on a massive space station known as the Sprawl. His encounter with the Marker has plagued his mind with visions and government scientists are harvesting those memories to research and build a new and bigger Marker. Their efforts seem to have been successful, as a new batch of Necromorphs are running around the Sprawl killing everyone, or even worse, creating new Necromorphs from their dead bodies.
Dead Space 2 puts a fresh spin on the game by leaving you with a feeling of vulnerability, especially in the first level where you are running around in a straightjacket, unable to do anything but flee from the initial Necromorph invasion. And even later, when you are heavily armed, there will be these random psychotic breaks that literally change the world around you, so you can’t even trust your own eyes. Even your old dead girlfriend will show up on occasion to offer some sinister input.
Dead Space is all about death by dismemberment and the sequel is no different with all sorts of familiar and new weapons perfect for slicing and dicing the limbs off these wickedly designed abominations. As always, multiple amputations are required since slicing off their legs will just make them crawl and cutting off their head just turns them into a blind rampaging juggernaut.
Ammo is still a premium commodity in Dead Space 2, but thanks to an improved TK system you can now grab severed limbs and telekinetically hurl them back at enemies, much like the new Javelin gun. Weapons have interesting secondary fire modes (like electrified javelins) and some have special abilities if you can unlock their complete upgrade tech tree using the various workbenches scattered about the game, as well as those precious Power Nodes.
The entire combat system has been tweaked and refined to perfection, allowing for more precise aiming and far less wasted ammo than the first game. Weapons like the Flamethrower and the Pulse Rifle, which were relatively useless in the first game, have now been balanced to actually make them worth carrying around, but with three times more weapons available than your four weapons’ slots, you’ll still have to make some tough decisions when it comes to equipping weapons that will serve you best.
Personally, I chose the Plasma Cutter, Line Gun, Pulse Rifle, then swapped between the Javelin and the Flamethrower. The ammo drops seem to key in on the guns you are carrying. By limiting the variety of weapons I carried I was able to focus my upgrades to get a few very powerful guns, but I can’t help but feel I missed out on some fun by not even playing with the Seeker Rifle, Contact Beam, Detonator Mines, or the Ripper. I guess that’s what replays are for, especially using the New Game+ mode that keeps your previous suit and weapons acquisitions.
The city-style Sprawl with clinics, shopping malls, and apartment complexes offered a much more open atmosphere, and at first took a bit of that claustrophobic edge off the game, but by opening things up the designers really allowed for a new style of combat that forces you to plan your attacks and defense, and when things do get more confined, that claustrophobia hits you even more. Dead Space 2 definitely had a Bio Shock feel about it, with the whole abandoned city, disembodied voice of the director playing over the PA, and even some gothic architecture when you explore a Unitology church level.
Dead Space 2 mixes up long stretches of explorations and frantic combat with some epic set piece moments including a rather stressful train ride and an eerily peaceful spacewalk outside the Sprawl just to name a couple. Isaac will even get to revisit some very specific locations from his own haunted past, but I dare not say more lest I ruin a major surprise. There are some explosive decompression moments and a few excursions into Zero G and Zero Atmophere environments. Isaacs' new jet boots make navigating these areas much more enjoyable.
As with any survival horror game presentation is key, and Visceral has perfected the menu interface, and HUD-less game design that debuted in the first game. Once you are immersed in the game you stay there. Menus, inventory screens, objectives, and communication logs all appear as floating screens projected from Isaacs’ suit. You can even walk around with these screen activated. Health and Stasis levels are indicated by meters on your Rig, and your ammo count is displayed right on the weapon. The biggest improvement is the removal of those complex 3D maps from the first game. Now, you have a multi-function, color-coded waypoint path indicator that will point you to the nearest save point, store, workbench, or mission objective.
Technically speaking, the visuals are breathtaking with expert use of sinister lighting and shadows to really set the mood. Animation is fantastic for all the various Necromorph creatures although Isaac seems a bit stiff in his movement. I blame the heavy suit and the gravity boots. The weapons look great and there is plenty of blood. The levels are designed to mirror what a real-world space station might actually look like before and after a demonic alien invasion. There are all sorts of hidden details that will take multiple trips through the game to appreciate.
The audio is equally as flawless with a score that will send shivers down your spine. The Dolby Digital mix is put to expert use to create a 3D soundscape that not only immerses you in the world, but also helps you locate potential hazards. The audio perfectly accents the visuals to create a terrifying world that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Dead Space 2 attempts to enter the world of multiplayer. While this works for some games, I hate it when developers feel obligated to force multiplayer into a franchise where it simply doesn’t work. Most of the people who play Dead Space are looking for a solitary, scary, experience or at best, a co-op adventure. Regardless, Visceral has tossed in five assorted multiplayer maps and modes that have up to four humans facing off against four Necromorphs. You get to select various character options for either team then equip with any previously acquired perks. As humans your goal is to reach your objectives while the Necromorphs try to stop you. Then you flip teams to experience the action from the opposite perspective. There is a ranking and reward system in place so you can progressively upgrade your characters, but I just don’t see this having the staying power as HALO or Call of Duty.
Even if you never touch the multiplayer modes in Dead Space 2 the game packs in enough scares and adventure in its story mode to make this an early contender for Game of the Year. The game is so shocking and fun you’ll be compelled to restart a new game almost immediately after the credits fade away. And with so many tactics and weapons, no two games will ever play out the same way.
Dead Space 2 has set the bar impossibly high for future survival horror games, and I look forward to seeing if F.E.A.R 3 or any other game can come close to achieving this level of horrific perfection. But until then, I’ll be dismembering Necromorphs on the Sprawl in new and creative ways, and perhaps trying out that multiplayer. There is something oddly appealing about actually playing as one of those evil creatures…