Dead Space 2 review
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A riveting experience in space-based horror which arguably outstrips its predecessor...
After the stellar experience of the original game, the prospect of gingerly climbing back into Isaac Clark’s armour-clad boots was one which filled me with both excitement and ultimate dread. Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the horrific events of the first game, in which Isaac fought through the USG Ishimura - a spaceship with the ability to mine entire planets for resources - in an attempt to discover the reason behind a breakout of murderous aliens known as Necromorphs. Isaac is also on a mission to find his girlfriend - a crew member onboard - who later turned out to be dead, by her own hand, the entire time. The visions of her throughout the game were simply apparitions of the marker, a dark, unexplained alien artefact which is revealed to be the cause of the Necromorph outbreak.
Three years on and Isaac is abruptly awoken on The Sprawl, a human colony based on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The Necromorphs have somehow found their way onto the colony, and chaos has ensued. The trauma of his girlfriend’s suicide and the psychological impact from the previous game have left Isaac fighting off hallucinations and terrible guilt, feeling responsible for the tragic death of his girlfriend. All in all, Isaac is in a particularly vunerable state and, on top of all this history, he has to deal with the imprint the marker has subconsciously left on his fragile mind.
The gameplay in Dead Space 2 is much the same as the first, but there are several small additions which have changed the gameplay for the better and helped create a more complete, visceral experience. From the offset you are being stalked, chased and hounded by the Necromorphs and it is clear to see that this game really isn’t one for kids. Yet, saying that the constant grisliness of the game doesn’t feel overdone - everything here has a context and a meaning - and it all comes together to create a truly horrifying package, which surpasses its predecessor in almost every aspect. The dismemberment is as satisfying as ever and has been built upon by adding the ability to impale your enemies with their own limbs; a priceless commodity in a no-ammo situation or when you have no time to reload. There are some great ways to use all of your abilities to kill your foes, such as using your stasis to slow an enemy, dismembering his arm, before using said arm to impale him to a glass window. What's more, the glass window in question will typically shatter, sucking everything out of the room and into the black void of space, before causing you to have to shoot a sensor to close the emergency doors in order to save your own skin. This is but an example of the freedom you have with your weapons, and how the environmental hazards around you can prove useful in a life-or-death situation.
There are plenty of new weapons and upgrades to equip Isaac with as you progress through the main story, and while the basic premise is the same, there have been slight tweaks to the gameplay to expand on the Dead Space experience. The guns all feel powerful and respond perfectly, with a brilliant control scheme that is natural and easy to use, and requires little in the way of a learning curve. A great inclusion is that all your upgrades can be transferred across to a new save, so when starting again you can continue with all your upgraded gear, which ensures the potential for maximum amounts of replay in order to upgrade everything in your arsenal.
As well as new weapons, there are several new types of Necromorph to contend with, including the nightmarish Stalkers, which hide around environmental obstructions, waiting for you to approach unknowingly before they attack you. There are several large bosses as you progress through the game but their appearances are quite scarce. It's disappointing there are so few, but all the enemies you do face are both gruesome and scary, with their movements ranging from sluggish and slow to lightning-quick, flailing their arms and tentacles around the screen. The variety is absolutely fantastic, and it keeps you on your toes as you switch between tactics.
Dead Space 2 also incorporates a multiplayer component, which I have almost all but ignored so far, having played it a few times and being extremely bored. It plays like this - there is a human team which plays exactly the same as Isaac in the story campaign, and they have to fight off a team of Necromorphs. While it is fun to play as a Necromorph for the first five minutes, the novelty quickly wears off and the experience is as shallow as it is unnecessary. A game like this doesn’t need a multiplayer element; it is good enough solely being a singleplayer game, instead of having to provide a poor multiplayer to bring down the otherwise stellar package.
The Sprawl is superior in diversity compared to the USG Ishimura, ranging from dank and creepy corridors in the lower levels of the colony to overrun schools and nurseries, crawling with ugly, exploding Necromorphs which resemble babies. Dead Space 2 also introduces large, open environments which look out over the sprawl and the planet below, which is something that wasn’t utilised in the original, opting instead for constant claustrophobic environments which never really expanded. This variety in locations is an absolute delight, and they all really immerse the player in the beautiful - yet brutal - world that is Dead Space 2. Many may prefer the first game for its constant creepiness but, while the USG Ishimura was absolutely terrifying, I found it became too familiar and this new-found diversity was an element of Dead Space 2 that I felt brought a whole new level of brilliance to the game. It enabled Visceral Games to provide more of an insight into the world and culture of The Sprawl, while still retaining the constant fear of a Necromorph jumping out at you from an air vent.
The story, while not as original as some may have hoped for, is still engaging, and the few characters you meet on the way are superbly voiced and keep you compelled. Isaac also has a voice for the first time, which makes for a stark contrast from his silent, lifeless appearance in the original Dead Space. His character is both excellently presented and ultimately likeable, being both brave and utterly tormented by the events that he has experienced over the past 3 years. Throughout the game, there are two stories running parallel with each other; the first being Isaac's struggle with his own mind as he battles off vivid visions of his dead lover; whilst the second is the almost futile attempt to destroy the marker and eventually escape the wrath of the Necromorphs. Both of these stories are engaging, but it is the opportunity to explore Isaac's psyche which inevitably holds more interest throughout.
Dead Space 2 is much more linear than its predeccessor and is ultimately better for it, removing the frustrating backtracking moments that were so prominent in the original and replacing them with the real-time action and tension that make this sequel just so appealing. Saying this, the game has a tendency of falling into familiar rhythms, suffering from the same objectives of “go here to do this, go here to do that” - especially at the beginning of the game - but overall the standout moments in-between easily overshadow the sometimes-banal tasks of walking from one objective to the next. At times, these familiar rhythms actually help to break up the pace slightly, helping to keep the game feeling like a survival horror and less like an action title.
My only criticism to the overall presentation of the game is the length - which clocks in at about 10 hours on a normal difficulty play-through - and, while not shockingly short as a whole, the game could have been fleshed out further to give more of a satisfying play-time. Luckily, the prospect of a replay is something that I couldn’t resist, as there is plenty to return for, including varying difficulty settings and the chance to play through the game differently, trying out different weapons and generally revisiting this gory world.
Visuals and Audio
The game itself looks absolutely great, and the varying environments are all superbly detailed. The graphics engine does show its age at times - especially up close when textures become less sharp - but the lighting and atmosphere is cast so well that these minor technical downfalls become lost in the midst of dark corridors and tense gunfights. Most of the time you will be in almost complete darkness, with only your torchlight and some interior lights casting shadows across the environments, while you pray that there won’t be an enemy around the next turn. These dark moments are contrasted well by the occasional moments in larger, better-lit environments or when outside in space using your suit to boost around. Both scenarios look just as good as their scarier counterparts and overall it is a great package, aesthetically.
The audio is equally as important as the visuals in Dead Space 2, holding the key to providing nail-biting moments of in-game terror, as well as releasing the tension in the less climactic moments. The screams of the Necromorphs are as chilling as ever and the constant threat of an attack is something that will keep you on your feet as you hear movement in the distance. The aforementioned voice work is also stellar, and while most of the dialogue is done via your comm-link, the moments in which Isaac is accompanied by other characters provide a much-needed breather in the middle of all the gory action. What there is of a “soundtrack” is an absolutely integral element to the success of the atmosphere created, and the game wouldn’t be nearly as strong without it.
Dead Space 2 is an absolutely stellar game, one that builds upon the original in ways which can only make it a better game, and keep it from falling flat compared to its instantly-brilliant older brother. Some may complain that this episode in the franchise isn’t as scary as the first game - and it’s not - due to the more open environments and instant familiarity, but it’s still a terrifyingly gory ride which will keep you gripped from start to finish. Many will surely enjoy the multiplayer side of things, but I personally felt it was lacking in almost every aspect, and wouldn’t recommend it as a good experience. However, even without the mulitplayer option this is still a brilliant game that comes highly recommended. Dead Space 2 does possess other slight disappointments, such as the lack of major bosses, occasionally predictable storyline and shortness of said storyline, but these are not detrimental to the overall experience. On any level, Dead Space 2 is a vastly enjoyable game and has kicked off 2011 in a bloody good way.
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