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Review: Dead Space 2

Developer – Visceral Games
Publisher – Electronic Arts
Available On – XBOX 360, PS3, Windows
Reviewed On – XBOX 360

Space is a pretty scary place. There’s no oxygen, not much light, and it seems every time we make progress in exploring the deeper voids we uncover a brutal alien civilization destined to make harvest of the human race. This is Isaac Clarke’s peril, or, it was in the original Dead Space. Now things have gotten a little more severe.

Three years after the original events on board the spaceship Ishimura, Isaac finds himself struggling to overcome crippling dementia as a result of his original terrifying encounter with the alien Necromorph race. Hearing voices in his head, seeing vivid hallucinations of his dead wife, Isaac is suffering multiple mental problems as a result of events in the original Dead Space. So waking up on a new space station called the Sprawl to another immediate outbreak of Necromorphs probably isn’t going to help at all.

Thrown straight back into the turmoil Isaac finds himself again up against a deadly alien race armed with whatever engineering tools he manages to salvage. It’s a similar setup to the original game but it’s the events and how they fold out that makes Dead Space 2 a unique and exciting beast different from the first.

Dead Space 2 is far more action focused, right from the start the impactive and immersive cutscenes throw you straight into this turbulent world as Isaac witnesses a human grotesquely transform into a necromorph right in front of his eyes. It’s a shocking and gruesome scene that sets the perfect mood for what you’ll be experiencing for the next 10 hours. Dead Space 2 is an intense ride and these set pieces do a great job at establishing a terrifying environment with action set pieces and intense gore.

Horror has definitely taken a back seat this time around. Sure there are spooky scenes reminiscent of the first game with sound and lighting creating an effective mix of creepy corridors and intense encounters but the frequent fast paced action really makes this the ‘Aliens’ to the original ‘Alien’. Dead Space 2 often likes to take hold of the camera and throw you into full-on fast paced situations where players must react quickly and fight giant alien terrors either through skill or even a quick time event here or there. The familiar spooky corridor scene can come a bit too often but the environment is more mixed up compared to the first game.

Whether horror or action one constant feature in Dead Space 2 is extreme violence particularly in the numerous gruesome ways there are for Isaac to die. Whether sliced or diced Isaac will detach and ragdoll in unique form and oh boy is it graphic. My particular favourite is dying to the Necromorphs that spit acid, as they cling to Isaac spewing acidic bile directly into his face and well… the end results aren’t pretty.

It’s an intense experience with several new enemies so fortunately Isaac again has a nice array of weaponry to do away with these alien beasts. The original game mechanic still applies where enemies are susceptible to limb loss; it’s beneficial to aim for their long spindly limbs instead of aiming for the head or genitals in classic form. Conveniently enough all of the ‘weapons’ found in Dead Space 2 are seemingly purpose built for the cause as Isaac straps himself with a variety of engineering gear suitable for taking out limbs, single targets, or even multiple enemies with weapons such as the new Detonator that acts as a grenade launcher.

Dead Space 2 has a unique element with its gameplay mechanic of limb shooting coupled with crazy enemy design but otherwise ingenuity is not a strong point. It’s hard not to draw comparisons if you’ve played Resident Evil 4 or 5 as they do provide quite similar experiences. Don’t let this deter you though, as for everything Dead Space 2 borrows from Resident Evil 5 it does better, from gameplay to set pieces to horror it’s a far more refined experience that greatly benefits from polished production values and attention to detail.

Horror is handled well especially as the game is quite difficult, even on normal difficulty I got to experience nearly every different way for Isaac to die in one play through. It doesn’t help that Necromorphs have a tendency to spring up from behind you, no matter how much effort you put in to covering your back. It feels as though the engine is just waiting for you to turn around, waiting for that one quick chance to spawn some more enemies out of your eye sight as soon as it can. It’s an element that will keep you constantly on edge but sometimes it can feel a bit cheap. The game has nice ways of making you feel safe and then springing danger on you from out of nowhere and while it can be a bit transparent it is still effective in maintaining tension.

Music and sound is again used at great affect to create thrills and chills. As tension and action kicks in the soundtrack picks up accordingly, only to dissipate once safe, but there’s a few tricks that aren’t quite so cliché. In one scene I cleared out a room of Necromorphs until there was nothing in sight and the soundtrack dropped to a complete silence. I felt safe. Little did I know there was still one of them left, lurking nearby, while the sound track was clearly indicating otherwise. While in the middle of my spree of looting and stomping on corpses it was indeed quite a fright to be suddenly jumped on at point blank range by one very upset alien.

Dead Space 2 provides a thrill ride experience in single player with a lot of narrative, a reasonable story, and a big focus on exciting action set pieces and intense scenes of tension. So what does multiplayer have to offer? That’s a damn good question – one I’m still trying to find an answer for. The original trailers of a seemingly Left4Dead style class based multiplayer affair sounded somewhat tempting, a slow paced 4v4 aliens vs. human approach could have worked. How multiplayer ended up though is an incoherent orgy of blood and alien goo with a big barrier to entry for new players – especially as the progressive unlock system causes a large separation in player skills.

So multiplayer may not be any value here but it doesn’t need to be. Dead Space 2 offers a gripping single player experience that doesn’t let go from start to end. It’s mature, it’s violent, it’s intense and it plays great. Sure it may be similar to other third person action horror titles but what it offers is a purely polished experience that raises the bar for other entrants to the field – at least until the release of the strongly hinted Dead Space 3.

Dead Space 2

90%

The Good –

• Epic action set pieces
• Polished production values
• Intense and gruesome

The Bad –

• Meaningless multiplayer
• Some familiar repetitive corridor scenes

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