The first Dead Space was a hauntingly exciting romp through the spaceship Ishimura, boasting more gore and frights per minute than practically any game of this generation. In Dead Space 2, developer Visceral Games attempts to take all that was great about the first game and push it to its maximum potential in hopes of jump-starting a franchise.
While the first game found the right balance of action and horror, can the second game repeat its success? With much larger aspirations, does Dead Space 2 leave gamers scared to turn every corner in a good way, or in a bad way? Read on to find out.
Picking up three years after the events of the first Dead Space, Isaac Clarke, now with both a voice and a personality, is overwrought with a ton of emotion. Set within The Sprawl, a bustling “space city,” the game’s plot revolves around Isaac’s attempt to reconcile his guilt amidst another Necromorph outbreak. This time around, Isaac the character, rather than Isaac the blank slate, must find a way to survive against terrible odds.
After having experienced some unspeakable terrors, Clarke has a lot to say for himself and is a much more accomplished fighter. It was a very bold choice on Visceral’s part to give a personality and a character to Isaac Clarke, but it pays off tremendously. The story of one man’s quest for acceptance really wouldn’t be possible without a substantial Clarke characterization. Many of the game’s core elements would remain, but this is a sequel that wants to improve upon it predecessor, and in this regard it does so expertly.
The experience of Dead Space 2 can best be likened to a haunted house. Though the participant is well aware they have opted into a scenario that will contain scares around every turn, they press on because there is nothing like the unknown. There may even be times when players know something is about to happen, that a scenario is ripe for a scare, and then… nothing does. It’s the fact that the player is scared from beginning to end, regardless of whether or not a Necromorph came from out of nowhere, that makes Dead Space 2 so great.
Combat, much like the first game, takes on an almost reverse Resident Evil formula. While most games task the player with dispatching enemies via the clean headshot, Dead Space’s enemies can only be killed after several of their limbs are removed. This limb removal mechanic was one of the major contributing factors to Dead Space’s originality and success, and it’s back in full force.
Playing through Dead Space 2, players will notice that not only does the combat feel much more user friendly, but also it allows for some more creative killing. Kinesis, the ability to pick up and throw objects, was largely relegated to puzzles in the first game. In Dead Space 2 it becomes a saving grace when ammo is low. Reloading and other elements like stomping have also been greatly improved in an effort to make Dead Space 2 stand apart from those over-the-shoulder shooters that hinder the player’s movement. Clarke is now easier to control and has a wider variety of options for dispatching oncoming Necromorphs.
It is, unfortunately, those Necromorphs that really get the short end of the stick in Dead Space 2. The first time around, sending minute variations of the same enemy at the player got a bit repetitive, but the combat was so new that it was hardly a bother. With Dead Space 2 there are a few select (and rather unoriginal) Necromorphs to break up the monotony, but there are still only about three different types of enemies that players will encounter in every large combat sequence.
There is a particularly horrifying sequence in a nursery in which the central enemies are tiny crawling infant Necromorphs that explode on impact. If Visceral had catered each enemy to the various locations in the game, the eight hour campaign might not have become trying towards the end. Still, Visceral does its best to ensure the appearance of these enemies will cause plenty of jumps, and doing so more than makes up for a lack of variety or inventiveness.
It’s worth mentioning that Dead Space 2 does have a multiplayer component this time around. Though it is an interesting objective-based option, it feels like an effort to keep the title feature competitive rather than being an integral part of the game. Some games are best as single player experiences, and Dead Space 2 is one of them. Pitting players against each other as Necromorphs versus Engineers is a clever twist that is reminiscent of what Gears of War 3 will be doing, but it isn’t a mode worth devoting much time to.
While there is a heavy emphasis on the shooter element in Dead Space 2, Visceral does its best to mix up the gameplay and keep the gamer involved in other ways. Puzzles and major action set pieces are both engrossing and unique. Very rarely does the game get bogged down in repetition, with Isaac moving from one place to another in a progression that feels much more logical and less contrived than in the first game. It is in this progression that players will experience Dead Space 2′s jaw dropping art direction and a superb sound design. Neither element is necessarily improved from the first game, but both are carried over to great effect.
Despite a conscious effort to improve upon an already exciting game, Visceral did stumble in a few areas. As previously mentioned in our Dead Space 2 first impressions, there are certain moments, namely the stomping on enemies to gain ammo, that take the player out of an otherwise immersive experience. On top of that, the game sacrifices its previously flawless pacing in favor of a combat heavy series of final sections that do nothing but ramp up the difficulty.
These are really small gripes amidst a game that has a lot to offer. Obviously, its reliance on jump scares and gory content will be off-putting to a number of potential players. For gamers who crave those experiences, Dead Space 2 is a ride worth taking (after playing the first one). However, with a few flaws here and there, and a genre that is not universally appealing, Dead Space 2 can’t reach as large a fan base as it would like.
Nonetheless, the Dead Space experience is one-of-a-kind, delivering solid thrills and combat that is as fun as it is inventive. Everything this time around has been handled much like Isaac handles the events of the game: with a steady hand that knows how to get the job done.
Dead Space 2 doesn’t stray too far from the winning formula established by the first game, and for some that is going to be its biggest flaw. However, for players who wanted more of the limb-severing combat, creepy atmosphere, and borderline convoluted story, Dead Space 2 delivers.
Dead Space 2 is available now for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.