Dead Space 2 Review
Back in 2008, EA shocked the gaming community by injecting a few original (say it ain’t so!) properties into their Christmas line up. Among them was a little sci-fi horror game called Dead Space that shot, stabbed, and mutilated its way into the hearts of gamers everywhere. Taking the best parts of Alien, The Thing, and Event Horizon, Dead Space delivered a surprisingly scary experience. Unlike the superhuman characters of the Resident Evil games, Dead Space kept itself refreshingly simple by making the player take the role of Isaac Clarke, an engineer trapped in a horrifying situation. The creatures were scary, the AI clever, and the weapons just useful enough without being broken. Now, two years later, Visceral Games has bestowed us with its much anticipated second installment. Does it make for a satisfying sequel? On the whole, it’s safe to say it does.
The story of Dead Space 2 moves Isaac from the corridors of the USG Ishimura to the Sprawl, a massive space station in orbit around Titan. Given there is a game here, it’s not a spoiler to say that the moment the game starts, Isaac is knee deep in another Necromorph outbreak. To be honest, the story takes a little while to come together, although it does an effective job of making you just as confused as Isaac concerning the situation taking hold of the station. Speaking of Isaac, he’s actually become a full fledged character in Dead Space 2 and it honestly is the element that makes the game. Isaac being a silent protagonist worked very well for the tone of the first game, but the second is more of a character piece. The writers really made a transition between games equal to the one between Alien and Aliens, the latter of which told a far more personal story for Ripley. Here, Isaac’s guilt over failing to save his girlfriend Nicole in the first game is eating away at him, which manifests itself in gruesome visions of her corpse attacking him at the worst possible moment. Isaac’s story of dealing with his guilt and coming to terms with Nicole’s death makes the story worth playing and validates Isaac as a relatable and compelling character.
When you step into Mr. Clarke’s shoes (or in this case, engineering suit), you’ll notice the game play hasn’t really changed all that much since the first. While Isaac may move a bit more quickly, you’ll still be shooting the limbs off Necromorphs in exactly the same way as the first. Indeed, despite the new weapons at your disposal, I found myself using my line up from the last game (plasma cutter, line gun, force gun, contact beam) with effective results. The new weapons, however, do have their uses. A javelin gun in particular is useful in the early stages for a good two hit kill. You stick a Necromorph with a javelin and then use the alternate fire to fry it with electricity. There’s a sniper rifle as well, but a majority of the game takes place in tight corridors which severely limit its use. A proximity mine-based weapon is also available, but is far more useful on the second play through as the first time you don’t know where a Necromorph is going to pop out.
Really, whatever arsenal you choose to defend yourself in the gloomy corridors of the Sprawl, the plasma cutter is a must. With plentiful ammunition, steady aim, and excellent upgrade options, the cutter is by far the most reliable firearm in the game. In addition, Isaac’s suits are more diverse and stylish, from the character being stuck in a straight jacket in the opening moments to the advanced armor the game has marketed heavily. The different suits give the game a sense of progression even greater than the upgrades from the last game.
The zero G sections in the game are nothing short of amazing and stand out as true highlights. They give you quieter, yet still tense, moments. The muffled sounds and Isaac’s breathing make for beautiful sound effects. The control is also better, as Isaac can now move around in 360 degrees thanks to retro rockets on his suit. One particular stage where you have to go EVA to align the Sprawl’s solar dishes is fantastic and ends in a real heart pounding sequence.
The actual Necromorphs haven’t changed much in the second game, but there are some very welcome additions to their roster that make encounters more interesting. The Spitter can engage you at range, slowing you down with acid. The Pack is group of mutated children who attack you in waves, but are a little too easy to take out if you have a weapon like the Force Gun. The enemy that will give you the most trouble is a Velociraptor-like creature called the Stalker that hides behind cover, only to charge at you when it pleases. On their own they don’t pose much of a treat, but if multiple Stalkers charge then Isaac will be taking some damage. My personal favorite of the new monsters are little mutated babies that slither around the ground making the cutesiest noises… until they get close and explode. Think about it for a second. Kamikaze babies. That’s awesome.
Unfortunately, the one area where Dead Space 2 is lacking is boss fights. Unfortunately, there are only really two or three, with the biggest showpiece reduced to a series of aiming prompts. The last boss, however, is rather insidious in its implantation and really has moments where you need to run for your fucking life. Unfortunately, the last boss also has a rather anti-climactic resolution, as in you don’t actually defeat it so much as it simply vanishes altogether for no reason. It’s hard not to wonder why they couldn’t put in a good old reliable airlock or hydraulic press.
As far as the multiplayer goes, it’s really not even worth picking up. If you really need to play four player co-op against zombies… just play Left 4 Dead. I tried the multiplayer for five minutes and never touched it again. The recent trend of tacking on multiplayer modes is disappointing. I much rather have had an extra chapter or two in the campaign then an afterthought of a multiplayer mode.
Overall, Dead Space 2 is a great game and a worthy successor to the original. It’s a different game from Dead Space in that it quickens the pace, ramps up the action, yet somehow tells a more personal story. Isaac and Nicole’s relationship makes the game a success and gives it a surprisingly potent emotional core. It’ll be a treat to see what Visceral Games comes up with for Dead Space 3 and where they take the character of Isaac Clarke.