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.