Review: Dead Space 2

Having spawned a total of four games over three consoles, two full length animated films, a full length novel, graphic novels, and a rumored feature length film in production, the Dead Space franchise has done well for itself.  In terms of the games, Dead Space and Dead Space Extraction have received largely positive press.  Additionally, Dead Space 2 performed better than its predecessor in sales (we’ll just ignore Ignition if that’s OK with everyone). That is a whole lot for a game based on making do with very little.  As a huge fan of Dead Space, I was excited and ready to see what misfortunes waited Isaac Clarke the second time around.

Mr. Isaac Clarke is the luckiest unlucky bastard in the galaxy. Barely managing to make it off the Ishimura, a huge mining ship swarming with violent necromorophs (who managed to kill everyone aboard aside from Clarke himself), Isaac awakens dazed and in the midst of a whole new necromorph outbreak.  This time, he’s on the huge space station situated on Saturn’s moon Titan, referred to as “The Sprawl.”   Clarke must navigate his way through swarms of creatures who are really interested in seeing his insides, in a vain attempt to destroy a mysterious device known as “The Marker” and maybe, just maybe, escape with is life.  Along the way he uses his engineering skills, coupled with brute force and improvised weaponry, to combat various deadly forms of these killing machines.  It gets a little bloody.

Ultimately Visceral Games took a Back to the Future 2 approach to the sequel; give them the same, but bigger.  The environment you are wandering in Dead Space 2 is significantly bigger than the Ishimura.  So much so that the whole of the Ishimura actually fits within it.  The environment feels different, too, with larger spaces and more areas that are well lit (comparably at least).  There is also a different feel to this game; Where Dead Space had you arriving after the outbreak, Dead Space 2 is often filled with the screams of the many who are still alive and running for their lives.

Visually the game looks much the same, and in terms of gameplay there isn’t much that has changed; Visceral understood that they had a working formula, so they didn’t mess with it too much.  In fact, one of the biggest differences is that they removed the “jumping” from one platform to another in Zero G, this time we have thrusters to help navigate.

The game is also much more seamless.  No longer does each chapter start and end with a ride on a train or transport.  The change between some of the chapters would be unnoticeable, if not for the text in the bottom right of your screen. Dead Space 2 feels much more like one continuous journey from the start to finish. This of course also means that the very reliable pattern of Stores is gone, although you can now use your navigator to find the nearest one.

The last notable addition to the game are the number of small boxes that you smash to find items (much less of a focus on opening small chests this time) and the need to stomp necromorphs to find hidden supplies of cash or other goodies in their rib cage. We also see some new necromorph types, but more on that later. Oh, and Isaac talks this time, a lot.

So, stylistically not much has changed from the last outing; Dead Space 2 looks like the same world as Dead Space, and anyone who played the first can pick up the controls in an instant.  You can expect much the same in terms of combat as well.  Aim for the limbs every time and keep your Stasis powered up to slow them down.  There are still plenty of “big” events where you must shoot a giant arm to gain freedom, as well as a couple of new scenarios when you must avoid objects while flying/falling.  Also similar to last time, about half the people you meet try to kill you sooner or later, but I won’t tell you which ones.  There aren’t a lot of new surprises.

This is probably where Dead Space 2 works best; Visceral didn’t muck it all up by trying to reinvent the plasma cutter.  Most of the game is based on slowly making your way through dimly lit corridors, waiting for something to pop out at you (sometimes the lack of enemies was more jarring than a rush of them).  This time around, there does seem to be a greater focus on combat, as it seemed like there were many more instances where you had to fight off hordes of enemies, rather than one or two that got you by simply catching you off guard.  This does make the lack of amo and health packs all the more dangerous, and sometimes you will have to improvise and throw what you can at them, or just run like hell and hope you make it (you probably won’t). Most of the game these mechanics work and you feel almost like you have solved a puzzle when you manage to clear a room.

Some of the new necromorphs, such as the Stalkers, also require a new strategy to beat.  Reminiscent of the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, these bipedal bastards are quick and come at you like a spider monkey.  After your first encounter, the hairs on your neck will stand up when you walk into a room and hear the unmistakable sounds of them hunting you.  There are also the two new child-sized necromorphs.  The classic babies with tentacles that shoot at you are still present, but now we have two more incredibly creepy styles, as well. First are what appear to be newborns, all necrofied.  These little buggers like to explode if they get close enough or you shoot them in the big glowing yellow parts (that’s nature’s way of saying, “don’t touch”).  The others resemble the classic “grey” aliens, only with claws; very pointy, very sharp claws.  These elementary school aged necromorphs tend to swarm in groups, and while easily killed, they can just as easily overwhelm you with their numbers. Either  disturbing example is an efficient and subtle form of birth control. These are the most notable additions to the necromorph gallery and I found them to be challenging and fun (in a very disturbing way) to defeat.

The wider environments of the game do defeat some of the “horror” aspects though; sometimes things are just too visible.  The increase on the amount of combat also made the game feel much more like a shooter than the first instance did, and I’m not sure that is a good thing.  Contradicting that, supplies seemed a little bit harder to come by this time around, making those combat situations incredibly deadly, especially if you weren’t smart with your amo supply. There is still a strong survival element.

For the most part, the game felt balanced until around chapter 14.  Once chapter 14 starts, you spend half of it popping health packs like some sort of junkie and just firing wildly at every necromorph in your way, in an attempt to make it into the next checkpoint.  The whole of the chapter was filled with so many overwhelming hordes of enemies with so few breaks or opportunities to gain supplies that on more than one occasion I had to manufacture a way to make it from one area to the next with fewer than six shots left.  Even with a fully-upgraded weapon, rig and Stasis, this chapter wasn’t challenging so much as it was frustrating.  It often just came down to luck.  Did this necromorph manage to impale you or not?  Did the door open before they caught back up to you, or were you stuck waiting for an elevator that, for some reason, stopped coming once you turned your back to fire on the horde of necromorphs approaching.  I felt like I had to take chapter 14 one room at a time, and I hated almost every minute of it.  Not because it was difficult, but because it just felt incredibly cheap.  It was an unfortunate way to bring gamers to the final battle.

The final battle also failed to wow me.  Not only was it not immediately clear what we were supposed to be doing, but you must also battle hordes of enemies that are difficult to see and are coming from every direction with little amo or health, and no real ability to prepare for it.  That wasn’t the real issue with it though.  The real issue was that there were two main ways you would die, and each had what felt like a 30-45 second death animation that couldn’t be skipped.  Because of the difficulty of this battle, I was forced to watch probably ten minutes of these same two scenes repeating over and over until I was just flat-out annoyed.  The death animations were a nice touch, but forcing us to sit through them over and over was not.

Those two areas aside, the game is simply an extension of the first.  This may seem like an obvious statement, considering it is a sequel, but I mean that in the truest of terms.  Dead Space 2 is Dead Space but bigger, and with a couple of exceptions, it works.  The horror aspect is forsaken a bit, but the survival aspect is still very strong and the plot continues Isaac’s story in a way that fans of the first will enjoy and likely embrace. If you haven’t played the first, I highly recommend it before starting the second. Unfortunately I did not have time to fully explore the multiplayer aspect (but I may append this review in the future when I am able), so I am not including it in the review or the final review score. In the end, I think Dead Space was better, but it is so hard and somewhat unfair to compare our first experience with our second. If you’re like me and simply wanted some more Dead Space, then you’re going to leave mostly satisfied with your experience. You know what they say; Dead Space is like pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

Final Rating: 8.5/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: ~7 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: 570/1250
Price Bought at: $35
Current Price: $36.99 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: Not having tried the multiplayer, I would recommend under $30.

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