Dead Space 2 (Video Game)
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.
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?
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.
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.
5 out of 5
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