January 18, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Ever since the Resident Evil series made the jump to the silver screen and put less emphasis on evolving the game series, the top spot for best survival horror game has been up for grabs. Well, that was until Electronic Arts and Visceral Games released Dead Space back in 2008, and it easily took the crown from Capcom’s revolutionary zombie series.
Now, three years later, Isaac Clarke is back in the latest installment of the Dead Space series and with him comes everything that made the first game so horrifying yet amazing, and even some added bonuses like new competitive multiplayer modes.
One of the best and most unique aspects of the Dead Space series is the main protagonist, Isaac Clarke, a spaceship engineer who isn’t the typical bad-ass Hollywood hero. Those who have already played the original know Clarke isn’t some steroided-up super soldier that you would find in similar games like Doom or Gears of War; he’s an Average Joe who is forced to fight horrific monstrosities after responding to a distress call from his girlfriend, who is stationed onboard a planet-cracking starship called the USG Ishimura. Spoiler: The original Dead Space ended with a surprise as what appeared to be the evil spirit of Isaac’s dead girlfriend appeared just when the story seemed to be over with a somewhat happy ending.
Dead Space 2 picks up three years after the events of the first game with Isaac now on a well populated city located on one of Saturn’s moons called Titan Station aka The Sprawl. Although Isaac is safe, he’s been placed into one of Titan’s mental wards after being haunted by constant hallucinations involving his dead girlfriend and no memory of the past three years. But not even ten minutes into the game, all hell breaks loose once again and you’ll take back control of the unstable Isaac as the ship begins to become overrun by the same alien curse that Isaac thought he already rid humanity of. Unlike the first game where Isaac arrives late to the party, this time he’s right in the middle of the action as the epidemic takes over The Sprawl and Isaac is once again forced to do whatever it takes to survive and save humanity.
As soon as you take control of Isaac you’ll notice that the controls have been tweaked just enough to where they feel more responsive and Isaac feels more agile, but there’s not too much of a change and Isaac still feels a bit sluggish as any normal person wearing a fully-armored suit would. The melee that could be a bit of a pain to use in the first game now works a lot better and as a result is much more useful. The Stasis ability that allows Isaac to freeze enemies for a short period of time has also been improved so that it recharges over time, which helps encourage its use by players who might have been scared to use it at the wrong times in the first game. Isaac can now also use Stasis to grab random objects lying around, like spears which he can then shoot at Necromorphs, impaling them and sometimes even nailing them to walls, which is a great new feature when you need to conserve ammo or are desperate after already running out.
When not having fun impaling Necromorphs with poles and their own sharp detached limbs, you’ll find that all the weapons from the previous game are back, such as the Pulse Rifle and the now iconic Plasma Cutter. To keep the gameplay fresh there’s a ton of new weapons that Isaac can add to his arsenal like the Javelin Gun, which lets you shoot spears that can be detonated, and the Seeker Rifle, which works like a sniper rifle. Dead Space 2 uses the same upgrade system that the original used, with Isaac being able to collect Power Nodes and use them at upgrade stations to make improvements to his weapons and his suit’s abilities. There are a lot of hidden treasures like Power Nodes, new weapons, and audio logs scattered throughout each level that encourages exploration and rewards those who search every corner for items that some lazier players might miss. Isaac can also now explore more areas of each level with improvements made to the Zero-G physics that allow him to float in space, unlike the original where he could only jump from wall to wall.
Besides the amazing storytelling and gameplay, the level of detail has been increased with Dead Space 2 clearly showcasing superior graphics over the original. One of the unique design choices by Viseral with the original game was to not use a HUD (heads-up display) and rather display Isaac’s health and other stats in more realistic ways such as on the objects themselves. Instead of having a health bar in the corner of the screen like most games, Isaac’s health is displayed as part of his suit and ammo is displayed on the guns themselves. Thankfully, Dead Space 2 uses the same minimalist HUD design, which really helps immerse you into the gameplay by not having a bunch of distracting information floating in every corner of the screen.
The same physics and combat system that made the first game so much fun and forced Isaac to strategically dismember Necromorphs to kill them is back with an even more diverse army of reanimated corpses to kill in unique ways. The masterful use of eerie music and random sounds in the background is something that you won’t find in any other game and what makes the game so chilling to play, especially alone in the dark with headphones on. There are tons of little sounds added by the developers specifically to mess with you and constantly make you question if something is in the walls or behind a corner stalking you. Even the use of light plays a huge factor in setting the tone of environments by shining just enough light in your eyes where you can’t make out everything in the room and creating a nerve-wrecking feel in tense situations. Michael Bay would be proud and should even take a few notes.
The real surprise with Dead Space 2 isn’t that Visceral was able to recreate the experience of the first game so well, but that they were actually able to add a multiplayer component that fits the game’s lonely survivor theme perfectly. The original game had no multiplayer, so Visceral took a big risk by adding competitive online modes to a series where the main character spends the majority of the story alone. The risk clearly pays off with the game playing like a third person Left 4 Dead that pits two teams of four against each other in Human vs. Necromorph battles, but with the twist of each team having unlimited respawns and a timer. Many of the weapons from the story can be unlocked and used online, and all five of the maps are very well made with strategic chokepoints that make for very intense and shockingly graphic battles. Punting an evil alien baby or punching off the head of a possessed alien child are features you won’t find many other games being able to get away with, and oh is it so much fun. Your mom will defiantly hate Dead Space 2.
While the multiplayer isn’t as scary as playing single-player alone, the competition can get pretty frantic whether you’re playing offense as the Humans, who are racing against the clock trying to make their way to the end of each stage, or playing defense as the Necromorphs, who are trying to run out the clock and prevent the Humans from completing their objective. The only disappointment I had with the game was learning that multiplayer would not feature a Humans vs. Humans mode. When first hearing about Dead Space 2 adding multiplayer, I was excited to see how they would handle player vs. player battles with strategic dismemberment, something no multiplayer to my knowledge has ever done or at least done effectively before. Hopefully, Visceral will find a way to make it work and add it as a feature to the next game.
Dead Space 2 might be the best zombie game of all time with everything that made the original so frightening and yet so much fun being brought back and even better in the sequel. The story is just as exciting and graphic as the original and has one of the most eerie last couple levels of any horror game. There’s even a stinger after the credits which hints at a potential third game that you’ll want to stick around to hear. The single-player is worth at least a couple playthroughs plus with the addition of multiplayer, you’ll have fun dismembering your friends online in competitive games for months. In a year that’s sure to be packed with heavyweight Triple-A games, Dead Space 2 is an early contender for 2011’s Game of the Year award and is going to be hard to beat. Dead Space 2 gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- Amazing level of detail put into every aspect from graphics to sound to storytelling
- Controls have been tweaked to make gameplay slightly faster paced and more enjoyable
- New weapons to accompany the already packed arsenal brought over from the original
- Tons of new Necromorph monsters and bosses to fight
- Multiplayer is surprisingly well done and worth months of added fun
- The story gets a little hard to follow towards the end
- Single-player levels can be a bit too linear
- No Human vs. Human competitive multiplayer mode
- EA’s new pay-to-play online system requires you to buy the game or spend $10 to unlock multiplayer