A couple of years back, EA started making a big push to get more original IPs out on the market instead of relying on pumping out sequels to successful franchises every year. Leading the charge on this initiative was DICE with Mirror’s Edge and EA Redwood Shores with Dead Space. Of the two, Dead Space did better critically and commercially so Redwood Shores was formed into Visceral Games and a green light was given on the sequel.
Set three years after the events of the first game, Dead Space 2 brings Isaac Clarke, the hapless engineer/universal savior, to The Sprawl, a giant space station in orbit around Saturn. Isaac can’t remember what’s been happening in the intervening time period, and the small glimpses given during the opening cut-scene look like he’s stuck in a psyche ward. After everything goes to hell (with one of the best cold opens in any medium ever), Mr. Clarke is on a fast-paced bloody thrill ride to discover what’s been happening while he’s been comatose.
Right off the bat Dead Space 2 sets the precedent that it’s going to be more action packed than its predecessor, but not at the cost of the scares. The team at Visceral have become far more adept at frightening you this time around, and there are only a few of the cliché “jump scares” permeating the game. Dead Space 2 uses atmosphere and tension building very effectively, and it plays with your notions of what’s going to happen and when. For example, two of my biggest shocks came from pieces of the environment that happened to pop out when I was expecting an enemy to make an appearance. There’s also one long segment that will have you on the edge of your seat waiting for the first sign of an attack as you traverse corridors that should be filled with Necromorphs.
The pace of Dead Space 2 is managed far more efficiently and you rarely embark on any of the Mr. Fix-It quests that inundated the first title. There are still some missions that require you to repair a gravity centrifuge or align a solar array, but come on, Isaac Clarke is an engineer, so there’s bound to be some of that. Most of the time, however, you’re progressing through The Sprawl, attempting to stay one step ahead of the Necromorphs hunting you and the other humans looking to capture you.
As a lot of the game focuses on combat, the weapons and abilities have been tuned up so you have a better chance against the increasingly one-sided odds you’ll be facing. The Plasma Cutter is still your go-to weapon for dismembering Necromorphs (the fastest way to kill them), but all of the other tools are effective in their own right. Indeed, some enemies are easier to dispatch with the Plasma Rifle, which was fairly useless last time around. Isaac’s suit abilities, Stasis and Telekinesis (TK), also return and they play a much bigger role in killing enemies as opposed to just being puzzle solvers. Stasis is incredibly handy for slowing down the bigger, charging foes, and TK can be used to pick up discarded pieces of the environment or Necromorph limbs and fire them back at your attackers in lieu of using precious ammunition. You also have the ability to cause explosive decompression aboard the space station by blowing out certain windows and sucking everything in the room out into space. Mixing up all of your weapons with the ability to manipulate your surroundings means the combat in Dead Space 2 is a lot more nuanced than the first game, and it never gets old trying to think up new ways to dispatch your foes.
Whereas the rest of the game saw small refinements, perhaps the biggest change present in Dead Space 2 is giving a voice to Isaac, who didn’t speak a word of dialog in his last adventure. While this could have been very cheesy, and it would have been easy to turn Isaac into a smart-mouthed action hero, his vocal performance is handled effectively and believably. While you are controlling Isaac, Dead Space 2 is really the character’s story and how he’s handling the events of the first Dead Space; you’re just there to make sure he gets to the end. The game is largely devoid of out-and-out humor, and Isaac is a consummate survivor. For something that could have gone horribly awry, Visceral gave a great personality to Isaac and the other characters in the game. I was always eager to see how Isaac would interact with the other humans left after the outbreak, and I was never disappointed.
The other big difference this time around is that the action is not confined to one area, but rather to a giant space station with a whole host of different set pieces and decorations. While Dead Space one was no slouch in the graphics department, Dead Space 2 takes it to another level by filling The Sprawl with a bunch of areas that look like places where people actually lived. This isn’t an engineering ship built to serve a singular purpose; this space station was made for habitation and it shows. While there are the requisite sewer levels, most of the other locations in the game are tailor made to give off a certain feel. You progress through apartment complexes that would look like someplace to raise your family if it weren’t for all the dismembered corpses decorating the halls. There’s a day care center that just oozes an unsettling vibe and at one point you go through a church dedicated to the in-universe religion Unitology, and suffice it to say it would be creepy without the hordes of flesh-devouring mutants running around. Dead Space 2 also plays host to the gory kill animations and the decapitations and the lacerations that so disgusted people’s moms. This game also features the best use of a dead body to solve a puzzle, so kudos to Visceral for finding a really disturbing way to incorporate the recently deceased.
Even though Dead Space 2 is refined in a lot of ways, the only addition that stands out as unnecessary is multiplayer. Essentially a copy of Left 4 Dead’s human vs zombies set up, four players take control of humans while the other four control Necromorphs who attempt to sabotage the human’s objectives. Granted, I only played a couple of matches as I rented the game and was unable to play more than a few rounds during my two day trial, but it seemed like a quick cast-off compared to the care the single player section received.
At the end of Dead Space 2 I had a bit of difficulty over what I was going to score the game as. I had a blast with it, and nothing stood out to me as a glaring problem. It’s a top quality game through and through, yet it just doesn’t feel like an S. I know that sounds odd, but an A is in no way a bad grade, but just let it stand that I did consider the S rank for awhile.
The bottom line is that Dead Space 2 is a fantastic game, and no matter what system you have it’s your duty as a gamer to check it out. Has anyone else played this, and what are your thoughts?
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