Dead Space 2 was released just over a week ago, and after finally beating it on ‘survivalist’ mode (the third of five possibly difficult levels, the fourth being ‘zealot’ and the last promising to be so unimaginably hard, it wasn’t even unlocked yet) I finally have a well rounded opinion of the game.
When the original Dead Space first came out in October, 2008, I didn’t bother with it. I saw it on the shelves every day that I went to work, and yet I never saw anybody buy it. For some reason, it just didn’t look like anything amazing. It was another 4 months or so before I finally bothered to take a look at it, so I grabbed a pre-owned copy and gave it a try.
Holy shit. That was one scary game. The sci-fi, space story followed the protagonist Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer for the CEC, a corporation who specialize in ‘planet-cracking’, a method of resource harvesting that involves literally cracking planets open and stripping the valuable resources from inside of it. One of the CEC’s vessels – the USG Ishimura – went dark during a job, and because of the lack of communication from anywhere on board, a repair crew commissioned by the CEC shows up to find out what went wrong, with the assumption that it simply lost communications abilities. Enter, Isaac Clarke and those dastardly Necromorphs, monsters of mysterious origin that use the dead people on board as hosts.
It combined all the great elements of third person shooters, multiple suits and weapons, plus upgrades for everything, expandable inventory slots for carrying vital equipment, terrifying horror moments with gruesome combat, great physics and survival-essential dismemberment gameplay that was completely unique, and not to mention a pretty decent conspiracy story about aliens and the seriously messed up religious folk known as ‘Unitologists’. By the end, I was left wanting more. A lot more. So when Dead Space 2 was announced I couldn’t wait for it. Now I finally have it, and…
…it’s basically the same game. Don’t get me wrong, there’s enough cool new features and tweaks that make it an ultimately more impressive and more fun game to play.
Starting with the better…
The story picks up roughly 3 years after where Dead Space left off, and sees Isaac waking up in as a mental patient medical facility on the Sprawl, a huge city built into the side of a fragment of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Within about 1 minute of starting the game and having a very brief catch up, you are thrown headfirst into a life or death situation. No tedious walking around being a little bit scared to start with, you literally have a monster chomping at your face immediately. This was great. It meant I could get right on with blowing things to pieces again. Woop!
The zero-gravity moments from the first game, which involved pointing and clicking in a direction you wanted to ‘jump’ through the air to, where you would then land precisely where you had directed Isaac to go. This time, you can essentially fly. Miniature thrusters on Isaac’s new suit allow you to fly in any direction in zero-G situations, which makes for a really fun and sometimes rather disorientating new aspect to the gameplay.
Brand new are the breakable windows into space that are dotted around the station, which, when shot, create a powerful vacuum that sucks anything and everything out into the void of space, including monsters and yourself. If you don’t shoot the door-lock switch to close the window off, be prepared to see a gruesome scene with Isaac being brutally chopped in half by a giant metal door. Ouch.
The death animations in Dead Space 2 have been massively improved, and hugely gored-up. Don’t expect to see only your bog-standard, fleeting decapitations or limb severing moments when you die anymore; you will now be treated (or rather, disturbed) by the large number of brutal, gruesome, utterly horrific scenes showing delicious things such as a giant spike driving its way through Isaac’s screaming face, ripping his head off, and tearing his chest open and to shreds. Or how about a monster that grabs Isaac after a thorough beating, and proceeds to vomit acid all over his face, melting the very screaming expression off his face in the most horrific manner possible. And boy, these are only a few of the possible outcomes for playing badly.
Another addition to gameplay that added to the excitement and action of the game, (a non-essential but welcomed addition to an already working survival-horror format) was a handful of mind-blowing action scenes. For example, you might be walking down a train carriage while it is moving, when suddenly it is torn in half, and you find yourself ‘free falling’ down a zero-gravity chamber at 100-mph in only your suit, trying to catch the front half of the train, using your suit thrusters to guide Isaac around incoming debris and monsters all the while trying to reach safety. In another instance, you are blown out of a window into space, sucked out by the vacuum, bounce off the side of an attacking military gunship, launch yourself back into another window, only to be savagely attacked by a gigantic monster, who then punches you back into space, sending both of you slamming into the side of the gunship again, and followed swiftly by a bunch of explosions and lots of screams. Seriously, there are some utterly outstanding part-controlled action moments to be had, and every one of them is an enjoyable experience.
An interesting thing that was changed that I wasn’t so sure about at first was the balancing and tweaking of all the weapons. In the first game, you could quite happily and easily plow through the entire story with your plasma cutter, the first weapon you find and possibly the most powerful and efficient to maintain, too. By hoarding plasma energy and using your power nodes to upgrade only that gun, you could march through the story facing off against anything in your path without even breaking a sweat. This time, however, the plasma cutter is certainly not the best weapon to use all by itself. I found this out the hard way… But in all honesty, it adds a much needed level of difficulty and an actual need to be smart with your ammo and pick the right weapons for the right jobs. The flame thrower for example is a great tool for disposing of tiny spider monsters that gang up and tear you to shreds.
Another change that may disappoint at first – but then appear to be entirely necessary due to the flowing nature of the game – is that there aren’t actually many (or possibly even any) moments or places where you get to sort of have a look around a big area and explore all the nooks and crannies. Yes, you can still explore like you would expect, there are random rooms to go in with goodies to find, and corners that have little surprises and all that, but where in the first game there were elevators that could take you to multiple floors, and with all the backtracking you would often do where you could see different scenarios in previous locations (which was all well and good), when you are trying to traverse the Sprawl, it’s so gigantic and there are so many places to travel through as part of the story, that you will almost never go back to anywhere you already were. If you want to search an area for goodies, you will want to do it right there and then; there is practically never any going back, ever. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact it helps to keep the pace of the game going nicely, as there is always something new around the corner.
As a sequel, Dead Space 2 does the first game total justice, continuing where we left off and even giving us plenty of really neat homages and references to the original throughout, especially with the continuing the back story regarding Isaac’s sanity, and his life before the events of the USG Ishimura. The gameplay itself is definitely built upon and improved, and everything feels a lot more fluid and nicer control, with subtle yet noticeable changes made to the feel and look of a lot of controls and animations. The visuals are, as ever, outstanding, and the sound effects were the cause of around 100+ jumps and scares, which also quite worryingly spilled out into the real world, where I would jump and shout at the sound of my girlfriend opening a door behind me. Though it isn’t necessarily a terrifying game in the mind-altering, head-fuck sense, the tension and paranoia that your just can’t help but want more of.
I haven’t mentioned the multiplayer side to the game in this review, because I haven’t actual had any luck connecting to the EA servers via Xbox Live to actually get into any games. But my Xbox has been known to struggle with a lot of online gaming since I moved house, so I wouldn’t actually put that down to the fault of the game or EA themselves. Sadly, this means I have no opinion on the multiplayer, but in all honesty, the single player game itself is completely independent from the multiplayer and if you only want it for the the solo play, its definitely worth every single penny.
I strongly recommend playing the original Dead Space before you play the sequel, but should you not really care, there is in fact a neat little ‘Previously on Dead Space’ button you can hit on the main menu to get a nice swift catch up on the story.
Get this game, because it’s brilliant.