The original game was an amazing achievement, a terrifying adventure and added an incredibly fun to use term to my vocabulary: strategic dismemberment. So how do you perfect an idea that’s already pretty damn close to flawless already? You crank up the action, polish the controls and look at every great idea the original game brought to the table and improve on them in some way. Dead Space 2 fixed issues I didn’t even know I wanted fixed, and that’s a rather impressive feat.
The first game, while hugely successful, wasn’t a Resident Evil hit EA wanted it to be. Much of this was blamed on the game’s focus on doing everything it could to get the player to shit out their spine. Was that a creature lurking in that dark corner or just a shadow? Was that the sound of something wicked creeping up behind you or just your mind playing tricks? Dead Space 2 will drain you emotionally, physically and when you’re done you’ll feel as tired and relieved to have survived yet another Necromorph infestation as Isaac surely feels. The Baby Factor: If the Gaming Gods discovered the perfect balance between action, spectacle, horror, gore and incredibly cool set pieces, got them all together for a hot orgy of video game ingenuity than Dead Space 2 would be their limb-slicing offspring.
One of the things I really wanted to see done in Dead Space 2 was I wanted to witness someone transform into a Necromorph. Without giving too much away, let’s just say my wish was granted and it was everything I hoped it would be.
The original game’s biggest strength was its top notch sound design. You’re always in a constant state of alertness because the level of detail in making the world around you sound believable it truly incredible. Sure, some of the sounds come in the form of in your face cheap scares that have the sole goal of making you jump in your seat, but other than that the sounds are more than effective. The score in this game seemed more noticeable, it takes its place in the background when you need it to before it crescendos at the more terrifying moments in the game (of which there are many.)
Speaking of a believable world, the attention to detail has seen a noticeable jump in quality. The textures look crisp and clear and if you look around you you’re bound to find bits and pieces of life on pre-infested Sprawl. And unlike the Ishimura where the first game took place, the Sprawl boasts far more variety in the environments you’ll be traversing. You’ll see the familiar broken down and bloodied corridors but sprinkled on top of that are unforgettable tours through an elementary school and a Unitology church, the former soon became one of the most disturbing sections I’ve ever experienced in a game.
While many of the scares come from loud sounds and far off growls and screams, the lighting ends up making many of the otherwise great levels spectacular. You’ll come across your fair share of strobe effects and emergency lighting but there are a few areas where the lighting makes it all far more terrifying. One area in particular will be a familiar location for Dead Space fans, and there’s a certain section of that chapter where you may think you’re strolling through a crime scene.
Much of this was excellent in the first game before being overhauled in Dead Space 2. One issue I had with the original was a large majority of your human interaction was either through holographic projections or through glass or other barriers. There were few moments where you’d be face to face with someone, unobstructed by distance or a wall. Sadly, this issue, while small, is still rather prevalent in the game. Granted, you will be within hugging distance (because who doesn’t want a hug in a time like this?) one a handful of occasions, but it’s still an issue that effects the experience.
Since you should already be familiar with the story of the Dead Space universe (angry Necromorphs, Unitology, Isaac’s going crazy, etc.) there’s few (story-based) surprises to be had in Isaac’s second adventure and overall I would’ve liked life on the Sprawl to be fleshed out a bit more (you can’t explore any of the stores for example and the path you take through the game is very linear). However, if you remember Isaac’s Shakespearean monologues from the first game you’ll be happy to hear him talking much more often in this game. Not only does he talk, but he’s also a very likable guy with a few witty moments thrown in to break up the constant tension.
You’ll also probably remember how frakking tank-like Isaac was in the first game, getting him to move and react like a human of average capabilities was far more difficult than it should’ve been. Luckily for us, Visceral took note of our complaints and made him move more quickly, react as fast as the player does and the Zero-G sections in particular have seen serious improvement. No longer do you have to aim and jump to the next surface you want to walk on, instead you can use your snazzy thrusters to nimbly fly wherever it is you please.
There have been some much welcome interface upgrades, the most noticeable of which is the lack of a map that’s been replaced entirely by the Locator Isaac has on the palm of his hand. Now when you press it you’ll get a clean, curvy path to your objective’s destination, or if you’d rather have it direct you to the nearest shop, bench or save point it can do that too.
The enemies in this game are smarter, come in more flavors and in bigger numbers. Because of this you’ll need to think quickly and keep on the lookout for any explosive canisters or stasis containers that can help you save precious ammo. Now there are more ranged attacks to be weary of so the strategy of putting your back against a wall and mowing down anything that draws near doesn’t work as well. Some of my favorite fights were my encounters with the creepily intelligent Stalkers, Necromorphs that come in packs, tried to flank you and even hide behind cover. Thankfully, you now have a vaster (and more deadly) arsenal of badass weaponry at your disposal to help you unleash all sorts of pain on your unsuspecting foes.
I’ve touched on a few minor issues I have with this game, but when it comes to the multiplayer I have a few major problems with it. The biggest snag that keeps me from enjoying long sessions of hot Soldier on Necromorph action is the serious balance issues that still need to be resolved. There’s also the problem where the Necromorphs spend an inordinate amount of time spawning, something Left 4 Dead never figured out how to fix (though I still think we should play as the zombies while we wait to control something that’s useful). And finally, the objectives the humans have to complete are largely uninteresting and tend to revolve around ‘defend this’, ‘carry that’, or ‘survive here’. You have a massive space station, take advantage of it. These issues aren’t new, I just hoped they would’ve been resolved by the game’s release. I suppose that’s what patches are for, right?
It might sound like I hate the multiplayer, but I really don’t. I think it’s a great first step that needs a little polishing and a few tweaks here and there before it reaches its full potential. The Necromorphs are fun and unique enough to provide different experiences from one another, leveling up and customizing your character is a great touch and the level design in (most) of the levels is really good.
If the next game, which after the head-spinning conclusion is all but certain, modifies the online offering a bit and fixes a few things in the single-player it’ll be as close to perfect a game can get. Petty issues like not being able to use health packs on the ground when your inventory’s full, the inability to skip cinematics and some weapon balancing issues (the flamethrower still feels utterly worthless) might frustrate but they’ll never take away from the overall experience. And really, this time there are no load screens, so if tiny problems like that are what I have to put up with to get a seamless experience than I’m more than willing to deal with it.
The Final Word: Dead Space 2 is everything I hoped it would be, it’s scarier than its predecessor, has a handful of action sequences that’ll stand up to even the biggest blockbuster game and this is the type of game that’ll have you on the edge of your seat in your third playthrough.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Dead Space 2.