Battle reanimated corpses, government agents and your own mind as Isaac Clarke.
PC Release: January 25, 2011
By Ian Coppock
It makes me happy when a sequel comes along and fixes pretty much all the gripes I had with the first installment of a series. It was a bit creepy to play Dead Space 2 the first time, and not just because of the monsters. It’s like Visceral and EA actually read my mind when addressing what was wrong with Dead Space. But EA couldn’t have spied on me, because I don’t have Origin installed on my computer! So how did they… Oh well.
Dead Space 2 is a third-person horror/action hybrid set three years after the first Dead Space. Isaac Clarke, our heroic spaceship engineer, wakes up in a mental hospital as a cabal of reanimated corpses called Necromorphs are tearing it a new one. As horror games often go, Isaac is suffering amnesia and has no clue where he is and why.
He escapes from the hospital with some help from a British hacker, who reveals that he’s on Titan Station, a massive space-city orbiting Saturn. Isaac sees for himself that the station is being dismembered by a new Necromorph outbreak.
This time around, Isaac has new, living enemies. Humankind’s tyrannical government has put a price on his head for reasons he cannot fathom, and you can bet that the Church of Unitology, the cult that worships the Necromorphs as ascension into the afterlife, is also very interested in him. Unlike the Ishimura, which was over-fested long before Isaac arrives, Isaac makes his escape as the infestation begins, so you’ll run into more and more Necromorphs as the game progresses.
Romance in horror games never goes well, so it’s no surprise that Isaac failed to save his girlfriend Nicole in the first game. He suffers horrific hallucinations in which she tortures his dreams and screams at him with static. Throughout the game Isaac will have seizures where the demons of his guilt attempt to kill him, the spine-chillingest of which is one where Nicole appears out of nowhere and attempts to stab him in the eye. Only, when she vanishes, Isaac is the one holding the needle.
Isaac knows that the existence of the Necromorphs is tied up in the towering alien artifacts known as Markers. Having encountered one in the last game, he decides to journey deeper into the station to find what must be another one.
A brave task, one that I would shamelessly run away from screaming with no looking back. As with the last game, Isaac recruits some dubious allies to his banner of craziness, including a psychotic mental patient and a traumatized pilot. Team of the year right there.
In regards to storytelling, Dead Space 2 makes some tremendous improvements over Dead Space. One of my biggest gripes with the first game was casting a silent protagonist in a horror setting, but Isaac returns with his own voice and personality in the sequel. He can chat with other characters and set his own goals, which is a refreshing upgrade. A few subtle but important changes were made to his non-silent personality as well, like that he actually jumps when startled.
But, Dead Space 2 suffers from the same issues as the original in that Visceral has no understanding of pacing. Isaac is beset by snarling, screaming mutants literally seconds into the game, even faster than Dead Space. This erases any chance to build up tension and turns Dead Space 2 into a creepy shooter rather than a true horror game. Monster encounters are so frequent that the tension is repeatedly quashed. You also see so many of the damn things that they become less scary and more conventional, as an enemy soldier with a rifle might be.
While resources in Dead Space were by no means plentiful, Visceral went in the opposite direction by over-stuffing Titan Station with tons of supplies. The game is considerably less difficult than the first one, which is cool in that it makes you feel more of a badass but not cool in that the challenge factor suffers. However, a few much-needed tweaks were made to the control scheme.
For whatever reason, the jump-scares are reduced in Dead Space 2. Enemies spend substantially less time hiding or waiting to ambush you and more time charging blindly at your position, which isn’t scary, just challenging. If Visceral was trying to keep a lid on so obviously appealing to shooter fans, they didn’t do a very good job. There are a few new kinds of Necromorphs in Dead Space 2, but the ones that appeared in the first game use the exact same tactics and strategies against you, reducing the challenge factor further.
Dead Space 2 is not a bad game, but I hate that it moved significantly away from scary and more toward the same shooting grind that is over-saturing the games industry these days. Increased resources, enemies running at you, no tension, loud noises and explosions all over the place… it’s an action game.
Now, to be fair, I might be a bit desensitized from all those Amnesia games I love so curiously much, but the guiding principles of true horror are just not in this game. I’m guessing the gore is meant to do most of the work, but gore is just gore. True terror comes from the malicious unknown, the savage un-seeable. That’s why you’re severely penalized for trying to look at the monsters in Amnesia. The Necromorphs, by contrast, couldn’t be making themselves more visible if they wore face paint and danced cabaret.
The plot of this game is a lot bigger and more interesting, though. Whereas Isaac’s main goal in Dead Space was to fix up the ship and keep his team in toilet paper, in Dead Space 2 he’s fighting for all of mankind, with an expanded campaign, stronger characters and grander plot elements. I’ll give this game credit for all of that; Dead Space 2 might be less AAAAHHH and more BLAAAH but at least the story is good. Isaac’s characterization definitely brings across traits of weariness and trauma that his journey would impress upon anyone, and for that I was grateful.
Dead Space 2’s environments are cast from a diverse palette. As Isaac is aboard a space-city, he traverses shopping malls, churches and even an elementary school. As with the last game, he must also fix machinery to progress, though this is for the game’s wider goal of saving humankind rather than just his own survival.
The voice cast delivered excellent performances, though nothing especially gripping. The music receives a heavy-handed upgrade in the music department, with strings that play mournfully but will still spasm when Isaac sees a monster.
Horror fans might get bored with Dead Space 2, but everyone can appreciate a good story, and that’s something this game definitely offers. Isaac’s transformation into a talking character is elegantly done. The story’s increased scale compliments this nicely and adds some expediency that the horror didn’t hit hard enough. The gameplay retains its solid makeup from the first game. Dead Space 2 is available on Steam and elsewhere at a decent price; I recommend picking it up.
You can buy Dead Space 2 here.
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