2011 looks like it could be one of the best years in gaming history, and Dead Space 2 starts that year right. Taking what made the original a scarily good reinvention of the action-horror genre while adding enough to keep things interesting, Dead Space 2 is an incredibly polished experience that falls just short of true greatness.
Space is still pretty scary
The first Dead Space did so many things right that only fools would completely turn their backs on that winning formula even if the original wasn’t the massive success it could have been. Fortunately Dead Space 2’s developers know what they’re doing, as the newest entry in the series builds on the foundation rather than tear it all down.
Picking up three years after the last game, Isaac finds himself trapped in the space colony the Sprawl as all hell has broken loose. Isaac has to slowly make his way through the city in hopes of finding out what happened and living long enough to escape his horrible circumstances. The hideous Necromorphs have returned too, and are just as eager to rip apart any living thing that stands in their way, while possibly hiding in every poorly lit corner of the city.
The core combat of Dead Space is pretty much unchanged, which is fine with us. The expertly done third-person camera meshes well with each new weapon you find, be it the standard Plasma Cutter or the crazy awesome Javelin Gun. The armory may not be incredibly deep, but each weapon has its uses and you’ll find yourself picking your favorite loadouts for blasting off the limbs of your enemies. The standard enemy types strike a pretty good balance between beatable one-on-one and pretty darn challenging when four or more show up. The newer baddies add some much needed depth to the returning roster, making most of your encounters with them pretty fresh throughout the game.
The game’s visual aesthetic only improves the combat, as there’s technically no HUD DS2, just like last time. Health, ammo, inventory, and waypoints are all mapped to Isaac’s suit in-game in a way that makes sense within the futuristic universe while simultaneously keeping the screen clear of anything that could get in the way of scaring the crap out of you. It makes for an immersive experience and keeps the intensity at a constant high, since you can’t take a virtual breather outside of quitting the game.
Dead Space 2 has some of the most perfectly realized atmosphere in gaming thanks to a focus not only on the great graphical detail of each forbidding surrounding, but on the audio landscape of each area too. Is that sound a monster creeping up on you or just a piece of metal rolling around? Isn’t it a little too quiet in the eerily empty auditorium? The musical score of DS2 is well implemented, naturally building during a heated confrontation, and then slowly calming down as you relax until HOLY SHIT THERE’S ANOTHER ONE BEHIND YOU!!!
Of course you can act like a tough guy and say, “no game scares me, I’m no wuss!” It’s true, if you’re dead set against something fictional not scaring you, then it probably won’t, but if you let Dead Space 2 in, it’s one of the more terrifying games around. Many of its scares are predictably based around a monster appearing when you least expect it, but DS2 gets the most fright mileage out of the anticipation of that monster appearing. This time around there’s no break between chapters which creates a steady intensity throughout, as the game rarely gives you a chance to breath. Maybe some will see Isaac’s journey as overly linear, but that direction is welcome as many games focus more on a plethora of choices instead of perfectly planned out ride.
The only things that deflate that intensity are the occasional difficulty spikes along the way. It’s a tricky equilibrium creating enemies that challenge you while at the same time being ultimately beatable, which Dead Space 2 manages most of the time. Still, on our normal playthrough there were enough times where we’d have to die and restart that replaced fear with frustration. But those were infrequent enough in the more 11-hour-long game that it didn’t ruin the whole endeavor.