When last we left Isaac Clarke he had just survived the horrors of the Ishimura and his fate was uncertain. That’s about as specific as I can be without spoiling any of the original Dead Space’s plot, a title which you most certainly want to have played before delving into Dead Space 2. I’ve always regarded Dead Space as the Resident Evil of this generation –– a better contemporary version of Capcom’s original masterpiece. Much like Resident Evil, Dead Space creates an environment so consistent with a haunted house that it feels just like traversing one. My only concern was that there wasn’t much to build on after the first. I was wrong, dead wrong.
From the opening moments of Dead Space 2, where you will run through hallways and corridors strapped into a straight jacket, it’s clear that the series has evolved. This time around you won’t just jump during the occasional monster closet; this game messes with you. Developer Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood) has clearly observed gamers and taken note of our behaviors. You can get punished for going looting in random offshoot rooms or various other tasks including my personal favorite, not moving fast enough. Dead Space broke some of its immersion with the fact that when you cleared a room you were safe, at least for the time being. That isn’t always the case in Dead Space 2 and you’ll want to keep moving if you don’t want to get overwhelmed in certain situations. This hybrid between the traditional jump scares and the newfound tension of any situation creates a unique atmosphere for the sequel. Necromorphs, the enemies of the Dead Space universe, have also received an upgrade with the focus on getting at you from a distance. Whether through projectiles or heightened speed Isaac will need to make better use of his various weapons and stasis power to survive heavy ambushes. It all weaves together to create one scary-as-hell environment.
Aside from the enemies and sudden frights that populate Dead Space 2, the ambiance of the game is a key focus. For this reason I suggest everyone play this game at night, in the dark, preferably with surround sound. The visuals are gorgeous, allowing you to view and take in every environment to its fullest and most areas have a unique design. Instead of a cold spaceship in deep space, Isaac is now on the space station called The Sprawl. This new setting allows for a consistent change in scenery and the introduction of windows that can be broken, opening a vacuum to space. You can close the shutters to prevent yourself from being sucked out like the other necromorphs in the room, but only if you can shoot the hatch in time. Having an outbreak on The Sprawl is now an invasion of peoples’ homes instead of a work vessel, so expect to see eerie scenes as you explore destroyed bedrooms, schools and common areas.
What would a game that’s all about making you jump be without good sound design? Dead Space 2 knows exactly how to use sounds as effectively as visuals. You’ll hear the scraping of nails in the vents around you, steam panels and exhaust ports spew loud noise that made me jump a few times. This doesn’t even account for the actual encounters and horrible noises necromorphs make as they barrel towards you or sneak up from behind. Throughout the campaign the gameplay also changes up to keep things feeling fresh, again proving that Visceral is trying to prevent the drag and repetition of the original.
No solid campaign is complete without decent characterization and plot, another new direction that Dead Space 2 takes from the original. Isaac Clarke was a silent protagonist in Dead Space, his face hidden behind a mask suggesting that he is the player. This time around Isaac has a face and a voice, making him a new man, of sorts. Through the visions and experiences that the player now shares with Isaac, the drive to keep him alive is no longer about self preservation but rather protecting a character you empathize with. Along his journey he will come in contact with several colorful characters, this time actually interacting with them and removing that sense of isolation found in the original. It all works together to make the story more interesting and the need to get each person off The Sprawl alive much more valid. I always felt that the plot of the original was a little too complicated for the overall story arc, whereas this time around the plot is simple and focused making it easier to follow. By the end of the game you will encounter a few twists, tackle with insanity and a jaw dropping revelation. Be sure to wait until the end of the credits for an additional piece of plot you don’t want to miss.
Dead Space 2 is not without it’s flaws, as meager as they may be. The campaign is long, roughly 9-12 hours on normal difficulty, and some chapters seem to drag for an extended period of time. This was a discouraging problem with the first title where the middle chapters felt like a grind, but this time around it’s closer to the end of the game. Given the surprise element to the gameplay, many of the more challenging encounters will result in a quick death followed by an easy win because you now know where the ambush occurs. It makes Dead Space 2 seem a bit more unbalanced because it’s no longer about surviving the encounter, but rather dying and retrying with newfound knowledge.
I was also disappointed in the sparse boss battles. Dead Space had some heavy boss battles in terms of scale and performance, but these large battles of attrition have been scaled back to a few encounters that have some sort of gimmick to overcome. It cheapens the idea of taking down some big slimy monster and reducing it to knowing the right triggers in the environment or enemy. Don’t worry, though, you’ll be tense during any of the new boss battles, something missing from the original. While these flaws remind you that Dead Space 2 is still held down by aspects that remind you it’s only a game, the breaks are so few and far between you probably won’t care.
With so many replay options for the campaign, including a hardcore mode that features no checkpoints and a limit of only 3 saves, there’s not much of a reason to play multiplayer. Nonetheless, Dead Space 2 has it for those interested and it’s not completely without merit. Two teams of four are dropped into one of five maps, each relatively small so memorizing them won’t be difficult. Each team is assigned to either the humans or the necromorphs with humans trying to achieve a task and the necromorphs killing them to prevent said task's completion. Humans will all be characters resembling protagonist Isaac Clarke in various unlockable suits and necromorphs will be able to choose from four specific types. I heard comparisons to Left 4 Dead’s multiplayer, which save for a few specific details has nothing in common to Dead Space 2’s multiplayer, so dismiss that hope right away. It’s just a 4-on-4 killfest with teamwork and organization being the focus, but I have yet to encounter a team that is either organized or even communicates. In its current state, players jump in, kill people and move on. There are unlocked weapons and attacks as you level up, but it seemed like these features give longtime players an unfair advantage. Host advantage is also a problem –– one guy got mad that I had a higher score than him (we were on the same team) so he booted me. Hopefully some of this will be patched out, but for now it’s just a low-pressure way to wind down a night of playing the campaign.
Dead Space 2 creates a similar but unique expansion on the greatness of the original. While some of the tweaks were unnecessary, the intriguing plot and intense gameplay had me fighting to quit the addicting campaign each night. Not only that, upon finishing the campaign I immediately wanted to replay both games all over again, a rarity for me. Toss in the amusing but lackluster multiplayer and an HD remake of the Wii’s Dead Space: Extraction for those that got the limited or collector’s edition on PS3 and there’s a lot of game here. One of the earliest games of 2011 is already one of the most impressive of this generation. It’s good to have Dead Space back.
Replay Value: 8.0