2008’s Dead Space was a breath of fresh air for the sci-fi, survival horror genre. The strategic dismemberment of your alien Necromorph foes was ridiculously satisfying. Gone were the standard-fare weapons that litter modern shooters. Dead Space introduced the ‘Plasma cutter’, the ‘Ripper’, the ‘Force Gun’.
Looking back, Dead Space is probably one of my most played titles. Including my most recent run through ‘Impossible’ difficulty, I’ve run through the original five times.
Fast-forward to 2011 and Visceral Games have delivered the sequel, Dead Space 2. Naturally, it has been a highly anticipated title for me. After the original, it’s had a lot to live up to as well.
Once again we join Isaac Clarke, but this time in a hospital on the ‘Sprawl'; a huge out-world city and planet-cracking base constructed on the remaining shard of Saturn?s moon, Titan.
Strapped into a straitjacket and robbed of the last three years of memory, he awakens to Franco (from Dead Space Ignition), attempting to free him.
Necromorphs have overrun the complex. We take control of Isaac, struggling to escape the wave of Necromorph invasion and to make sense of what is happening, where he is, what he’s missed – and ultimately, to escape the Sprawl.
Dead Space 2 has a significantly different feel to the original. With Dead Space, you got that sinking feeling you were alone on the USG Ishimura. At most, a handful of survivors were left walking the halls of the ship – and you never really saw them, most conversation was handled over video comms. As such, the ‘survival’ part of the horror was much more forefront to the game play.
With the sequel, we know Isaac’s been here and done this before. He’s an expert on dismembering Necromorphs, he’s got no problem dispatching an army of them when they appear. And he’s accompanied by numerous people and companions throughout the Sprawl. For these reasons, the level of anxiety you experience in Dead Space 2 just isn’t at the height it was in the original.
It’s been replaced with a number of new introductions however; Isaac’s mind is shot. He’s been out of action for three years, the guilt of Nicole’s death and the events surrounding the Marker play tricks on his mind. His conscience is haunted. On numerous occasions throughout the game, we listen in on disturbing conversations Isaac is essentially having with himself. We see hallucinations, dreadful images that shake Isaac’s mental foundations.
The battle is not as much with the Necromorphs as it is with himself.
This is not to say the game hasn’t changed, even the Necromorphs themselves have evolved and we see new enemy types emerging throughout the Sprawl. One such enemy, the ‘Stalker’, I can only liken to a Velociraptor. They are incredibly fast, they are pack hunters, they use the shadows to their advantage – and you can hear their frightful screams a mile away.
There are a number of new weapons and suits at Isaac’s disposal. The Detonator is a proximity mine launcher, which allows you to conveniently set up laser trip wires, particularly useful against enemies like the Stalker. Suits also change Isaac’s appearance significantly, with four major suit classes on offer (and further improvements on New Game+).
The upgrade system has been tweaked slightly, though it still relies on the acquisition of Nodes (either by collection within the game world or purchasing at the Store) for progression. You now have a ‘reclaim’ action, which, for 5000 credits, can recoup all of the Power Nodes from a weapon or suit, immediately placing them back in your inventory so you can reassign them to a new weapon. Handy if you choose to focus on a newly acquired pickup later in the game.
There’s still a major reliance on playing through the game two or three times to upgrade everything though – and especially early in the game, credits and Nodes are quite sparse (this is made up for in the latter half of the game).
Deaths are a lot more gruesome this time around. Due in part to the fact that there are a lot more environmental hazards in Dead Space 2 as well. Should a beam from your Plasma Cutter happen to go astray, it might find its way through a non-safety piece of glass, blowing out the room and rapidly de-pressurising the area. If you’re not quick enough, or your aim is too poor, you’ll get sucked out and crushed in the security door.
Control events (almost quicktime events, without the button coordination) also highlight the gruesome deaths on offer. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s a tremendously horrid scenario near the end of the game involving Isaac’s eye that – trust me – you should fail at least once on purpose.
There are some amazing deep space sections, plus plenty of use of the fantastic zero-gravity mechanics (Isaac’s suits are now fitted with thrusters, allowing him to move about zero-grav/deep space without restriction – and it is superb) as well as some all-new set pieces like the Halo Jump we all saw in the early trailers for example.
The approach to level design has also changed considerably in Dead Space 2. Whereas the original incorporated a lot of backtracking and unlocking previously locked doors, or re-canvassing areas to do tasks not available before, the Sprawl offers a lot more option. You find yourself progressing through hospital wings, engineering sectors, shopping malls, garbage disposal facilities, deep-space radar arrays.
Dead Space 2 is vastly more linear than its predecessor, perhaps not to some people’s liking, but it awards the player with less recycling of environments and reduced confusion in navigating areas.
Visceral Games said early in development that Dead Space 2 would be more about action than suspense – and indeed, there’s more action. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels as though this ‘action’ is just there to extend the game play time beyond the actual game content. Instead of new rooms to explore and new puzzles to solve (the latter of which are far more sparse in Dead Space 2 as well), you are often inundated with wave upon wave of Necromorphs, to the point of overwhelming.
As a result, both the suspense and anxiety of the first game is diminished. There’s less of the genuine scares and less actual fear of what’s around the next corner. Enter room, get swarmed with Necros, enter next room, get swarmed with more Necros – and so on and so forward.
It is a minor nitpick and a brutal generalisation, but towards the end of the game you do feel that the game has been ‘extended’ somewhat with abundant enemy spawns.
Additionally, there’s now a multiplayer mode on offer. You pair up with friends and randoms to form two teams, either Human or Nercomorph. Humans have the goal of escaping the facility, Necromorphs have the responsibility of not allowing that to happen. There’s a small selection of maps on offer and generally the action is pretty constant and exciting. One map in particular, Solar Array, works very well. Necromorphs do take a bit of getting used to, learning the specific ability of each Necro-type and using it effectively against the Humans, but once you’re experienced, it’s quite enjoyable.
The multiplayer definitely has the ‘tacked on’ feel, it’s fairly light on features and apart from a level-up system to extract a bit more time from the online component, it may get old – but early impressions at least were fun.
Graphics & Sound
Graphically, Dead Space 2 is quite reminiscent of its predecessor. Many environments are similar to the halls and pressure-door exchanges of the USG Ishimura – and even the Sprawl itself is massively underused – for a significant part of the game, you could almost be convinced you were walking around in the first game again. Of course, this comes part-and-parcel with the sci-fi, space station theme.
Dead Space 2 is darker however; there are moments when you’ll find yourself in complete blackness. Spin the camera around and the only light sources come from Isaac’s suit. Sounds and screams emanate from all directions. It aims to terrify you. Moments later, power comes back on and you’re washed back into the sterile, metal world of the Sprawl. You often have to rely on just your flashlight for direction in blacked-out areas within the Sprawl.
The dead silence of deep space sections chill, especially when you can’t ascertain exactly where attacks are originating from. There’s plenty of use of ambient noises, creaks and groans around the sprawl, often hard to differentiate from the moans and screams of Necromorphs moving behind the walls and in distant areas. The score is perfect too.
Isaac’s voice is good – great even. It’s a fantastic addition having Isaac actually voiced in this one. The dialogue presented to in-game characters varies much from the dialogue we hear inside Isaac’s head, his inner conversations and bouts of insanity privy only to us.
The audio in general continues the superb immersion we came to expect in Dead Space.
Game play is more action packed, movement and combat has been sharpened, there are more game play mechanics on offer, Necromorphs are more furious, more cunning and Isaac is more confident, even while struggling with his own inner demons and hallucinations.
On typing, I’m on my third play-through, literally back-to-back. I can’t put it down. The campaign is absolutely captivating and thoroughly enjoyable.
It’s a slightly different direction for the Dead Space franchise, but it works. And it is brilliant.