Review: Dead Space 2

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Survival horror. Strategic dismemberment. Whatever you want to call the genre it’s slotted into, Dead Space 2 is here, it’s loud, in your face and ready to be reviewed. Let’s cut into it, shall we? Pun intended.

The sequel to the surprise hit of 2008, Dead Space 2 was developed by Visceral Games and published by EA. Available, for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, the title follows the all-shooting, all-facial featured, all-speaking Isaac Clarke as he battles through the Sprawl, a space station on one of Saturn’s moons (close to home, eh?). Set three years after the first game, Isaac wakes without any memory of what’s happened since we last saw him. Of course, the necromorph outbreak in Dead Space wasn’t contained to the USG Ishimura and Isaac is forced to dismember hordes of recombinated humans as he attempts to escape station and fill in the blanks of his memory.

Is it as good as the original? Better? Well, you’ll have to read more to find out.

The hot: EA has done an excellent job of creating a rich Dead Space universe without oversaturating it. If you enjoyed the first game, you most likely have played or watched other titles in the series, including Dead Space Ignition and Aftermath, both of which play a big part in this new game. For starters, game-saves from Dead Space and Ignition unlock unique items in this game. Additionally, and because I don’t want to give any big plot points away, let’s just say that a main character from each of the previous titles contributes quite a bit to this game’s developments.

Dead Space 2 doesn’t penalise those who haven’t looked into the supplementary titles, or even the original game – the backstory is fleshed out quite well with a “Previously on Dead Space” film that can be viewed before playing the game. Even if you’ve just played through the original game (as I did), it’s well worth a look.

As you’d expect with a sequel, the title tries to fix what was wrong with the original in addition to innovating wherever possible. Visceral succeeds with most of its changes. I particularly enjoyed the changes to the zero-G sections of the game. Instead of leaping from surface to surface like the underpowered Smallville Superman, Isaac now has thrusters on his engineering suit that allow for precise manoeuvring and basically, flight. The boost function is also quite fun to use and means you can be quite strategic when dealing with baddies in space. Another great addition is the ability to “respec” your Power Nodes and be able to move them between weapons and suits to maximise your upgrades at any time during the game.

Again, without giving plot points away, I want to give HUGE props to this game for two big items: the marker-induced flashpoints involving a main character from Dead Space, plus the chapter involving a huge set piece from the first game. These two items are hugely satisfying, terrifying and drive the plot extremely well. The set piece really screws with your mind as you can’t help but think you’ll know what’s to come, and then proceed to get blindsided. It’s awesome.

There is a multiplayer component to the sequel, but the best news about this is that it’s supplementary to the game. If you’ve read previous reviews, you know I’m not crazy about achievements/trophies that are multiplayer-based; I’m happy to report that the multiplayer in Dead Space 2 does not have any achievements/trophies tied to it – they’re all skill-based and tied to the actual campaign. Yay! Other developers, please take note.

The meh: A change that I wasn’t crazy about was the new default control scheme. It could have been that I played through Dead Space immediately before the sequel, but I rather enjoyed the original controls more; it’s more difficult to reload your weapon on the fly as you have to release your aim button, for instance.

The move from a space ship to a space station means that Isaac encounters more environments and characters compared to the first game. I understand the need to do this to further the universe and the overall story arch, but it detracts from what made the first game great. To me, Dead Space was about isolation and claustrophobia, and this feeling isn’t captured in Dead Space 2. That isn’t to say that the new game is terrible, it’s just different – like the difference between Alien and Aliens. To its credit, the scares in this game are less cheap and far more developed.

Fans seem to be divided over Visceral’s decision to voice Isaac and also feature his actual face frequently in the game. I like that there was an attempt to flesh Isaac out, but I think it was half-hearted. This failed effort to give Isaac a unique identity only means that the player can’t identify with him nearly as much; by making him faceless and voiceless in the first title, I basically filled in those gaps with myself in Dead Space and placed myself directly in the game and its action. Overall, it was a valiant attempt and I think Visceral will have the quirks sorted out by Dead Space 3.

The cold: One hit kills. LOTS of one hit kills, mostly in the form of quicktime events. I’ve only completed the game on the ‘Casual’ setting, and I died frequently because I didn’t hit a button at the right time, or didn’t move Isaac to the exactly correct position on-screen. I can only imagine how frustrating those sequences will become on Hardcore mode, where you don’t get checkpoints and can only save three times during the whole game.

On the whole, Dead Space 2 is near-perfect. While it doesn’t capture the pure terror of the original, it takes the series to a mature, stable and innovative direction without ruining the universe or its original premise. The campaign ends in a way that easily sets up a myriad of future games, and I’m not worried that any new title would detract from the rich storyline that Visceral is weaving. Dead Space is the new survival horror series of choice for me, easily surpassing the campy, now action-oriented Resident Evil.

Dead Space 2 gets a very well deserved high score from me. Go and get this title quick-smart.