Dead Space 2 is a great game. I'm going to write about the cool guns, great set pieces, and how much fun it is to write reviews like a middle school student. But first I'm going to drop this stupid lampoon. We've all had our fun laughing at Greg Miller, but it's time to move on.
Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the events of the original, and once again, the player controls Isaac Clarke. After Isaac fought through waves of reanimated necromorphs aboard the USG Ishimura and destroyed the parasitic Marker responsible for the outbreak, Clarke realized his girlfriend Nicole had long since perished, his discussions with her mere hallucinations.
These events drove Isaac insane, and he drifted through space until being discovered by another ship. The "rescuers" took Isaac to the Sprawl, a massive space station orbiting Titan, Saturn's largest moon. After a cozy three-year sleep, the ex-engineer is abruptly awakened when another Necromorph outbreak occurs. Forced once again to battle the deadly infestation, Isaac sets out to escape.
Along the way, he encounters several survivors of the chaos, including Tiedemann, the head of security, who intends to kill Isaac. Forced to trust whoever's not pointing a weapon at him, Isaac slowly works his way through the massive station in search of rescue. Most of the early plot boils down to "go here," "do this," repeat. Several interesting plot twists occur, though you may very well see them coming, but for much of the game, the story is pretty stale.
Dead Space 2 will melt your face off.
The later sections of the game do make up for the beginning, starting with a return to Isaac's dark past. However, the most interesting takeaway from the narrative by far is Isaac's mental state. The events of the first Dead Space have taken a massive toll on his psyche, and it shows. Unfortunately, the potential of this plot point is wasted. The designers use Isaac's mental anguish to set up cheap scares for the player rather than build his character, which remains largely undeveloped throughout the experience.
Visceral Games tried to sell a more personal story with Dead Space 2 that nearly hits the mark. Isaac now speaks freely throughout and occasionally removes his mask, but whether this breaks the mystery of the man behind the metal helmet is purely player-specific.
Of course, who cares about story if the gameplay isn't fun? Nobody, and that's why it's a good thing that Dead Space 2 delivers in that regard. The main draw of the first game was the idea of "strategic dismemberment." You couldn't simply drop an enemy with a shot to the dome. You needed to remove their limbs to render them harmless. This concept returns in the sequel with a fresh batch of necromorphs to disassemble. Like before, Isaac's arsenal is made up almost entirely of tools you'd expect of an engineer.
The new necromorphs will force players to adopt interesting strategies. My personal favorite is the Stalker, a quick, sneaky necromorph that hunts in packs of three to six. Be sure to watch your back. They're clever girls.
Necromorphs are sloppy drunks.
Dead Space 2 uses the term "survival horror" lightly, but ammo is still at a premium. Harder difficulties can be brutal when ammo conservation is key, especially with the average Slasher absorbing upwards of four Plasma Cutter rounds. Luckily, Dead Space 2 feels great to play. Isaac can now make use of Kinesis to impale enemies. Basically, anything picked up can be thrown, and the stronger your RIG, the more damage it does. Stasis is back as well, and is used to freeze enemies when in a pinch. Knowing when to conserve your ammo, use the environment, and freeze the right enemies are all important if you want to master Dead Space 2.
Players can make their life a lot easier by finding schematics and power nodes. Schematics unlock items for sale at the store and can only be found once. If you miss a certain blueprint, tough. Power nodes, as in the first game, are used to upgrade Isaac's suit and weapons. Knowing when to balance health with damage output will make the early game much easier.
If there was one place where I feel the designers went astray, it was in the game's design. Now allow me to clarify: Dead Space 2 is NOT poorly designed, but there were some choices made by the developers which I think hurt the game overall.
For starters, the game is super linear. Exploration usually boils down to checking the other end of a hallway before proceeding to your objective. While not terrible and by no means a game-breaker, this choice is certainly a step back. Dead Space was a linear game in terms of locations, but each one was open to explore. On the bright side, there is almost zero backtracking in Dead Space 2.
Enjoy the solace while it lasts.
Still, the environments in Dead Space 2 are amazing. Although locations aboard the Ishimura felt different from each other, there was always a sense of familiarity. In DS2, almost every district is unique and exciting, ranging from a mall to an elementary school to a solar array. My favorite is the Church of Unitology, a massive complex very much based in Gothic architecture. The Sprawl isn't just a space station; it's a city where people of all ages and professions live, or at least used to.
Dead Space 2 is not what I would deem scary, though. After the tenth time a necromorph bursts from a ventilation shaft or spawns behind you, the edge loses its impact. Even worse, the game is so predicable on subsequent playthroughs because enemies always spawn in the same locations.
But where it fails in real scares, Dead Space 2 succeeds in absolute creepiness. Environments are dark and foreboding, and there is a constant sense of dread looming over the player's head. Even in the game's brighter areas (of which there are few), the sense of danger permeates the scene, keeping players on edge at all times. Let me just say, my two scariest moments did not involve Necromorphs.
No, you do not fly around the Sprawl like Iron Man.
Dead Space 2 is a beautiful game, and the lighting is used to wonderful effects. Isaac's suit looks great, textures pop, and rotting enemies look spectacular. The only flaw in the diamond is the character modeling. Other protagonists do not exhibit the same brand of polish inherent to Isaac.
The most amazing part of the package, however, is the sound. Like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 sports the best atmospheric design in any game, and Isaac's new-found voice really stands out among a very qualified cast. The creaks and moans of the Sprawl as you move through its depths compound the terror, and if you're using headsets, you may find it hard to differentiate between in-game sounds and real ones. The soundtrack is good, but the pure ambiance is what truly shines.
If you are a fan of survival horror, go buy Dead Space 2. Although several design missteps hold Isaac's return back from a perfect score, the tension, gameplay, and visuals make for a great first gaming purchase of 2011.
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-8 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC