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Dead Space 2 review

AT A GLANCE
  • Well-realized, constant intensity
  • A bigger and better plot than the original
  • Dismembering the crap out of Necromorphs
  • Some brutal difficulty spikes
  • Occasionally repetitive
  • Doesn't build enough on the first game

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.

We’ve got some new tricks up our space suits

So developer Visceral Games seemed to remember everything that made the first game great, what about those additions to the foundation we mentioned all those paragraphs ago? The biggest difference this time around is how everything feels much bigger than before. There are a few action set pieces in the game that feel more like Uncharted 2 than Dead Space, but they ultimately fit the modified tone of the series.

An early example is an amazing train battle unlike anything seen in the first game. So much is happening at once you need fast reflexes while keeping your eyes glued to the screen throughout. Just when you think it’s over some new twist comes to the sequence and when it finally is done, you exhale the breath you’ve been holding during the entire scene. There are several more like it, but not enough as to completely change the flavor of the game.

Many of the best set pieces involve the more harrowing boss battles of the game, though many can’t really be classified like a boss battle in the truest sense. A few are based around fighting some new enemy type that is overwhelming you now, but eventually you get used to them and then they start popping up all over the place. Other climactic moments are just based around you fighting a whole bunch of Necromorphs at once and narrowly surviving. The more traditional boss fights are few, but are pretty special when they happen, though personally DS2’s final battle is a little lacking when compared to the finale of the first game.

Sequences like the train’s also make things more varied this time around, as do the many different settings. We loved searching the Ishimura in the first game, but after a while looking at the same guts of the ship got a little stale. Since DS2 takes place in a city, you see many more unique areas that have a new spin on trying to scare the shit out of you. We don’t want to ruin them all for you, but probably the scariest to us was slowly searching an apartment and coming upon the bloody and eerily calm nursery. It gives us chills just thinking about it.

The Zero-G portions of the game are great too. In certain areas Isaac can leave the ground and more or less fly around an open area. These sections have a similarly slow pace to the rest and are usually based around solving some puzzle before your oxygen runs out. The Zero-G also shakes things up by the virtue of those areas normally being incredibly big and open, a real change from the cramped quarters inside the Sprawl.

The only complaint about the setting is that originality in area design fades away some in the last couple hours. Sure, the areas are still well-designed, but they aren’t different enough from all the other parts of the dying space colony you’ve seen already, though it picks up again in the homestretch. Overall these additions don’t make DS2 monumentally different from the original, but it does keep everything fresh.


Who is Isaac Clarke?

Out of everything that changes in Dead Space 2, series hero Isaac is the one that has the most major transformation, and that change reminds us of Sigourney Weaver (stick with us here). Anyone who played the brilliant original knows the series owes more than a little to the Alien films. And just as Dead Space’s survivor protagonist and sterile hallways of a seemingly empty ship were similar to Alien, Dead Space 2 ramps up the action in a ruined city full of deadly creatures just like Aliens. Isaac goes on a similar journey to Alien’s Ripley too, from scared victim to tough ‘morph killer once he’s given a purpose outside of just living through the day.


Above: Just saying…

We don’t want to spoil too much of the first game, but even though Isaac successfully lived through it, he lost everything but his life. He starts in such a low place in DS2’s too-cool-to-reveal opening that he can only go up. As Isaac gets out of his haze and finds just the smallest sliver of hope to hold on to, you watch his character grow over the course of the game and you end up empathizing with him much more this time. Despite what some early coverage may have led you to believe, Isaac hasn’t become a Jason Statham or Master Chief-type action star, he’s just more confident.


Above: Isaac’s new friends (or are they?)

This connection is really facilitated by Isaac finally using his vocal cords. The whole silent hero thing was cool the first time, but now Isaac is a more active part of his own adventure. Instead of the repetitive nature of the original, as Isaac is told to travel to some new area to fix something else, he talks over decisions with whoever is telling him where to go, or he just decides on his own what to do next. Isaac won’t make a Top 7 list of most engrossing characters, but his characterization was easily good enough to keep us interested.


Above: Isaac has some personal baggage he needs to deal with

Isaac’s tale is about internal and external struggle as he slowly has to deal with his issues from the original. This usually manifests itself in pretty clever ways (see above), even if it gets a little repetitive towards the end. However, by that conclusion you feel like something really happened, which is a nice variation as part twos these days seem more interested in setting up part three than telling a good narrative. Here you’ll get a complete story, disregarding some Metal Gear-style teasers at the very end of the credits.


Be scared together

The campaign is a very fulfilling experience, one you’ll probably feel compelled to give a second run as soon as you beat it the first time, but that’s not enough in today’s game economy. Dead Space 2 adds the requisite multiplayer, which fortunately Visceral didn’t treat like an afterthought. With a set-up that works so well for Left 4 Dead, the online battles are based around four-on-four, humans versus monsters battles.

That may seem a little limiting, but just as concentrating on a great linear story helped the campaign, keeping the multiplayer focused to a handful of maps keeps the gameplay quality high. Human teams have set goals to complete in each map and are the more powerful side, but the Necromorphs just need to keep killing the humans to win and they respawn much faster. We had a fair share of intense fights online, and could see it being more than just a distraction. Though it almost certainly won’t get the following of Call of Duty, it’s tasty gravy on top of a great package.


Is it better than…

Dead Space? Yes. It doesn’t put the original to shame, but it addressed of the few complaints, somewhat brightened the at times oppressively dark tone, and has some pretty nice multiplayer on top of that. Plus Dead Space 2 is a little clearer in its storytelling, not demanding you read up on tons of ancillary information to grasp the universe.

 



Resident Evil 5? Yes. Aside from the forum-baiting, “you can shoot a gun and walk at the same time in Dead Space 2,” DS2 just feels more modern. It understands the changes to games that have happened and tries to innovate, whereas RE5, while fun, felt like a half-step of progress at best.

 

BioShock 2? No, but it’s pretty close. Personally we find DS2’s multiplayer more compelling, but BioShock 2 was just a little bit better overall. The characters were more interesting, the shooter gameplay more varied, our emotional connection to the story deeper, and BioShock 2’s quality was more of a pleasant surprise.

 


Just for you, Metacritic!

Keeping almost everything that made the original great while taking suitable steps to amp up the fun, Dead Space 2 will please both the series’ fans and those just starting with this haunting adventure.

Jan 25, 2011

More Info

Release date: Jan 25 2011 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (US)
Jan 28 2011 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iPhone
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Visceral Games
Franchise: Dead Space
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
PEGI Rating:
18+

46 comments

  • jok3rxfear - May 10, 2011 6:37 a.m.

    Just finished this game last night. Apart from some very boring objectives between the game, I give it a solid 8/10.
  • Sevej - February 16, 2011 12:46 a.m.

    Just finished on normal (too old for harder difficulties lol)... awesome game. I really like the zero-G/vacuum parts... FANTASTIC!!!`
  • BoxBackResearcher - February 7, 2011 2:29 a.m.

    Great review. I liked it so much I read it twice.
  • Imthedoctor - January 27, 2011 3:08 p.m.

    Looks pretty good, i desire to butter this game on my toast :P
  • Brutalicus - January 27, 2011 3:40 a.m.

    @Smeggs there were a few of those good moments with your ally towards the end of the game. Isaac is kind of a smartass! I think it shows how over the course of the game he's regained some of his sanity and humanity. Also, naw, any game that wants to connect with you should try to make you lol. The scene near the end of Mass Effect 2 where the Collectors attack was some scary shit, and Joker's lines made me laugh my ass off. I don't know about you, but wisecracks are my favorite way to try to relieve tension. I'd probably be cracking jokes in between shitting my pants if Necromorphs were attacking me.
  • Smeggs - January 27, 2011 1:59 a.m.

    Not as scary as the first game. Not complaining about Isaac's new personality, but I think that's the reason. With Isaac talking now and actually showing his face more than twice, it's less scary because I feel like I'm going through the game with him rather than alone. For example, at one point you're trying to ascend an elevator, only to watch it be destroyed by an unseen foe. Your "ally" tells you she'll see if she can get it working while you go to fight an enemy who is quite a bit different from any you've fought before. A minute into the fight: "Isaac, I don't think I can get the-" "NOT. NOW." I lol'd. I should never lol while playing Dead Space, unless I'm laughing at my own girlish fear after screaming at a space-zombie that jumped at my face.
  • P0LARCLAW - January 27, 2011 1:52 a.m.

    Well I beat it after 9 hours, and I can honestly say that no parts were particularly difficult on Normal. That being from a person who beat the first on impossible with only a plasma cutter though. @BladeBlur I would consider this to be better than bioshock 2.
  • BladeBlur - January 26, 2011 9:23 p.m.

    BioShock 2 wasn't that good :(
  • CoktorBloktopus - January 26, 2011 6:56 p.m.

    lovin this game only gotten through the first two chapters and I already pissed my pants like four times. And to all who say dead space doesnt scare them I am sorry for you cause when you let it scare you a bit then it makes the game even better. The walk through that little cafe area with just a flashlight gave me a awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.
  • Brutalicus - January 26, 2011 7:58 a.m.

    Well, I just finished the game after not being able to put the controller down all day! I agree with the review for the most part; my only con to this game was the occasional (and brutal, as stated) difficulty spikes. Next time through I'm going to carry more guns around. The story was very well-told and satisfying. You really start to feel for Isaac after what he went through on the Ishimura, and now that he's actually got emotion he is very human. I often found myself saying "holy shit" at what was happening, only to hear Isaac say the same thing! Visceral also seems to know their fans well, as there are plenty of nods to the original Dead Space and various bits of fanservice (like a very tiny drawing of Isaac on the wall in the school level). I think I breathed about six times this entire game. The tension mounts and mounts and never lets up. Awesome.
  • Cag93 - January 26, 2011 3:22 a.m.

    ... are you saying that Dead Space 2 is BETTER THAN HALO REACH?!?! LOL, I had to ;)
  • santaclouse37 - January 26, 2011 2:43 a.m.

    BUT HANK, WHAT ABOUT THE QUICK AND ACCURATE RIVET GUN? I COULDN'T POSSIBLY PLAY MY PREORDERD COPY FROM GAMESTOP UNTIL I KNOW JUST HOW QUICK AND/OR ACCURATE IT IS WHEN PREVENTING ISAAC FROM BEING PUKED UPON!
  • NightCrawler_358 - January 26, 2011 1:46 a.m.

    Sweet review Mr. Gilbert. I'm always freaked out how at first, games like this make you flip out, but then by the end, you don't even blink when freaks jump at you etc. I lol when i think about my initial L4D reactions.
  • Drumdoctor - January 26, 2011 1:26 a.m.

    Played the demo for this, nearly pissed myself the first time those necromorph things sprung out of the frozen containers. Sweet game, but it's so freaky I can barely stand to play it. Not to mention my mom...
  • Yeager1122 - January 26, 2011 12:45 a.m.

    Intrested in this game but would have to play the first one before i ever got this one.
  • P0LARCLAW - January 26, 2011 12:18 a.m.

    Got the collector's edition 3 hours ago, and it's amazing.
  • elmaropwnz - January 25, 2011 11:57 p.m.

    I rented the first game but never beat it and i have 60$ in wal-mart money Exams tommorow so i only have to go to school for 2 hours and will probably be picking this up, multiplayer seemed meh though cause right now i'm playing brotherhood and i got bored of the multiplayer even though it was good, screw you CoD for ruining my standards!
  • JADENkOTOR - January 25, 2011 11 p.m.

    Personally I think games like this need to also have a really strong story to score above an eight... Thats just my opinion though. I wasn't much of a fan of the first and that was when it was something I hadn't seen before... This looks like much of the same and I was disappointed to find out that they hadn't fixed Isaac's sluggish controls when I played the demo. I might rent it just to see where it goes but I don't think its worth owning.
  • RebornKusabi - January 25, 2011 10:09 p.m.

    Got this in the mail this morning and I'm about to play it. Everything said here is basically what I already figured the game was gonna be like so... Onward to my 360!
  • mrm1138 - January 25, 2011 9:26 p.m.

    I have such a love/hate relationship with the first Dead Space. I loved it because it was such a wonderfully made game, but there were many times I was honestly reluctant to keep playing because of how terrifying it was. I know some people (like, say, Yahtzee) criticized it for being too predictable (and therefore, in their opinions, not scary), but for me the anticipation of being attacked would freak me out in a way that few things do.

Showing 1-20 of 46 comments

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