Dead Space 2 Reader Review
Visceral Games re-launches the Dead Space franchise as Isaac Clarke returns to battle the Necromorph scourge, but can the second outing top the frightening success of the first?
The original Dead Space was somewhat of a surprise hit so the level of expectation for the sequel is undoubtedly high, and thankfully Visceral Games manages to deliver on almost all accounts. The story picks up three years after the conclusion of the first game and our old friends the Necromorphs are at it again, terrorizing space stations, infecting the populace and not cleaning up after themselves. Dependable chap Isaac Clarke wakes from a coma and finds himself in straitjacket, having to scramble to survive as everything around him suddenly turns to hell.
You see, Isaac has been captured and taken to Saturn's moon 'Titan', where by extracting the memories from his mind EarthGov has built another Marker - the source of the Necromorph infestation - which naturally leads to no good. Isaac has to survive the heart pounding opening chapter, where you flee from all kinds of nasty critters while locked in your straitjacket, an interestingly fresh gaming experience for sure. Eventually you regain your weapons and trademark armor but this excellent opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the game. Throughout your exploration of the overrun space station you have to link up with a brand spanking new cast of survivors, including feisty Ellie and a slightly unhinged serial killer called Nolan. There are 14 chapters to play through, and you'll be slightly disappointed to know that the game is a bit on the short side, you'll be hard pressed to go over the 10 hour mark on your first playthrough. On the bright side, the ramped up higher difficulties provide a decent challenge, and includes a heart-pounding Hardcore mode that handicaps you with minimal ammo and health - not to mention limiting you to 3 saves the entire game. On top of this there are unlockable armor sets which give the game a decent, if not a meaty amount of replay value.
The overall presentation is excellent. This is easily the scariest game since...well, since Dead Space. The graphics are top notch, and the animations are fluidly captured. The infamous 'death scenes' are back, with the addition of a few new ones as well courtesy of the host of new baddies to contend with, including exploding babies and a bull-like critter that enjoys laying ambushes, ramming you headfirst, and long walks on the beach. The atmospheric sound effects have a creepy quality to them and the rattling of pipes and ghostly voices whispering will have you on the edge of your seat. Isaac also gets a few new toys to play with, like the Javelin gun which can be charged with electricity to impale baddies with. Old favorites like the trusty Ripper are back, and I felt myself relying on them more so than the new weapons, although the game allows you great freedom in choosing ways to dismember necromorphs. Low on ammo? Pick up a nearby rod and drive it through a critter's leg. Outnumbered? Use a detonator to blow those creepy undead children away.
A prevalent theme throughout the game is the acceptance of death, as evidenced by Isaac's struggle with his dementia. During the course of your adventure you are occasionally presented with hallucinations not unlike the ones seen in the F.E.A.R. games, and although they are certainly cool looking they felt a bit clichéd, and didn't really add to the suspense. Far more effective are the periods of unsettling silence, most noticeable during a stint midway through the game where you revisit Isaac's old stomping grounds. The hordes of necromorphs are replaced by ghostly whispers as you trudge through the derelict hallways , with only the occasional panic-filled audio log to keep you company, as your trigger finger itches for the moment when you just know they're going to crash through a ventilation shaft. It's a truly standout sequence.
Unlike the original Dead Space's well documented control troubles on the PC, the sequel is far more polished and it's good to see that the development team have learned from their mistakes and corrected them. The controls are fantastic and although I'm not a fan of the camera view, it's effective in what it does. Chopping up Necromorphs has never been easier, and with the addition of a few nifty functions like an ability to auto-orient yourself to the ground during the zero-gravity sequences I was very pleased with the overall control scheme. There are a few interludes with puzzles thrown in amongst the carnage, and they are quick and easy enough not to distract from the suspense at hand. The navpoint functionality makes a return, further ensuring that you never get lost and take a wrong turn. Having said that, the game does an amicable job of not funneling you down a linear path, as exploring little side rooms and nooks provide bonus loot like power nodes, which can then be spent on upgrading your gear at a nearby shop terminal.
Special mention must go to the scripted sequences which are absolutely out of this world. One involves a subway set-piece that will have you holding your breath, and another lets you rocket through space, dodging flying debris. These unbelievably neat bits sprinkled amidst the gory action are great fun to play through, even if it can be argued that they involve the overly simplistic method of mashing your action button to complete them. The minibosses are engaging although not as heart-pounding as the original Dead Space bosses, perhaps because we've seen it all before. I would have liked to see a little more creativity here on the part of the development team, as there is real potential wasted. Without giving too much away the penultimate boss uses pretty much the same mechanics as an older boss in Dead Space , as it chases you across the level while constantly regenerating. I also found the final boss sequence a tremendously repetitive and disappointing way to wrap up an otherwise great adventure.
All in all, Dead Space 2 manages to improve on the original whilst retaining a great sense of atmospheric suspense. It's clear that the development team understand the art of creating horror, and with the exception of a few unoriginal moments lacking in inspiration it's well worth the bang for your buck - especially if you're a horror or action buff. If you believe the advertising campaign, your mom will probably hate this game - but you should tell her to play it anyway!