Dead Space 2

Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available on PS3 and PC

Apart from being the first game in the series, the original Dead Space was the first game I reviewed for MyGaming; it’s fitting then that both the franchise and I are back to deal with more pesky aliens, more action, and (somewhat) more pants-wetting than ever before.

Protagonist Isaac Clarke is also back, but like Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films he’s become fed up with all this face-eating space mutant nonsense and has decided to be far less of a girl’s blouse on his second outing on an alien-infested ship. Unfortunately though the horrific events from his stint on the Ishimura have left him a tad unhinged, plagued by dark visions and even darker hallucinations.

This is bad news for poor Isaac but good news for us gamers, as the inner torment of our hero becomes not only the foundation for the scares we paid good money for but also a story far more interesting than the bland ‘destroy the evil artefact’ yarn that loosely holds the game’s plot together.

This is all a bit of a double-edged plasma cutter though: while Isaac’s emotional turbulence is quite disturbing and yet remarkably enthralling, the rest of the frights in Dead Space 2 have become a little too much like a carnival’s House of Horrors. Necromorphs (the alien scum that you’re trying to exterminate) felt cunning and passive-aggressively terrifying in the first game and their arrival on screen was practically bowel-loosening; this time around though a lot of the terror feels watered down thanks to predictable pop-up entrances where you most expect them. (Seriously, Visceral Games, if you’re going to make a Necromorph wait until the lights go out before pushing it through the suspect-looking air vent right behind the player you might as well give the poor creature a top hat and cane and shove him onto a stage to the tune of ‘New York, New York’.)

This somewhat tamer horror isn’t a deal-breaker though, and fear not (drum roll), you will indeed be on the wrong side of scared a lot of the time, but it’s a real shame that some of the focus of making the enemies feel scarily smart has been lost. There are some jarring set pieces to really get your hands shaking and bladder churning, but overall the routine enemy encounters made me feel slightly less inclined to play with the lights on this time around.

Gameplay is the traditional Dead Space fare with dismemberment still being the preferred method of dispatching foes, and most of the other mechanics have returned too: upgrading suits and weapons via benches, keeping tabs on health and ammo via the non-existent HUD, using stasis to slow down opponents, using kinesis to fling stuff, and bouncing around a few (upgraded) zero-gravity sections.

Combat itself is smoother and more action-packed with Isaac feeling surprisingly lighter in his monstrous engineering suit, a necessary improvement considering the increased number of enemies you’ll be forced to fight at any one given time. Beefing up Isaac’s arsenal are cool new toys like the savage Javelin gun that impales enemies before optionally electrifying them, and a kickass sniper rifle called the Seeker. Old favourites like the Line Gun and Ripper make a welcome return, and I’m chuffed overall that Visceral Games kept true to the whole ‘mining feel’ of all the guns rather than giving us the traditional pistol/shotgun/machinegun selection.

Weapon upgrades feel more rounded too with upgrade paths forcing players to make use of more balanced gun improvements. This means that you’re better off slowly upgrading each firearm in your arsenal equally to get maximum death-dealing potential, a slightly different tactic to Dead Space where the whole game could be finished with just one or two maxed weapons. This also leads to a wider variety of combat options, making the actual killing part of the gameplay (i.e. most of the game) a lot more fun.

On the technical side Dead Space 2 impresses with quality visuals in a much greater variety of environments than before. Graphics are sharp, textures are detailed, and a lot of love has been put into art directing even the smallest scenes; meticulously designed asylums and empty space littered with thousands of bits of debris spring to mind. The scale of the whole experience feels grander too, and although this does take away from some of the intimacy of the first game, it seems justified: we couldn’t exactly have a sequel that’s smaller, right?

Particularly excellent is the sound design, and if you’ve been looking for an excuse to fork out for a decent gaming home theatre setup, this is it. The sounds of shuffling Necromorphs are unsettling, the music score is superb and works brilliantly with the different environments, and Isaac’s voice work is rather good for someone we previously thought was mute.

There’s a great amount of longevity too as New Game Plus means you can haul all your goodies over into another round of mayhem once you’ve clocked the game the first time. The difficulty levels offer a satisfying level of challenge as well, and I’ve always found a harder difficulty really intensifies the survival-horror vibe, but be warned that Hardcore mode lives up to its title: no checkpoints and only three saves allowed for the entire game mean you’ll find a whole new slew of ways to soil yourself.

As if this wasn’t enough the Collector’s Edition offers some cool extras in the form of a soundtrack disc, a lithograph of a Necromorph transformation (sadly only postcard size and printed on heavy paper instead of aluminium or something equally rad), a sweet shiny box, a bonus suit and gun, and most importantly the full game of Dead Space: Extraction featuring Move support. As confirmed earlier local PS3 gamers sadly don’t get the Plasma Cutter replica in our version this side of the pond but the rest of the cool stuff more than makes up for it.

Overall, despite veering slightly away from some of the things that made the first Dead Space so brilliant for me, Dead Space 2 is a thoroughly entertaining survival-horror experience and a worthy successor to the original. If you’re after a polished AAA title with a fair bit of nail biting thrown in we highly recommend you grab yourself a copy of Dead Space 2 and a new set of brown underpants while you’re at it.

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  • Not Survival Horror

    Action Horror, Horror Shooter, but not Survival Horror.

  • Panda

    From Wiki:

    "Survival horror is a subgenre of action-adventure video game inspired by horror fiction. These games make the player vulnerable by providing them with less ammunition and fewer heavy weapons than other action games. Although combat can be a part of the gameplay, the player is in various ways made to feel less powerful than in typical action games, because of limited ammunition, health, speed, or other limitations. The player is also challenged to find items that unlock the path to new areas, and solve puzzles at certain locations. Games make use of strong horror themes, and the player is often challenged to navigate dark maze-like environments, and react to unexpected attacks from enemies."

    Um yeah, it's survival horror.

  • Edmond

    Just finished DS2 this afternoon…enjoyed it a lot more than the first one (just to give you an idea I finished the first one before I started with the second one…so practically back to back!).

    – I originally bought the PS3 version of DS1 and I just never got around to finishing it (got to chapter 5 and just gave up…the console controller together with the sluggish DS1 movement just sucked). DS1 PC > DS1 PS3!

    – DS2…didn't bother with the console version after the nightmare (in control schemes) that was DS1. DS2 is fantastic in control terms! I didn't care much for the storyline (kinda a yawn to be honest) however I loved the corridor shooting because I went into it expecting just that after a review I read elsewhere. I loved every minute of it (except for the SOB near the end that just won't…bzzzzwahhhhzzzzztttt).

  • to0kenZA

    @Not Survival Horror

    Try play the game at a higher difficulty and see what if feels like to run out of ammo and health packs, then come back and say it's not survival horror 😛

  • spark12

    finished the first one last weekend , on chapter 6

    sorry but the first one was better for me , yeah the graphics and feel of the second is much better (it is newer) but i def prefer for the ambience of the first one and it was a game i just had to finish the second one i just dont feel the same way.

    totally digging the iphone version didnt expect it to be that much fun

  • The_Assimilator

    I picked up my Dead Space 2 Collector's Edition on Friday and by last night had already completed the game twice; there's over 8 hours of gameplay on your first playthrough, although New Game+ does make everything easier since you get to keep your upgraded weapons and RIGs.

    It's true that there isn't much variation from the gameplay of the original, but I think that's a good thing in this case – Visceral know what works and what doesn't and have focused on improving the latter while leaving the former mostly unchanged. This sequel definitely feels more polished.

    That said, there was a serious lack of boss fights and the end-game fight was nothing special. The Necromorphs are far easier to predict (an unfortunate side-effect of the larger environments IMO) and really lack the scare factor that made the first game so good. And NO ACHIEVEMENTS FOR THE PC? WTF?

    But overall, if you enjoyed the original and/or the FEAR franchise, you'll love Dead Space 2. However, Visceral are going to have to think long and hard how to mix things up so the franchise's 3rd outing isn't stale.

  • The_Assimilator

    Also, Visceral, STOP WITH THE QUICKTIME EVENTS. "Mash E to not die" is an exceptionally stupid gameplay mechanic.

  • riaan

    Agreed with The assimilator – quick time events are stupid!

  • Robin

    I love DS2!!! Never played DS1 though so I can't tell which is better

  • cyzo

    I thought the game was very good, gameplay mechanics were very good and smoother than the first, and I do agree that it was not as scary as the first,however its still a better game.And I agree with Edmond that the stupid SOB in the end that did not want to die was just freakin annoying,but it added to the intense rush of the game.The boss battle in the end was just dissapointing, I literaly finish it in less than a minute use just my pulse rifle.but I think it is on oe the reali best games I have played in a long long time.

Dead Space 2