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Dead Space 2 Review

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On 11/09/2011 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

It's going to take more than a Plasma Cutter and a prayer to get Isaac Clarke out of this one.

This is how you make a sequel. Dead Space 2 improves on the original in every way, while going into some bold new territory that needs to be experienced to be believed.

By all rights, Dead Space 2 shouldn’t exist. The first game was pushed out into a crowded holiday season rush with little marketing behind it, and the game was very slow to reach sales numbers that EA considered successful. The second game, Dead Space: Extraction, was released initially as a Wii exclusive and sold a paltry 9,000 units in its first week, and it didn’t get much better from there. In the high-stakes game of HD video game development, it would have been completely understandable for EA to put Dead Space on the shelf and never look back. But somehow, Visceral Games was allowed to take another stab (or is that slice?) at it, and I’m very glad that they did, because Dead Space 2 is not only a worthy successor to the first game, but it’s also one of my favorite games of 2011.

Isaac Clarke is not well. He barely survived the outbreak of necromorphs (humans transformed into grotesque monsters) on the U.S.G. Ishimura, and he’s spent the past three years locked up in a medical ward on The Sprawl, a mining colony built onto an asteroid. Plagued by visions of Nicole, his girlfriend who took her own life on the Ishimura, Clarke feels as if he’s going insane. Things only get worse when, after being brought around to consciousness, he finds himself once again in the middle of a necromorph outbreak. Chaos surrounds him, and Clarke can only press forward and try to survive.

Dead Space 2 grabs you by the throat from the moment you pick up the controller and doesn’t let you go. The pacing of this game is just right, and Visceral has learned exactly when to let the action ebb and flow, to the point that at times I wondered if I was playing a Valve game. There isn’t a part of the original Dead Space that hasn’t been improved upon, from the graphics and lighting to the level design and monster variety. This is how you make a sequel, and any developer looking to make a game with a “2” in the title would do well to examine this title very carefully.

The core mechanics for Dead Space 2 haven’t changed all that much, but the devil is in the details, and that’s where Visceral succeeds. Isaac handles better than he did in his first adventure; aiming is improved just enough to make a big difference, and he just feels less clunky and clumsy than he did before. Gone are the disorienting zero-G jumps from the first game; in Dead Space 2 you’ll move through these areas with ease thanks to the booster jets in your new suit. While the Plasma Cutter was the weapon of choice in the first Dead Space, the arsenal in DS 2 features a massive jump in usability and tactics. I found myself thinking very carefully about which four weapons I was going to take into battle, and even though I never felt like I got into situations where I chose poorly, I did feel rewarded when I had a weapon that was perfectly suited for a particular enemy. It felt like I was finding power nodes far more often than the first game as well, which really opened up my choices for upgrading my weapons. Stasis and kinesis are also much more useful than they were before, and this all adds up to combat that is fun, rewarding, and open to improvisation.

It’s a good thing that you have such an awesome arsenal, because you’re going to need all of it if you want to get off of The Sprawl alive. There are far more open areas than the Ishimura had, and that leads to some really epic battles. Visceral uses their upgraded engine to throw more necromorphs at you than before, and you’ll have to think on your feet and use the environment to your advantage to take them out. Thankfully, though, it never feels like too much. You’ll be in a constant flux of having tons of health and ammo and then barely limping along, but provided you play things smart you should make it through just fine. This is a game of moments—the type of moments that make your jaw drop and your fingers clutch the controller tightly. These are the elements that set the good games of the world apart from the great games of the world, people.

If only it could continue that level of intensity and awesomeness throughout the entire game. Boss battles are sadly few and far between, and the ones here don’t hold up to the big baddies from the first game. Dead Space 2 kind of falls apart at the zero hour, by throwing you against one of the most annoying final sections in a game I’ve ever experienced. That impeccable pacing that runs through the first 95% of the game is oddly missing in this final bit, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth when it was all over. That may sound punitive on my part, but there’s nothing like making it to the grand climax of a game and then dying over and over to take the wind out of your sails.

You’re going to want to soldier on and see everything, though, because this is so much more than the “bigger, better, more badass” sequel that it appears to be on the surface. Dead Space 2 has a really excellent story, and it is one that needs to be experienced. You don’t need to have played the first game, but it will give you better context for what’s going on, though what you need to know will be explained as things progress. Isaac Clarke has a voice this time around, and that makes a huge impact on his character. It transforms Clarke from a faceless avatar into a sympathetic person that is working out some serious issues. Dead Space 2 deals with themes and emotions that are rarely touched on in video games, and even though the last section of the game is a pain, the final encounter is something truly special. Beyond that, Visceral does a great job of world-building here, fleshing out the story of Unitology and The Marker in some really interesting ways. By the time you reach the grand conclusion you’ll see that the next game in the series can really go anywhere.

Dead Space 2 is one of those games that comes along as a known quantity, and then pulls the rug out from under you. It’s not only one of the best games to come out this year; it’s also one of the best horror games to come out in this console cycle. I can’t wait to see what Visceral Games has up their sleeves for their next game.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Nick DiMola Director

11/09/2011 at 12:49 PM

Is this one less predictable than the first? It seemed like the first - at least for the first couple hours - relied heavily on the "jump out and scare you" factor, but it was always so obvious just when something was going to do it. I lost interest really quickly and eventually quit because the game didn't seem to be getting any better.

Another question, this time two-fold. Does 1 get any more varied/better as time goes on and is 2 that much more varied/better that I should give it a shot regardless of my impression of the first thus far.


11/09/2011 at 01:52 PM

Nice review Jules. When the game came out I only heard the G4 review and their review didn't help me much at all so the game went off my radar for a while. Now this game is definitely back on my radar. I loved the 1st game and I finished another playthrough last month because I wanted to play it again. I also have the first anime Deadspace: Downfall and I love it. I love the universe and atmosphere they've created for the series. I love the mechanics for the series and to be honest I get the kind of experience out of Dead Space that I kind of wish I could have from Resident Evil, as far as the feel of the game and the mechanics of the 3rd person shooting.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

11/10/2011 at 03:26 PM

I totally agree that the first game ended up getting a little repetitive and boring as the game went on. Once you see all the necromorphs the game doesn't hold any real surprises for you until the very end.

I think DS 2 does a much better job of getting variety into the game. The pacing is much better, and there are some moments that need to be seen to be believed. So I'd absolutely recommend it to someone that didn't care for the first game too much.


11/13/2011 at 06:00 PM

Dead Space is my horror game. The atmosphere is so visceral (harr) and suffocating that you are never allowed to feel comfortable. If the game let's up, you will be punished for taking a breath as soon as you step into the next room. Not by relentless action, but the atmosphere. God, I swear the sound design in this game series is by far my favorite of all time. The first game made whispers of the effects relentless terror can have on the mind, both the protagonist and player, but DS2 fucking hammers you with hallucinations, helpless paranoia and guilt ridden psychosis... And lots of screaming violins. I LOVE DEAD SPACE. For me, its everything RE was for me as a kid, but with a critical focus on doom.

... And then there is the art direction. Don't even get me started.

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