Review: Dead Space 2

February 16, 2011, Author: Debbie Lloyd

It’s been a very calm two-year break since Dead Space. Neighbours are no longer calling in to check on you every time they hear a scream, fearing that you are being brutally murdered. It’s that time again though, and Isaac and his pals, the Necromorphs, have come back to haunt our dreams once more, causing more concern for those around us as blood curdling screams rip from our throats while we get our virtual heads ripped off.

If you haven’t finished the original Dead Space, close this page down and do it now before you even think about reading the rest of this review. Visceral have not been shy about spoilers in Dead Space 2 , including vital plot points from the first game which will play a major role in the second part of Isaac’s story.

I can see the whole world from up here…
If you played the first Dead Space then you will be all too familiar with the trauma that Isaac Clarke suffered at the hands of twisted aliens, a dead girlfriend and an alien artifact that engraves its twisted messages into the brains of those who dare to get too close. The beginning of the game will set the tone for a lot of the later chapters. Simply running away may seem like the cowards way out, but if you want to survive then it is sometimes the best way. Swarms of these enemies will surround you, likely when you have little to no ammo, and even no health left in your rig.

Isaac has escaped the terror for now but he’s not exactly mentally stable or safe after everything he has been through. It has been three years since the Ishimura, and you now find yourself on the vast space city named The Sprawl. The game will start with a brief flashback of previous events for those of us who tried to erase the horror from our minds and succeeded. There is little room for a nice easy welcoming either as you are thrown straight into the action after a series of scenes which show you being treated for dementia in the hospital wing of the city. The necromorphs have somehow made their way on board The Sprawl and Isaac is not exactly fighting fit in a straight jacket and lacking a weapon.

Nicole, or at least her ghost, plays a massive part in Dead Space 2 haunting Isaac’s thoughts and memories and constantly trying to kill him at each and every turn. These encounters take on an almost Silent Hill style setting with the feeling that Nicole is trying to take Isaac to a parallel universe to torment him or worse. Following the apparently insane ramblings of a fellow patient, Stross, your aim is to escape those trying to kill you (and I don’t just mean the necromorphs) to destroy the marker for good and restore peace and tranquility. The story behind the Sprawl is told through scattered audio logs and the handful of survivors that are left behind for you to interact with. Dead Space 2 focuses more on answers than questions, so there will not be much new to learn or even that many twists, but that does not mean the story is not deep and engaging.

Stay away from the hormonal demon.

Spread across two discs, Dead Space 2 features 15 chapters, an upgrade from the 10 chapters we were treated to previously, but this does not mean that the game is any longer. Each chapter seamlessly merges into another without a single loading screen as you travel between areas and locations, a loading screen only popping up when you reach your untimely demise. This is a lovely change of pace from the loading screens every time you stepped onto a train in Dead Space and the tedium has been removed, allowing the story to flow so much better.

Is that a javelin in your crotch or are you just happy to see me?
You start off without a rig or a weapon so it has never been more preferable to just run away as quickly as possible. This was both exciting and a bit frustrating. No rig meant I had no inventory slots. No weapon meant I had no way to defend myself. Of course I was still being hunted down by spiky-fingered aliens though,  but such is the nature of the survival horror genre.

There have been vast improvements to the way Isaac is controlled and how he moves around The Sprawl, including the enhanced Zero-G movement and the way of chopping and changing weaponry. The improvement of Zero-G is one of the biggest and best changes. Whereas before you could only travel from surface to surface in a rather disorientating fashion, Isaac can now flow freely through the air, almost swimming through Zero-G levels with a certain level of grace. Of course, when you throw enemies into the mix it is very easy to end up completely upside down, but I can forgive the game for this.

Another feature that has been added is the ability to be able to remove nodes from your weapons, rig, stasis or kinesis modules. If you have spent too many nodes upgrading your rig and not enough on upgrading the damage of your plasma cutter, do not fear. About half way through the game you will be given the choice to remove nodes for a relatively moderate fee of 5000 credits per schematic. This is not a high price to pay for making vital changes to your arsenal that could be the difference between life and death in some sticky situations.

Kicking alien butt upside down? Easy.

One thing I noticed a lot was the amount of time I spent hanging upside down, or travelling through freefall events, both equally as horrifying as the other. It was bad enough in the previous game trying to shoot off aliens arms as you were dragged towards a jagged vent, but this time there will be some situations where all you can do is hang hopelessly from the ceiling, hoping that your ammo lasts you long enough to fend off the horde. Freefall events are just as terrifying, utilizing Isaac’s new jet boots as he falls through space in a bid to move out of the way of travelling debris as swiftly as possible, lest you plunge headfirst into a floating piece of rock. Yes the death scenes are at times far grimmer, but it makes dying less frustrating.

Dead Space 2 feels a little less like survival horror this time around, allowing you to interact properly with other survivors on the Sprawl. This never happened in the first game. Any time you did manage to reach your distant companions, they were either torn apart by a nasty alien, or there was a quarantine lock down which meant you had to escape to the next room in order to move on. It doesn’t make the game any less scary, but it removes the feeling of being alone that sometimes is a key emotion for the survival horror genre, but it is just a small criticism.

There is a whole list of new necromorphs that have been breeding in the last three years, all of which want to eat you up as soon as they can. The most annoying of all the new kids on the block are the Stalkers. These delightful little fiends are ridiculously fast and will charge at you from nowhere, tearing a huge chunk off your health as they launch you backwards with their gargantuan strength. They also tend to hunt in groups, massively overpowering you if you don’t have enough stasis left to slow them down.

Just hangin'...

Some of the creepier additions are a group of necromorphs aptly named The Pack for their style of hunting. Members of the pack are only young children and are relatively easy to kill, but they act crazed and will swarm towards you for power in numbers. Equally as eerie are the Crawlers, deformed babies with explosive sacks attached to them. These twisted freaks of nature will scurry towards you hoping to blow you up, crying all the while just to really freak you out.

Don’t worry though, with new enemies come new weapons and there are certainly some lovely new additions to make your mouth water. The best of all these new additions is the Javelin Gun which has the ability to throw enemies backwards and sometimes impale them onto the nearest surface. These are best used to take out some of the larger enemies in the game, especially the stalkers as after a headshot from the Javelin Gun they won’t be getting up for a very long time. Another great addition is the Detonator which allows Isaac to attach weaponry to walls, almost enabling him to create a perimeter around himself in sticky situations.

The final new addition to the gameplay which may only be small but I found to be quite fun, was the ability to hack into circuits to enable you to open doors and fix various plot vital machinery. The process is simple; tear off the panel, fiddle around with the wires until the panel turns blue and voila, you become the perfect hacker.

I think they might have contracted Andrew Ryan for the refurbishment.

One thing I did notice straight away when I started to travel deeper into The Sprawl was how it really did feel like an entire city. Wandering through residential areas heightened the reality of the horror that has been inflicted upon the station, and making your way through children’s arcades and elementary schools is both eerie and pretty to look at. This was someone’s home once, and if I may be so bold as to make a slight comparison, it feels slightly like Bioshock’s Rapture. This is by no means a bad thing in my opinion, as it really adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Travelling through the residential living quarters and seeing how they had once lived makes the horror so much more real, hearing the desperate cries of mothers and their children hiding away from the horrors that now lurk along their corridors.

A rare moment in the game where Isaac interacts with fellow survivors.

Twinkle twinkle little star…
As with the original Dead Space and the Ishimura it is the eerie creaking and groaning of the Sprawl itself which set the tone and gives Dead Space 2 its creepy atmosphere. You will definitely know about it when a necromorph decides to pop out in an attempt to gouge your eyes out of their sockets though, as Visceral have perfected fear with a tense string composition which creates a feeling of frantic excitement during a high-speed battle and a swarm of enemies.

We hear Isaac talk for the very first time in Dead Space 2, but this does not necessarily take away from his character. This was a bold move by Visceral to change a silent hero into a vocal one, but it is a move that mostly works, but perhaps not one that all people will approve of. You get to feel Isaac’s pain a lot more, especially during his interactions with the ghost of Nicole. Most would argue this moves Isaac away from the allure and torment of the silent hero, but interaction is key in Dead Space 2, and Isaac the mute simply would not have cut it.

I never get picked for the winning team!
Dead Space 2’s multiplayer is a bit disappointing. In each multiplayer match there are two rounds lasting 5 minutes each, or as long as it takes for one team to beat the other. A team of humans and a team of necromorphs fight it out for survival; the human team being required to complete various objectives to escape or destroy the rival team. This sounds fun on paper, but in practice it can get really dull and repetitive. I found playing as the human team to be more fun, especially since we had objectives and aims. I found myself loathing each round I had to play as a necromorph because even though I could decide between four different types, none of them appeared to be particularly useful when up against guns and stomping enemies. The only way to ensure a win with a necromorph team was to gang up on human players individually and not hang about on your own.

Join in or simply observe the mayhem.

A redeeming feature of the multiplayer however is the ranking system. With each new rank you earn new rigs and weaponry to add to your arsenal. These must be equipped before the beginning of each match, but the amount of games you must play to achieve these higher ranks seems a little daunting to me personally. I played the multiplayer for a few hours, just jumping in and out of pre-made matches and I really didn’t get very far. A few extra modes would have enhanced the multiplayer experience, as only having what is essentially a ‘free for all’ mode can become very stale very soon.

Can we just go home now?
Dead Space 2 is roughly about 10 hours long, if you exclude the countless checkpoint resets and backtracking, which makes it add up to about 20 hours in my case. It doesn’t take long to complete, but I didn’t want to rush through it, mainly because my frail mind would have been in tatters. While to some this may feel like a revisit, as you will be revisiting some familiar and haunting locations which does feel like a bit of a cop-out. That said, there has been so much added to the game to make it feel completely fresh and exciting that this is so much more than just a return journey.

Longevity is certainly a major plus point, though, with many new schematics and difficulty modes being unlocked upon the end of your first play through, giving you major incentive to play the game again. Some completionists may even enjoy the challenge of Zealot mode, which only allows you to save three times, taking you back to your last checkpoint every time you die.

Truth be told, if you were looking forward to an original multiplayer mode to compliment the campaign then you will probably be disappointed. Still, Dead Space, to me, is all about being on your own, not playing with others, but it’s a shame that it still prevents it from being almost the complete package. It doesn’t, however, hurt or detract from the overall enjoyment you’ll derive from this game.

If you enjoyed the original space horror from EA & Visceral and wanted to find out more about Isaac’s story, then Dead Space 2 needs to be on your list of games for 2011.


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