Review: Dead Space 2
Three years after the first game, Dead Space 2 reacquaints you with engineer Isaac Clarke, who has apparently lost his damned mind. Waking up from a drug induced slumber, he finds himself being rescued from his cell in the asylum by a character whose name I never cared to learn as he dies faster than an action movie cop who’s one week from retirement. Players then control Isaac’s straitjacketed ass and flee the asylum as its residents turn into horrible monsters and take chase. In Dead Space, Isaac was essentially his companions’ work bitch as they’d send him off to do every little errand while they sat in a cozy control room somewhere. (I never understood why the other members of the repair team weren’t wearing repair suits and wielding laser cutters as well.)
Sorry, I have my own flashlight.
Instead, in Dead Space 2, Isaac wants to get his ass off of this shithole of a space colony before its one million plus population all turn into monsters and start forcibly inserting things into his body. Dead Space had players wandering around levels and then returning to a subway car/save hub and watching a long loading screen as the next level or “chapter” began. Dead Space 2 flows fluidly, rarely breaking the pace of the gameplay with cutscenes doubling as transitions between areas. On the other hand, Isaac’s ass gets shot out into space and then slammed into another part of the station so many times in this game that I was genuinely surprised when I finally got the chance to board an elevator.
Fans of the first game will either be annoyed or thrilled to find that Dead Space 2 has changed quite a lot of gameplay mechanics while sticking to the core gameplay that initially attracted fans. For starters, the useless map was thrown away and the controls were redone. Reloading and picking up items have their own buttons now, as do Healing and Isaac’s Stasis and Kinesis powers. It’s a little tweak, but it means that players no longer have to frantically fiddle with the controls while trying to both pick up and use a healing item and fight off a horde of monsters. There are a few new weapons to play with, but you most likely will never use them as the game can easily be beaten using only the Plasma Cutter (the default weapon) and the Ripper (the Dead Space version of a chainsaw).
The Zero-G areas of the game make a comeback but rather than jumping from wall to wall, the game actually tries to mimic the effects of a low-gravity environment by letting Isaac zip around through space using jets built into his suit. The levels are darker, the flashlight is brighter, and most of the annoying mini-games (like the asteroid shooting game from Dead Space) are gone. The list of improvements just goes on and on.
Oh sweet merciful God, it’s actually good!
While Dead Space 2 is golden when compared to its predecessor, it’s still the same damned game in many fundamental and unpleasant ways. Dead Space wanted to be a spooky horror title like System Shock 2 and it failed miserably. Dead Space 2 though, has come to terms with the fact that it will never be a suspenseful or scary game and has opted instead to go with the action horror/gorefest genre. This isn’t Silent Hill in space; instead, it’s a mix of Hellraiserand Aliens. Monsters will still jump out at you, but at least this time they won’t do it from the other side of the room and give you two minutes to get ready for the attack.
The downside though is that much of the core gameplay mechanics that made up the original make their return in the sequel. Dead Space 2 sticks with the Resident Evil system of forcing tension by artificially restricting weapon usage. Players are limited in their options by a restrictive inventory and ridiculously small item stack sizes for ammunition. This mechanic felt somewhat idiotic in the first game, and it continues in this one. The disappointing result is rather than run or struggle to balance a multitude of weapon choices, players will most likely just ignore all but 2 or 3 of the weapons and sell the others off for more ammunition. After beating both Dead Space games, I can honestly say that I never once used half of the weapons the game offered. It just never felt like a worthwhile trade.
The first time you ever see this gun in action, it proves ineffective and results in the messy deaths of 2 soldiers. How is that supposed to make me want to use the damned thing?
The greatest strength of Dead Space 2 is its setting and thus the atmosphere that it generates. In Dead Space, I never actually gave a damn about the USG Ishimura. It was a floating shithole filled with monsters, bastards, and way too many dead babies. Speaking of which, why the hell did a mining ship need a gigantic prenatal/artificial gestation lab? The Sprawl on the other hand is teeming with life, which makes it all the more horrifying to witness as it’s ripped apart by alien space zombies. As Isaac sneaks through a residential area you can hear people boarding up their doors and crying from help within their apartments. You sometimes hear distant fighting and screaming, and although you are not alone, you feel that there’s not a damned thing you can do to help anyone other than yourself.
Story wise, Dead Space 2 makes no damned sense whatsoever. There’s a new Marker that’s apparently causing problems but then they never actually explain why or how the hell the monsters actually got aboard the space station. I still have no idea what “Convergence” is. After beating the game I actually had to go online to the Dead Space Wiki in order to understand what the hell was going on, and even then the answers weren’t clear. Is the Marker good or evil? What does it want? Where are these monsters coming from? And why they hell does the government want the artifact?
The story confused me so much that I actually went out and bought a copy of Dead Space again (which was the only game I’ve sold back to the store in the last 3 years) just so that I might understand what’s going on. In other words, Dead Space 2 is compelling and interesting enough to make me play the pile of crap that is Dead Space.
I bought it new from them for $60, they bought it back for $5 and then resold it for $40. How the hell is THAT fair?
So is Dead Space 2 worth your time and money? Yes, oh gods, yes. It’s not an amazing game that redefines the survival horror genre, but it’s a well-designed and well-crafted work of art that provides a genuinely enjoyable gaming experience. And rather than ending after a single playthrough, you have the option to play the game again with New Game Plus (start again with all of the items from the last playthrough). There’s also a new multiplayer mode in which players race to complete objectives as either Sprawl Security Officers or Necromorphs. If you’re interested in playing a good, mature game and you’re a fan of Resident Evil style survival horror, then Dead Space 2 might be perfect for you. If you’re not sure, I’d recommend renting it first though. Otherwise, I recommend you Buy It.