Review

Back in 2008 many gamers hated EA with a passion. Between the little to no innovation in their sports franchises and the fact that they released poor games just to make a buck, EA was on the top of many gamers’ do not buy list. EA, not content with their status in the industry, announced that they would be changing their strategy. Quality over quantity would be their new words to live by, and it would start in October, and with a new IP at that. The game was Dead Space. Many saw it as Resident Evil in space and didn’t give it a second look, but there was something about it. Maybe it was that great visuals, or the moody atmosphere, but something about it called out to me. Dead Space turned out to be not only one of the top games of the year, but one of the best survival horror games of all time. Now the sequel is here and has a lot to live up to and, luckily, it does so while surpassing the original in almost every way.

Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the events of the first Dead Space. Isaac Clarke now finds himself on Titan Station, known to its citizens as “The Sprawl”. Things pick up quickly as Isaac must escape from the mental institution in which he is held as it falls victim to a new necromorph outbreak. Isaac has no idea what is going on or how he ended up on the Sprawl, meaning that Isaac learns things just as the player does. This helps keep the story interesting, though at times toward the end of the game, it loses itself.

Isaac…look behind you…nevermind.

Early on, you learn that Isaac is suffering from dementia as a result of what happened on the Ishimura and Aegis VII. The internal struggles that take place during missions are some of the highlights of the game and make you care more about Isaac. The fact that he now speaks also adds to this, making Isaac feel more real as he can now express how he feels beyond screams and grunts. Though he can at times seems a bit over the top for an engineer, Isaac speaking is a valuable addition to the game. It also makes the set piece sequences more meaningful as you get a better idea of how they are impacting Isaac physically and emotionally from how he speaks.

The Sprawl itself is one of the best additions to Dead Space 2. Rather than the confined hallways of the Ishimura that frightened many in the first game, the Sprawl features many different environments ranging from hospitals to elementary schools. Each environment has its own unique style as well as surprises. The lighting is one of the best visual aspects of the game. Whether it is a slight flicker as you approach or the entire room goes dark, there is just something about it that makes you want to keep your flashlight up at all times, just in case. To top it all off, the screeching violins and pounding drums that fans of the original are familiar with return to keep your heart racing. The music can make a single enemy seem like hundreds as the blaring horns catch you off guard and you struggle to bring your weapon to bear in time. Almost worse than that are the sequences of utter silence with only Isaac’s pounding footsteps and the “did you hear that?!” sounds in the distance. It is horrifyingly fantastic.

With Dead Space 2, Visceral lives up to their name when it comes to combat. Little has changed from the original game, but that is for the best. Strategic dismemberment is still the focus of combat. It is always easier to defeat the necromorphs limb by limb than it is to fight them whole. Weapons like the plasma cutter and line gun return to fill their familiar roles, but Isaac will now find guns that are not just mining tools. The seeker rifle which has a zoom functionality, and the detonator mines which…well…explode, encourage the use of new tactics. Stasis and kinesis return as well with improvements of their own. Stasis can now effect multiple enemies with a single use allowing for better crowd control and making it even more useful than it was in the first game. Kinesis is more powerful and is an excellent alternative to using up your ammo, especially considering that the Sprawl is littered with sharp objects along with your dead foes who gladly offer their limbs for your use.

Awww, aw come on, I just bought this suit.

Upgrades return and can have an even greater impact on weapons than simply improving their power or capacity. When fully upgraded weapons gain new abilities, such as the plasma cutter’s ability to light necromorphs on fire for a short time. Your suit can still be upgraded, but a welcome new feature allows all of your suits to keep the best stats of all the obtained suits. Considering the greater visual variety in the suits this time around, this lets you keep that cool looking suit on without sacrificing inventory slots or armor. Unlike the original Dead Space, your armor and weapon upgrades will carry over into higher difficulties with New Game+ rather than stay in one difficulty setting.

Speaking of Isaac’s suit, it has been upgraded with the latest in zero gravity navigation. No longer will you be forced to point and jump from location to location. Now there is freedom of movement in zero gravity. It can be a bit disorienting at first as you get used to the freedom, but offers a much more enjoyable experience and makes any objectives in zero gravity easier and faster to complete. Besides, who doesn’t want to feel like they’re flying?

The necromorphs are also packing some power though and have a few new tricks. Your old friends from the Ishimura make their triumphant return, but they’ve brought new friends with them. The pack are one of the more dangerous new enemies. While weak individually, the can quickly overwhelm Isaac with numbers and attack at close range where Isaac is much more vulnerable. Adding to your troubles are even more ranged varieties of necromorphs, such as the puker. The puker will…well…puke on you and will drastically reduce your movement speed, allowing other nearby necromorphs access to an easy target. Even at range, behind his entire arsenal, Isaac is never completely safe, but that’s the point now isn’t it? You are never left feeling safe at any point and that is part of the thrill.

PWNED!

The single player itself is much better than the original game and is a great length at about 10-14 hours depending on difficulty. It is not, however, without its flaws. It is still scary, but I felt like it lacked a bit in that category. Some areas just lacked any sort of tension and it threw off mood. I wouldn’t say I felt safe, but I didn’t feel like I was in immediate danger. Then there is that last hour or so of gameplay that boils down to shoot, run, shoot, run, so on and so forth. It felt out of place in the normally atmospheric progression, like it was tacked on to add length to what is already a lengthy game. The set pieces however more than make up for these minor shortcomings. Isaac does something awesome in each mission and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. I don’t want to ruin anything, but suffice it to say that everything leads up to something incredible, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

At this point, Visceral already has a better game than the first, no doubt about it. But were they satisfied with just making a better single player experience? Hell no, that is why they took the time to make a multiplayer mode. At its core it is very similar to Left 4 Dead and is a good time. Players will either take control of a member of the Titan Station security team or one of four types of necromorphs. The humans are given a series of objectives to accomplish, while the necromorphs are simply tasked with stopping them. Kills, objectives, and assists will get you points that allow you to level up between matches which will unlock new suits, weapons, and abilities. The multiplayer is fun, but it isn’t a long term destination. It isn’t compelling enough to keep you coming back for more (not like the single player) but it is a nice break and a great way to help improve you combat ability.

Dead Space 2 did exactly what it needed to do. It improved on an already solid formula and successfully implemented a multiplayer component. Visceral has shown that when it comes to survival horror, they are the masters. The minor missteps can easily be rectified with Dead Space 3…oops, but for now there is a lot of compelling content in Dead Space 2 and will likely keep fans coming back for more well after the second playthrough. Do yourself a favor and buy it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume we’ll be talking about this game again in December.

Chris@thosegamingnerds.com

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Chris
No hard feelings... / Chris@thosegamingnerds.com /