Dead Space 2 Review

Dead Space 2

Pins and needles — a gravelly floor panel rumbles, Isaac Clarke falters, his flashlight swinging at shapes in the dark. He breathes — mangled power cells hiss and spit sparks, Isaac’s respite, another door, obscured by this technological puzzle. He hears an unexpected crash. Helpless, Isaac falls and twists in heaps of crushed metal beams and tortured human forms. The click of an empty clip, then panic — Isaac is surrounded and alone.

Since the Ishimura was first infected in 2008, Dead Space‘s fan base has grown so significantly that the full-fledged sequel entered the market with a big leg up on its predecessor, as well as a higher bar to reach. Gamers clamored for more guts, more shrieks, more mutilated monster babies, and Visceral promised to deliver. Does Dead Space 2 live up to the inflated expectation? Is it truly survival-horror or is it some action-horror bastard child? Simply, is it a good game? Take a walk in the protagonist’s shoes to find out.

dead space 2

A low, thick gurgle pours from the floor, maybe the ceiling. The Unitologist Church unfolds dimly lit room after spiral-shaped pillar. Isaac (the player) is compelled onward by curiosity, maybe fear. The train wreck has winded him — dangling by a loose wire, only a small arsenal between him and the infected hordes of twisted, fleshy nightmares. Which ones are even real? The hallucinations have intensified, his long-dead Nicole invading the space station around him. “Make us whole again, Isaac.” He’s seen this before, knows it’s not real. Does it matter?

Dead Space 2 rests heavily on the theme of loss, appropriate given the amount of limbs aliens lose all across The Sprawl, the game’s futuristic setting on Saturn’s moons, Titan. Isaac is losing his mind and trying not to lose the memory of Nicole, the Unitologists are losing Isaac, and the plot (not the story, necessarily) revolves around being found. In this way, DS2 is an evolution, achieved mostly by the addition of a fully-voiced protagontist. Isaac Clarke drives the decisions in the plot and delivers a performance that communicates the sense of unwilling deprivation, striking an emotional chord. Isaac’s journey certainly has a different feel from the first game in the first six or seven chapters, while the station is going to hell. Then, it’s dismemberment as usual, with a twist (also, strangely, as usual).

Like its predecessor, however, DS2 serves up heaps of thick, dripping, creepy, nostalgic (just wait ’til Chapter 10), dark, putrid atmosphere peppered with novelistic levels of detail about the station and its inhabitants. Environments tend to be bigger in the sequel, and filled with more color (i.e. sharp contrast with the dark corners), but the formula for scares remains largely unaltered: dark hallways, the creepiest soundtrack since Resident Evil 4, and loud startles aplenty that keep the player on edge. Probably the biggest contributor to the horror atmosphere is the downtime; when Isaac hacks a console or examines a barren environment, the player’s tension mounts.

Following the guidance of the aggressive female voice over the radio, Isaac lumbers, slouched, through the echoing halls of the church. His plasma gun at the ready, the door unlocks with a familiar tone, foreboding and sickening. Surprise — a deserted room housing one window and four desks. Two cracked doors adorn the side walls, one glowing red. He enters the room on the right, kinesis panels lining one wall, the other a window to the previous room. He raises his hand to force the panels clear, exposing patterned computing cubes, a growl growing in the surrounding air. Parts suspended in air, necromorphs burst through the vents into the adjacent room. It’s the only way he can proceed. Isaac slides open the door to face the onslaught, but the necromorphs have vanished. Stepping across the room, he is reminded of the of their cunning, malicious nature. The sharp, oblong appendages of what once were citizens of The Sprawl emerge from every nook of the small, cramped room, consuming Isaac’s field of vision. He looks towards space.

dead space 2

A fair amount of argument surrounds the developer’s categorization of DS2 as a survival horror game, given the high-action segments and empowering element of the widely variant, robust weapon set. While the first chapter falls easily into survival horror (helpless, alone, and horrified), after discovering Isaac’s basic toolkit, including kinesis, stasis, and the plasma cutter, necromorphs can individually but cut down with relative ease. Building Isaac’s arsenal thereafter not only adds a strategy element but a heavy shooter quality, where conservation of ammo and appropriate weapon choice make all the difference. Exploding babies in a nursery? Plasma Rifle. The Pack near a derelict mining craft? The Ripper. A season for all things.

The high-action segments in DS2, many on rails (like the tentacle segments in DS1), straddle a unique line by allowing the player some dexterous control while completely taking away all else. Although diehard horror junkies will likely be disappointed by the addition of the adrenaline rush train sequence or the airship vs. Isaac vs. gorillamorph segment from the demo, these moments are, with childlike frankness, freaking awesome. It’s nearly perfect integration of the ideas that fueled Uncharted 2 and DS1, polished to an impressive shine. Yes, this means certain parts of the game won’t deliver pants-pissing terror, but rather blockbuster stunt/shooter intensity.

The unassuming docking bay hangs like a graveyard between Isaac and Ellie. Freight boxes sit at jagged angles, clearly shoved apart by some manner of infected human. Isaac turns his head, the glow from his helmet illuminating the blood smeared on one crate. He takes one step forward, then stops. He hears that high-pitched croak and checks his ammo — low as usual. The barrage begins with deceptive timidity. A Stalker peers from behind a crate to his sharp left. He swings around just as it charges, screaming its curdling, grating cry. He fires a quick stasis blast and it narrowly misses. The creature plows into him, knocking him to the ground as quickly as it hides away behind another crate. Another Stalker peeks from behind the crate directly in front as Isaac gets up. Then another. Soon five sets of eyes are crawling in faux-innocence from their rest. “Reload, now.”

dead space 2

For all its nail-biting intensity, brilliantly choreographed chills and pacing, and excellent zero-gravity romps (full 360 degree movement helps), it can’t escape the curse of tacked-on multiplayer. To be clear, the multiplayer is fun, just not nearly as much as the single-player mode. Granted, the single-player adventure clocks in at just enough time to still be great without dragging, so adding to that mode wouldn’t prove useful, but the Dead Space franchise has focused on quality products instead of “market-driven” products, so the multiplayer seems to fall outside of its philosophy. The experience of playing as a necromorph does have gimmicky satisfaction similar to Left 4 Dead 2, but that novelty is about all the satisfaction it offers. The franchise was built on strong narratives, horror atmospheres that exude immersion, and the unexpected. The single-player game has it in spades. Multiplayer does not.

Fortunately, with DS2‘s new game plus system and a Hard Core difficulty fit only for the most sober of survival-horror veterans, the single-player campaign provides more than enough game for newcomers and fans alike. While it would greatly enrich the story to have played DS1, there’s a “Previously on Dead Space” video on the menu that can catch up even the greenest of space engineers. DS2 combines the best of a myriad of genres, borrowing ideas from other AAA titles that, when implemented in the Dead Space universe, take on a life of their own. The story is enthralling, the ending is just complete enough, and don’t even mess with Chapter 13. Take the multiplayer for what it is — a fun digression from the enthralling action on The Sprawl — and DS2 comfortably sits waiting for the other Game of the Year nominees for 2011.

Isaac let them in; he had to. There’s still so much he doesn’t know about the Marker, about himself. It’s the only one with answers now. Tiedemann can go to hell. What was it he heard back in the Medical Bay, back before Ellie and Stross and Daina and… oh yeah: “We’ll all burn for what we did to you, Isaac.”


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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