Dead Space 2 Review

DS2 2
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: January 25, 2011

Space really isn’t a new thing. I hear it has existed for a little while and has starred (no pun intended) in more than a few forms of media. Zombies are pretty played out too. I’m willing to be that there isn’t a month that goes by where a zombie game or movie isn’t released. What happens when you combine the two? Is this the chocolate and peanut butter of video games? If so, then Dead Space 2 is the Reese’s Cup as it gracefully fuses the two.

If you are smart, you probably figured out that Dead Space 2 is the sequel to the original Dead Space. In the first Dead Space, a mining ship named the Ishimura was infected and overrun with necromorphs, which are reanimated human corpses turned into brainless killing machines. These necromorphs make the mission of Isaac Clarke more difficult than it should be as he tries to find his girlfriend aboard the vessel, thinking optimistically that she could somehow be unharmed.

The previous story haunts unlucky Isaac here in the second game. From the frantic opening to the intense ending, Isaac comes off as some sort of lunatic almost the whole way. He makes rash decisions, trusts shady people, and has intense, horror episodes throughout your 10 to 12 hours of playtime on the Sprawl, a colony that inhabits one of Saturn’s moons. The mess has hit the fan and Isaac needs to find out how to stop it. Not a total departure from the last game, as it shares similarities, but the story flows rather neatly and is told well throughout, with twists and good, insane characters, Isaac included.

The horror nightmare-like episodes are meant to amplify his craziness from Isaac’s encounter with the Marker in the last game, showing his visions of old repressed memories of his less-than-happy time aboard the Ishimura. While it is visible what they are going for, these aren’t as scary as they should be. Without spoiling too much, these moments try to emulate the feel from movies like The Ring, but never reach that level of psychological scares. A welcome touch as they feed more into Isaac’s dementia, but it would have been nice to have them done to be more frightening.

As a horror game, it’d be appropriate to assume that this game would make you have to change your pants multiple times and take some breaks, fearing you couldn’t take the one more scare in the intense atmosphere. Maybe it could be scary, if your definition of a scare is mostly synonymous with “surprise.” Necromorphs consistently jump out of windows, vents, and closets to get you to leap out of your seat for a split second. While this might get a cheap shout out of you every once in a while, it can become routine, which is a scary game’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately borrowing another scare tactic from the last game, necromorphs love to play opossum on the floor. Rushed players may get fooled once or twice, but with the repeated offenses of this specific “scare” is appalling. It happens a bit more than a half dozen times and it is easy to see it coming, as the “dead” necromorph has the same pose on the ground. To give credit here, the game’s thrills do pick up as you progress through the game and a couple new jumpy moments are added, but it would have been nice to see more of it considering it is (or supposed to be) a survival horror game.

While the old scare formulas might not add up completely in the sequel, Visceral, Dead Space’s developers, inserted a new way to get you to jump, which is my absolute biggest problem with game: enemy spawns. As you cautiously walk into a room, a few space zombies will dart out right in front of you, but unbeknownst to you, a ninja-quiet necromorph or two will also spawn behind you. Horrible spawns lead to cheap hits and unfair deaths as in your visual field, you could be wrecking and dismembering like a professional butcher, but your legacy will mean nothing as the guy behind you wanted to nibble on your ear or your whole face, bringing your RIG (read: your health bar) down to zero. This would be excusable if it happened maybe once or twice, but happening in about 60% of the game’s combat areas is absolutely intolerable. Difficulty also spikes near the end of the game, as some rooms continually spew out baddies to almost no avail, and given the immense variety of necromorphs, it can feel like everything and the kitchen sink is being tossed in your direction (or, you know, behind you).

Poor and continuous spawns may ruin any other game, so it is a godsend that Dead Space 2 plays so well. The original never played badly but after starting here it is not as easy to go back. The controls have been greatly modernized and little touches are everywhere that may not be as noticeable unless you are directly coming off the original game. Aiming, stasis, movement, and kinesis have all been drastically sped up and with smoother animation. You can still murder and dismember gloriously (with a bunch of different kill and death animations), it is just looks better and flows faster. Even the RIG and the other no-HUD elements like your locator have been improved, adding more functionality without losing the much needed immersion. Zero gravity sections now are actually fun as your incredibly badass suits now have jets on them, meaning movement in a 3D space is an option. Jumping from a wall to another wall is something in the past.

Most game series look the same from title to title. While they may look good already, it can be more of the same. Dead Space 2 figured it didn’t want that as part of the plan, as it looks completely and utterly amazing. The original blew me away with the way it looked as I called it the best looking multiplatform title at the time. Of course, leave it up to the sequel to considerably step it up. Much more detail was added, as the brutal kills look even more astonishing, but what stunned me most of all was the lighting. Items like a TV might be turned on and the bright red light will reflect realistically off you and other objects. Isaac’s helmet even lights the room which is a nice touch. I think I’d be more than ready to take Dead Space 1‘s “best looking multiplatform game” crown, and place in on Dead Space 2‘s helmet.

Sound design and music is appropriately creepy, hitting all the right notes. Effects like scurrying and roaring make you wonder what is happening off screen and add to the amazingly done tense, if not scary, atmosphere. Isaac also found his voice box and all his lines are done shockingly well, as are the other crazy people that inhabit the Sprawl.

This game is one of those few games that gets better on each playthrough. Encouraging multiple playthroughs isn’t easy, but DS2 has hooks that will force you to come back a second, third, or forth time. Not only will bad spawns be a bit irrelevant, as you will know where they are now, new game plus is present, as you can carry your armor and weapons over and continue to sink power nodes into them to upgrade. Dead Space 2 takes it one step further by unlocking additional armor for every difficulty. You’ll want to try the new and different weapons and armor out every time, as each looks badass and has their own unique stats. Extra armor and continually upgrading is always great but what really puts the icing on the replayability cake is the hard core mode.

Adding itself to the other four difficulty settings, this one may be the hardest. In hard core mode, the game is nearly at its hardest setting but the catch is there are only three available saves for you. If you happen to eat it and lose some limbs in the process, you better hope you saved earlier because that is where you will be starting from, your last save, as there are no checkpoints. Balancing frustration, tension, and satisfaction, hard core mode is a perfect addition. Not to mention that after completion, in addition to a trophy or achievement, you receive a hilariously awesome gun and armor set.

Dead Space 2 is an odd game as I’d classify it as a disappointment, but a must play. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the game takes a few steps back and some steps forward. With its replayability, some unforgettable moments, creepy atmosphere, tightened controls, and great universe, Dead Space 2 is easy to recommend. Even being not as frightening and having minor missteps in the otherwise great combat, Dead Space 2 can still be the undead, defining face of the survival horror genre.

Pros:
+Tighter controls
+Chilling atmosphere
+Stunning graphics/lighting
+Lots of different environments/enemies
+Plenty of replay value
+Very gruesome
Cons:
-Horrible spawns in a lot of fights
-Not as scary as it should be
-Scares are often recycled

Final score: 8.5/10

For my thoughts on Severed, Dead Space 2‘s first campaign DLC pack, click here.

Platform differences:
They both play and look great but the PS3 version has Dead Space Extraction HD on disc. The 360 version is on 2 discs, as opposed to PS3’s single Blu-Ray, and doesn’t have DSE.

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