It was really pleasing to watch Dead Space grow by word of mouth after some mixed reviews and poor performance at retail. EA clearly recognised the excellent job that Redwood/Visceral did, gambling that the Dead Space franchise would be more successful in its second outing.
Dead Space was an action orientated survival horror game borrowing heavily from Sci-fi horrors such as Alien and Event Horizon for its visual inspiration and Resident Evil 4 for its gaming style. It was characterised by outstanding levels of polish both in its crisp, detailed and atmospheric visuals and its award-winning eerie and unsettling sound-scape. It did have one or two innovations including the excellent holographic inventory system and the useful locator beam that leads you to your next objective, ensuring that you don’t get lost or have to keep referring to the map.
Visceral have delivered an excellent sequel that recognises the strengths of the first game whilst building incrementally on the experience. At first it seemed difficult to discern where the improvements were. The game seemed identical in look and feel to the first game. The game then settles into its normal routines of quiet spells where you can build up your strength and ammunition before assaulting you with brutal attacks that leave you panic ridden and shocked.
The game is probably most effective during the quiet spells, you never quite know when something is going to jump out at you and you therefore spend the whole time ‘on edge.’ Similarly, it can be very disconcerting to enter an arena seemingly awash with health and ammunition as you know that the next assault is probably going to be intense as a result.
The game has an excellent array of difficulty settings. This may seem an odd thing to single out for praise, but in this instance, the difficulty setting is crucial to determining what sort of experience you have with the game. Choose an easier setting and the game will provide you with plenty of health, ammunition and power nodes to upgrade your weapons. Combat will be easier and the experience will be more akin to ‘Aliens’ - more of a combat orientated action game. Try the harder difficulty setting like ‘Survivalist’ which I chose, or heaven forbid ‘Zealot’ and the game turns into a very tense ‘Alien’ like affair where health and ammo is scarce and missed shots are rued. On ‘survivalist’ the game does an outstanding job of keeping your existence precarious.
Generally the game enjoys very good check-pointing and sensible placement of save points. There are occasional difficulty spikes - usually comprising of a difficult room that needs to be negotiated. Progress usually can be made once you hone your approach. Repeated practice proves useful in this regard along with the prescience that gives you. The difficulty spikes only occasionally tip from frustrating into annoying. There was the occasional instance of checkpointing prior to an in-game scripted event which proved to be a little frustrating sitting through for the umpteenth time. Only occasionally was the game outright unfair, with the spawning of exploding enemies too close behind you.
The main difference to the original game would be the addition of several new enemies. The best of which I felt were the velociraptor like enemies that stalk you in packs before rushing you. They have a tendency to ‘one hit kill’ attacks’ - if your health is low, meaning that they are extremely dangerous.
By and large the weapons roster was similar to the first game. To my shame I found that a combination including the plasma cutter, line gun, pulse rifle and detonator mine gun addressed all my tactical needs so I didn’t even purchase the other weapons.
The game is ‘not recommended’ for playing in 3D by nvidia. I played the first half of the game in 3D and felt that it was excellent. The 3D really added to the atmosphere and sense of realism. There were occasional issues with the cursor appearing in double but I couldn’t detect much else wrong with the experience and was surprised when the game was branded unsuitable when the most recent nvidia drivers were released.
There were times playing this when it felt genuinely unsettling and harrowing to play. Particularly towards the end when a familiar staple of survival horror enemies appears to keep you on your toes. I guess in that respect it succeeded handsomely as a horror game. Not a fun game to play then, but by god a tense and exciting one.