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Dead Space 2 (Video Game)

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Dead Space 2 review!Reviewed by Mr. Dark

Available for Xbox 360 (reviewed here), PlayStation 3, and PC

Developed by Visceral Games

Published by EA Games


I have no idea why the first Dead Space game wasn’t a runaway hit. It offered one of the most genuinely frightening game experiences I ever played, all set in a completely original setting, with all the bells and whistles you’d want from a single-player action adventure.

I’m just pleased that, so far, Dead Space 2 is selling the numbers that it’s forerunner should have, because Dead Space 2 is everything the first game was and more. It’s exactly what you want from a sequel: bigger, further, better, more refined, perfected.

Isaac Clarke is back, and he’s in a terrible place. No surprise there, I supposed, his luck on the USS Ishimura during the first game certainly didn’t suggest he had an easy life. This time, however, he starts out not only unarmed, but in a straight-jacket. Yeah, Dead Space 2 is telling you from the very first moments that it’s here to play hardball. And you’re the ball.

Before long, he’s back in his engineering suit, plasma cutter in hand, dismembering necromorphs as all hell breaks loose. He wakes up on Titan Station, crafted out of the moon of Saturn, nicknamed ‘The Sprawl‘. Revelations hit the player fast and furious, getting you up to speed on what’s happened since we last saw Isaac on the escape ship leaving the Ishimura.

His run-in with the marker has left him, well, kind of insane. The finale of the first game, where a seemingly-undead Nicole Brennan (Isaac’s girlfriend, lost on the Ishimura) attacks him, showed the first attack of the dementia caused by the marker. It’s only a matter of time before it eats Clarke’s mind and kills him outright. Fighting these internal demons, he has to find a cure and a way off the doomed station. If you didn’t play the first game, no worries: a ‘previously on Dead Space’ animation explains the story so far.

Dead Space 2 review!

There really isn’t too much to say about the single-player game. It’s just fantastic. Nearly flawless. They’ve actually improved on the first game in several ways, something I thought they’d be hard-pressed to do. Much was said prior to the game’s release that they were backing off the tension of the first game, and that made many fans nervous. I’m here to say they were exactly right. This takes place in a much larger area than the first game, and the added dynamics to the tension were absolutely necessary. While the bulk of the game maintains the breakneck pace of the first title, we’re given some fantastic quiet set pieces that play on entirely different flavors of fear.

Late in the game, you’re re-introduced to … an old friend. When that happens, the game basically becomes a journey through a haunted house. The constant onslaught of necros is staved for a time, but the fear keeps coming in the form of excellent level design and psychological tricks to make you sweat just as much as a horde of spitters and pukers.

The vast majority of the scares in Dead Space 2 come from the sound design. This is a game to be played with good speakers set at a high volume. Everyone involved in this work deserves any award they can get, it’s simply the finest sound design I’ve ever run into in all my years of gaming. They create thick layers of sounds, far beyond that necessary for the game mechanics. (Sounds are often the best and earliest warning you’ll get of an impending attack.) They’re often used as decoys and red herrings, as well, so they are more than just mood-setting sound effects.

Something needs to be said about the psychological scares as well. This game screws with your mind. It puts you in uncomfortable places. Literally. How would you feel about taking a high powered automatic weapon into an elementary school and shooting creatures that were clearly children once? How babies? In a nursery? Do you have a thing about eyes like I do? And things jabbed into them?

Dead Space 2 review!

Initially, during the first segments of the game, I had a complaint that the story lacked the emotional hook of the first title. Isaac was responding to fix the Ishimura, sure, but we all knew he was really there to find his girlfriend and save her from whatever happened. Here, his initial goal is one of simple self-preservation, and Nicole is reduced to spookshow scare fodder. Thankfully, that does not remain the case, and this game actually has more solid emotion than the first by the time it’s complete. Sorrow, grief, loss, acceptance…you’re taken on a very touching journey along with Isaac where there are no easy answers and no happy endings.

By the time the single-player campaign is over, you’ll have many questions answered from both the first game and the extended universe of the animated films and the book, but you’ll still have several more left behind … and a few new ones that will haunt you until AFTER the credits … so stick around once you’re finished, you impatient bastards.

There are plenty of reasons to go through things more than once, with a hefty ‘New Game+‘ mode after completing the first playthrough. New items, schematics, modes, etc. await those who finish and want to go through again.

The biggest shock to me was not the addition of multiplayer to what seemed to be a solidly single-player title, but the fact that it’s GOOD. I played the multiplayer demo, and … how should I put this … it was rancid donkey crap. Really, really bad. An unbalanced mess that reeked of the same stench as every other tacked-on-so-we-can-say-it-has-multiplayer mode ever added to an otherwise solid title.

That beta must have done it’s job, because what we have here is a really cool set of themed maps where teams take turns playing the humans or the necros. It reminds me quite a bit of Counter Strike, in fact, just in space. With necromorphs pulling the limbs off the other team, or puking acid all over them. Much like Counter Strike, one team (humans) have different goals depending on the map selected. You may be putting together a bomb to blow the station (which you then have to escape) or you may be programming a solar cannon to fire on certain coordinates. The necros? Much like the terrorists in Counter Strike, your job is to kill the crap out of the other team, as often as possible, so they can’t complete their goals in time.

Dead Space 2 review!

Even with pick-up groups, this works out pretty well. While the first part of a match might be spent with everyone just shooting each other as if it’s a deathmatch, all it takes is one person to focus on the goals and in-game chatter will announce that the humans are winning, which will of course send the rest of the game off to join the guy claiming all the easy points.

Those points, gained for reaching objectives, kills, assists, rescues, and special types of kills for necros, are used between rounds to level up your character. Boosts and bonuses are unlocked, as well as new armor and weapons. The armor is just for display (the only difference is cosmetic) but some of the boosts can make a big difference. Visceral has added ‘viral‘ armor as well, which can only be attained by killing someone wearing it. Clever addition which adds incentive to progress up the ladder and play with strangers, not just friends.

The excellent multiplayer makes Dead Space 2 something of a unicorn. A fantastic, long (10 hours or so) single-player title with a deeply involving campaign that has replay value shouldn’t also have fun, engaging multiplayer. That’s what we have here, though, so anyone who drops their dough on this one is definitely getting a value regardless of the price.

It’s early in 2011, but without a huge Red Dead Redemption-level surprise, we’re looking at Game Of The Year.

Game Features

  • Single player
  • Online multiplayer up to 4 – 8 players
  • Content download
  • Achievement and Trophy support

    5 out of 5

    Discuss Dead Space 2 in the comments section below!


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    Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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    Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

    Directed by Jeff Houkal


    Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

    Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

    As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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    Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video

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    Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering

    Directed by Mick Jackson

    Distributed by Severin Films


    Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.

    The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.

    As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.

    Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.

    Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.

    Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.

    Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.

    Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

    An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.

    “Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.

    “Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.

    “Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.

    “Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.

    A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.

    Special Features:

    • NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
    • Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
    • Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
    • Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
    • Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
    • Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
    • U.S. Trailer
    • Threads
    • Special Features
    3.5

    Summary

    Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.

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    Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror

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    Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

    Written and directed by Alex Garland


    Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.

    An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.

    The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.

    Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.

    Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.

    The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.

    Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.

    Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.

    I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.

    • Annihilation
    5.0

    Summary

    Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.

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