Published on February 1st, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
Dead Space 2 Review
After months of hot anticipation, Dead Space 2 is out and primed to scare the bejeezus out of players willing to meander through its dark, invested halls. Coming from EA’s Visceral Studios, Dead Space 2, like the original, is a third-person survival horror in the same vein as modern Resident Evil games yet slows the pace, turning it into a hallway crawler where anything could be lurking in the shadows. Visceral then takes what made the original so well-received, but adds little to change the successful formula of the first, instead relying on a highly improved lighting system coupled with even more frightening monsters and heart-pounding action than before.
If you followed the series’ protagonist Isaac Clarke’s last adventure aboard the USG Ishimura, you would know that things didn’t turn out so well. While Isaac was able to destroy the Marker, he didn’t escape completely undamaged. When Dead Space 2 begins we find Isaac in a hospital aboard The Sprawl, a city located on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. His memory of the past three years is gone and his experience with the Marker coupled with his own guilt has left his mind fractured. His questionable sanity is a plot element that is brought to the fore as the game starts with him restrained in a straightjacket. But as things must, everything quickly goes to hell as a new necromorph infestation begins on the Sprawl which pours over the city and into the hospital, killing or mutating people into new members of the horde.
Within seconds I’m running through the hallways of the hospital, vaulting corpses and barely avoiding getting my face removed by the violent swing of a necromorph’s bladed arm. When Isaac’s hands are finally free and gratefully gripping the hilt of a Plasma Cutter, that’s when the pace slows down and returns to the familiar crawl. The game, however, does move at a faster pace than the sequel and this heart-pounding introduction was the first clue to the jump in speed. I have to admit, the first ten minutes of Dead Space 2 happened to be one of the most thrilling I experienced in the series so far.
The game still employs the satisfying dismemberment system where players must use weapons to sever the limbs of necromorphs in order to kill them. Because of this system the game mainly focuses on supplying Isaac with cutting tools over standard bullet-spewing weapons you would expect from a game of this genre.
Severing limbs also offers some strategy in the way you could deal with some of the necromorphs that populate the game. For example, Isaac still has the use of the Telekinesis module from the first game which allows him to pick up objects, such as exploding canisters, and fire them at his enemies. In Dead Space 2 Isaac can now use a cutting tool to sever a claw, pick it up using TK, and fire it right back, impaling the bastard that once owned it. There’s nothing more satisfying than sweet poetic justice. Telekinesis is also used to move objects in order to solve puzzles and can be used to “grab” items at a distance.
Another useful device making its comeback is the Stasis ability, which can stop a charging necromorph in its tracks, slowing it down and giving you plenty of time to remove every limb while humming your favorite show tune. Stasis is also once again implemented in puzzle solving such as slowing the speed of slamming mechanical doors or other moving parts that could quickly turn Isaac into chunky meat pies.
Another fun new way to dispose of pesky necromorphs is by shattering a window and letting the Sprawl’s own low-pressure atmosphere send the monsters flying into the black, Alien style. Of course, this presents the problem of Isaac being sucked out as well. That’s why this method is only suitable for players who have a quick draw and can shoot the glowing red triangle that appears above the broken window which, when hit, will drop blast shields that keep Isaac from joining his floating friend.
There are a few new weapons added to the mix such as the defense-oriented Detonator, but the one that stood out the most for me was the Javelin gun. This little beauty fires a metal pike into a necromorph with enough force to send the (understandably confused) monster soaring into the air before sticking into a wall. Pressing the alt-fire sends waves of high-voltage currents through the pike electrocuting anything around it.
Dead Space 2 is a graphical powerhouse that features some of the best I have ever seen out of a game to date. Visceral Games has turned what is usually a typical game element into something of a living entity which transforms the high-tech yet familiar environment into something as dangerous and menacing as the necromorphs themselves. Some areas could be so dark that the only light came from the one attached to Isaac’s currently equipped weapon. In these moments the darkness seemed to contract all around, the small light keeping Isaac from being lost in total darkness.
Like the first game, Dead Space 2 lacks a typical HUD and instead displays holographic images where players can cycle through floating screens which offer information on what Isaac currently has in his possession plus any messages picked up along the way. The suit incorporates a visual health and stasis meter which go from blue to red when decreasing.
The audio design is also an essential component to the great atmosphere. Sudden noises will echo through hallways and often times the sound of scratching claws can be heard scurrying in the distance. It all comes together to create an impressive and claustrophobic experience that is nerve-rackingly haunting and kept me on edge as I made my way through the dark halls and buildings that living humans once populated.
Collecting Power Nodes is still critical for upgrading Isaac’s suit and weapons at a work bench. Upgrades come in the form of adding extra health, increasing weapon power and reload speed, ammo capacity and more. Nodes can be found scattered throughout the game or can be purchased with credits at one of the many shops featured in the game. The shops are also places to buy new weapons and ammunition plus new suits which add extra armor and item slots. Isaac is no longer limited to wearing just engineering suits. Starting out with his classic suit, eventually that gets upgraded to a Security Suit, which is worn through most of the game, and finally to the hyper-futuristic and tightly-fitting Advanced Suit, which, with a shiny mustard color coupled with metal shards, looks like someone threw a grenade into a Polish sausage house.
Because the Sprawl is a city as opposed to the Ishimura which was a ship, there are more open areas and less crawling through narrow corridors, although I did find that there were more hallways than there really should be for an expansive city. There are urban areas to travel through including a train station, a shopping district, a church, and a school, all of which have a unique design and offer different challenges to overcome. The school was particularly memorable to me. If I ever have to see another necromorph toddler it will be too soon.
The emotional trauma Isaac suffered from the tragic loss of someone aboard the haunted ship of the first game seems to be too much for his fragile psyche to handle. The extended exposure to the necromorph-producing Marker and Isaac’s own guilt manifests into a person lost from the previous game, appearing without warning, attacking Isaac with increasing violence. Over the majority of the game this adds to the tension surrounding the plot of Isaac’s slipping sanity. One particular moment stands in mind. While walking through a door, the specter suddenly appeared and lunged at Isaac, brandishing a hypodermic needle. While I madly tapped the displayed button to fight it off, the vision disappeared, revealing Isaac holding off his own arm, the tip of the needle only inches from his eye.
You would think that after a few years in development Visceral Games would fill Isaac’s time with better things to do throughout the game then running around fixing crap. Well, you’d be wrong. As Isaac you still have to fix elevators, re-align mirrors, and replace giant electrical conduits, all of which is about as fun as it sounds. Luckily these moments are only brief but they do tend to drag down the experience, keeping the game from being as good as it can be. Zero-G puzzles also make their comeback but this time Isaac can move freely through the air, making solving these puzzles a little more enjoyable.
I wish dull puzzles were the only real smudge on Dead Space 2 but sadly they are not.
Throughout the first good six hours, the game is paced exceptionally well with nice little scares dotted throughout the experience. Visceral really embraced the tactic of sudden scares such as steam vents suddenly turning on or shadows darting around boxes or across windows. However, after the six hour mark I began feeling unfazed by the tricks. Visceral must have felt the same because after a certain moment the game becomes a big shooting gallery. Empty rooms would suddenly fill with around five necromorphs, whose sole purpose is to eat up ammunition before allowing you to leave. Dirty tricks also get put to use such as dropping a necromorph with high defense as a distraction while a necromorph carrying an exploding sack is dropped behind Isaac, detonating and doing massive damage. I wouldn’t complain if this happened only once as it would just be a “oh, ha ha, Visceral” moment, but it happens several times and only serves to frustrate rather than simply add to the challenge.
The run-and-gun section doesn’t last long, thankfully, and the ending segment is exciting and successfully brings all the story elements together, answering many of the burning questions that have lingered since the end of the first game. And once the credits have rolled, it’s time to hit up the multiplayer.
Yes, Dead Space 2 has multiplayer (go here if you missed our coverage). After starting up a party or hitting Quick Search, you will get plopped into any waiting lobby or currently in-progress match in one of the five available maps. If you’re familiar with games like Left 4 Dead you will know the basic concept behind the Dead Space 2 multiplayer. If not, then don’t worry, it’s easy to understand. There are two teams, one consists of human characters the other of necromorphs. The human players have all the strengths and weaknesses of Isaac and have access to his arsenal of weaponry. The necromorph team will be a small group of respawning necromorphs while four players choose and control four different necromorph “heroes.”
The necromorphs that players can choose all have different respawn time lengths which vary on their strength. Starting from the weakest there is the Pack, the child-like necromorph, which is the weakest but can jump and slash a human with its claws, the Lurker which is the smallest and can fire projectiles and climb walls, the Puker whose projectile vomit that can harm or ensnare human players, and the Spitter which can fire long-range projectiles. The human team will be given a set of objectives to complete such as destroying Markers, carrying data disks, or trying to leave via escape pods; all of which can vary by map. The necromorphs only have one objective: spit, slash, grapple, and kill the crap out of the other team and keep them from accomplishing their goals.
Players will start off as either of the two teams and the game will switch players from one side to the other. This means players who start on the human side will finish the game as the necromorphs and vice versa. Winning matches will grant experience points which are used to increase levels and unlock new weapons and armor colors for the human side and increased abilities for the necromorphs.
When I first began playing multiplayer I enjoyed the challenge it offered. Playing as the human side can be exciting especially if you have teammates who like working together instead of splitting off and doing their own thing; ultimately dying like idiots for it. Playing as one of the necromorphs is also a lot of fun and I instantly loved the Lurker, which, as I said above, can cling to any surface while firing projectiles from each of its three tentacles. Sneaking around on the ceiling and firing at the backs of the human players before running off to safety is a guilty pleasure with giggles to be had. Jumping into the middle of three of them hitting them all with my swiping tentacles is its own kind of hilarity as they all tried to desperately stomp me out like a giant cockroach.
Yet after about an hour the fun begins to ebb off and things begin getting repetitive. The multiplayer is fun in concept and provides some quick thrills to newcomers, but the lack of real variety and customization ultimately left me bored after only a short time. Those looking for something new to try in the Dead Space universe may find some fun to be had, but I didn’t find it to be as engaging.
Despite the issues, Dead Space 2 is still a whole lot of fun and easily the first great game of the year. The lighting is awe-inspiring and the atmosphere is second-to-none in the survival horror genre. Some bad game decisions near the end of the campaign and a dull multiplayer do, however, keep the game from achieving true greatness. But these problems aside, there is no reason to pass up on the chance to step into Isaac’s suit once more and make the necromorph horde taste the business end of his big stomping space boots.
[xrr label=”Rating: 9/10″ rating=9/10]
+ The best lighting ever.
+ Atmosphere is haunting.
+ Audio design will put you on edge.
+ Dismembering necromorphs will probably never be boring.
+ Story wraps up nicely.
– Bad gameplay decisions near the end.
– Dull multiplayer.