EA’s Visceral Games got the attention of the gaming community back in 2008 with the original Dead Space. The universe has since expanded, spawning comics, novels, animated movies, and a Wii rail shooter. Dead Space 2 is a superior game to the first one, but not at the expense of it. The original is excellent, but the second took every aspect of the first game and made it better, from the character development to the navigation in zero gravity. Even the story and characters have a depth the first did not and, to make matters even better, now there’s multiplayer, bringing Necromorphs to life in unimaginable ways. Isaac Clarke is back, and – despite a little issue of not remembering what happened in the last three years since the first game ended – he’s tougher than ever. The sequel has better graphics, better guns, and better mechanics – but does it live up to the hype that’s been building up around the series for more than two years?
Platform: PC, PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Genre: Survival Horror, Third-Person Dismemberer
Release Date: January 25, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature
Dead Space 2 reunites you with Isaac Clarke, the beloved protagonist who was the sole survivor from the first game. You’re immediately thrown into a traumatizing experience – from chapter one, you need to be on your toes. As with the first game, in which the only surviving characters ultimately have ulterior motives, you’re never sure who you can trust in the sequel. This includes the hallucinations, but honestly, when has anyone ever been able to trust a hallucination 100%? More of the mythos of the Church of Unitology and the story of the Marker unfold as you work your way through the campaign, which also introduces plenty of new Necromorphs, guns, and suits.
But quite possibly the most exciting new aspect of the story is that Isaac is now a speaking character in the game. Instead of walking around silently, being told to go do this or fix that, Isaac now interacts with the other characters in the game and gives them his two cents. Often the banter is hilarious – when told something he did was a bad idea, he replies sincerely, “stick around. I’m full of bad ideas.” I enjoyed Isaac’s character in the first game, but given the new depth here – as well as the fact that we actually get to see his face on occasion – he quickly went from a memorable character to one of my favorites.
Dead Space 2 also offers some updated gameplay mechanics over the first game, the most notable improvement being the new zero gravity functionality. Instead of trying to navigate a zero gravity environment with cumbersome jumps that need to be perfectly timed, you can just click in L3 to make Isaac leave the ground, and then use the analog sticks to change his directions. Small thrusters come out of Isaac’s suit, making navigation a breeze. You can even hold L2 to make him move more quickly. I can’t describe this better than by saying that these new controls feel completely satisfying and accurate, making it a much more enjoyable experience.
Another update is the objective indicator – as with the first game, when you click down R3, Isaac orients himself and holds his hand over the ground. A blue line comes out and shows you which direction to go. But now, cycling through the directional pad helps you find the nearest save station, store, and bench, each one a different color, presumably to prevent you from going in the wrong direction in case you trigger it accidently.
Not updated at all – and rightfully so – are all the same sound effects from the first game. Opening doors, pulling up objectives, changing into a new suit – even the noises when you pick up items or use a save station – are all from the original. When I first put the game in and loaded it up, it felt familiar but mostly alien, with the new updated graphics and a completely different locale. But as soon as the sound effects started popping up, I felt like I was right back home.
The new locale is stunning. The Sprawl is a space station on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and occasionally you can see the great ringed planet when you stop to take in the city – that is, if you’re brave enough to stop and turn your back on a dark hallway long enough to enjoy the view. I was worried it wouldn’t be as claustrophobic as the Ishimura, the planet-cracking ship from the first game, but you’re given very little choice with where you can go and what you can do, continuing that feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. The best part is, the scenery is constantly changing – from the Church of Unitology to the creepiest day care center you’ll ever want to see, Visceral Games has provided a glorious assortment of locations to make you scream. And, much like the first game, you’ll often walk into a room or go down a hallway and the general ambience is so deeply, convincingly scary that you make a judgment on which direction you want to go – and which direction you don’t. You will then check your objective indicator and, predictably, it will send you directly into the heart of where you don’t want to go.
Also updated are the death animations. The first game had a few different animations for how various Necromorphs killed Isaac. Now there are some incredibly detailed and gruesome death animations, especially the ones that are attached to story-related scenes. In one particularly disturbing moment, the player is forced to interact with Isaac in a way that goes so far beyond discomfort that I couldn’t even look at the screen. I just smashed buttons, which greeted me with another brutal death scene. I had to suck it up and make it through it carefully and precisely in order to move past it. It was harrowing, cinematic, and terrifying – all the things that have made this franchise so successful.
So there’s an excellent storyline, interesting new characters, satisfying new game mechanics, and more depth to Isaac himself. In addition to all of this, there are clever engineering puzzles, an unforgettable story ending, and a brand new multiplayer. Despite the lack of multiplayer in the first game, the second game brings it on strong, and does a terrific job with the fun four-on-four format. You play as either humans or Necromorphs, and each map has its own objective – at least, for the humans, who are usually trying to destroy something and then get away from the monsters. But for the Necromorphs, there is one goal: kill the humans. Well, technically, there’s a secondary goal, and that is to stop the humans from making any progress, but the best way to do that is to just kill them. There are four Necromorphs you can choose – the Pack is the screaming baby which can jump on and attach to enemies, the Lurker is the long-ranged wall-walker, the Puker has short-ranged acid puke that slows down the humans, and the Spitter – the most powerful – has a long-ranged charged fire and a powerful melee attack. You can choose which you spawn as – as a Pack, you can spawn almost immediately; a Lurker takes a second or two more; Pukers take about five seconds; and Spitters take about seven seconds. (Nothing sucks more than turning down a hallway and coming face-to-face with four Spitters.) Humans gain experience which allows them to upgrade suits and weapons, while the Necromorphs can unlock increased damage as they level. This innovative multiplayer experience is surprisingly well balanced and unsurprisingly a ton of fun.
What are the down sides to Dead Space 2? The first major one for me is that I am not playing it right this second. On a more serious note, there were a few moments when I had some freezing issues – once in single-player mode, when I was dangerously close to the end, and another in multiplayer, when I was waiting for the matchmaking to set me up with other random players. Other than that, my main complaint is that parts of this game can be prohibitively difficult. I’m embarrassed to say that, at one point, I had to change the difficulty setting down from Normal to Casual to beat an extremely difficult series of monsters in a strip of hallway close to the end of the game. While this certainly is not a reason to skip the game – part of survival horror games is balancing difficult enemies with rationed ammunition – it is a warning that you should definitely be prepared to spend a good chunk of time on this game.
Dead Space 2 is an incredible package and well worth the money. Hardcore fans should definitely pick up the Collector’s Edition, which comes with Dead Space: Extraction updated in HD and fully compatible with the Move, a game soundtrack, and a replica Plasma Cutter. (Keep your eye on Warp Zoned for a full review of Dead Space: Extraction in the next week.) This game is a must-have for fans of both the survival horror genre and the franchise. A word of advice: if you haven’t played the first game, I highly recommend doing so before picking up the sequel. Some of the scariest parts of the game were only frightening because I’d played the first game, and the ending will be far more effective as well. Either way, this is a game – and a franchise – that’s worth your time and money.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Dead Space 2 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.