The horror game genre has become increasingly stagnate over the years. Resident Evil was the original, and while I have loved the later incarnations, they rarely give you that sense of tension we got when they first released. Visceral Games changed all that with their excellent Dead Space. The sequel is finally here and while some were concerned the team couldn’t strike gold twice, I am here to inform you that this is definitely not the case. DS2 is a carefully constructed sequel that takes all that made the original so good and improves it in almost every aspect. Oh yeah, and it is once again scary as hell.
Dead Space 2 sees the return of Isaac Clark. It has been three years since the incidents on the USG Ishimura and our hero has been through a lot. He awakens on a massive space station known as the Sprawl with no recollection of what happened. Isaac’s mind has been twisted and torn from the events of the first game and as you progress you slowly uncover the darkness stored within. The game never fails to keep you interested in what is going to happen next, and the sequences where Isaac starts to lose it are a large part of the intrigue.
The first game was great at playing with your mind in the sense of terror. Some people were concerned the second would rest on its laurels and predictability would set in. That is certainly not the case because playing through the sequel I was ten times tenser than the first, and I knew what to expect. Visceral Games has done an outstanding job of pacing DS2. The action moments are just long enough to satisfy, the scares are performed at perfect intervals and the story keeps you interested until the very end; even if I still am not exactly sure of all that happened.
While the story is a fantastic setting, it is the changes in pacing and gameplay that really stand out in this sequel. Instead of the claustrophobic confines of one ship, you are now set free in the Sprawl. This station is massive and plays host to plenty of scenarios including public areas, nurseries, gymnasiums and even a blast from the past that I simply cannot spoil. The game really opens up the playing field for the player. I found myself tapping the waypoint marker to see which way I was supposed to go; and then heading in the opposite direction to explore. Surprisingly the game sometimes throws an encounter at you when you do explore making it all the more tense and unpredictable.
Anyone familiar with the original title knows that Isaac can definitely handle his own. Combat here in the sequel is not so much a revolution as it is an evolution. Isaac has access to plenty of new weapons and his movement, aiming and powers have been tweaked just enough to matter. Weapons of choice again consist of plasma weapons that can slice your necromorph adversaries into pieces. This is again key to your survival and it is immensely satisfying as well. Using the line gun to shred through a wall of enemies is an experience hard to match. There are also a few new weapons at your disposal such as the javelin gun that can pin enemies to walls and the detonator rifle that can lay mines behind you to keep the baddies from sneaking up on you. Overall the firepower in the game is substantial enough to at least give you a sense of security.
Tension might be the key word when describing Dead Space 2. Rarely do my palms sweat or do I grip the controller with a sense of meaning, but when I move room-to-room within the Sprawl I am constantly on my guard. Yes there is a run button, and I rarely ever used it for the simple fact that I had no idea what I would be running into. This experience is hard to match and also what makes Dead Space sort of the new standard when it comes to horror/action games. Playing on normal difficulty and above gives you less and less ammo and health, which makes every encounter a challenge.
The upgrade mechanic is still in place and again it is recommended that you focus on one thing at a time if you intend to upgrade fully. Nodes are scattered around the levels or you can purchase them at the shop for 10,000 credits. Each node allows you to piece together an upgrade schematic in order to add damage, capacity and more to your weapons and suits. Speaking of suits there are a whole new set of tin cans for Isaac to wear which also give him various bonuses such as the hacker suit that drops the difficulty of the hacking mini-game, or other suits which give bonus damage to certain weapons. There is tons of things to buy and upgrade within the game, so much in fact that one play through of the game is certainly not enough to see it all.
In addition to the campaign Visceral has also decided to throw in an online mode. There are five maps and only a couple modes and none of them ever seem to get off the ground. It becomes your typical monsters vs. humans where the monsters do little damage and the humans have to manage to perform objectives around the maps. I honestly see people giving this a quick look and then going back to the core game. Just another example of how games like this truly don’t need online to be worthy of a purchase.
From a presentation standpoint this game is amazing. Forget the fact that the Sprawl is massive and the visuals are incredibly detailed. Character animations are stellar and the many deaths of Isaac can definitely turn your stomach. Watching blood and body parts float in zero gravity is incredible and I still love the fact that the entire HUD is literally on your character. The immersion is unmatched. Sound is equally impressive with vacuums rushing all of the air out and hearing only your breath, to the sounds of the Stalkers as they move all around you waiting to strike. The voice acting is decent. I like that Isaac finally has a voice of his own. The music and effects are top notch and round out a package that simply drips with production value.
DS2 is chock full of tense moments, but some truly stand out. The first encounter with the Stalkers, your trip through the nursery and especially the final chapter all define just how amazing this experience is. Even with the disappointing multi-player this is one game you simply must own if you are a fan of the genre. I cannot stress enough how incredible the campaign of Dead Space 2 really is. If you even liked the first one, the sequel is a must own on so many levels. The tension will have you gripping the controller and sitting on the edge of your seat for its entirety. An early candidate for my top ten of 2011, and certainly an experience not to be missed.
Review copy provided by publisher.