Published on February 6th, 2011 | by Hubert McReed1
Dead Space 2 – Review
Summary: One of the most terrifying shooters you’ll play this year
You know, if we were psychiatrists, we’d probably have every last one of the Visceral Games team sectioned owing to their unhealthy obsession with flesh-tearing, undead children. If Dead Space’s spike-throwing frog-babies weren’t pushing the zombie-infant barrier enough, you’d think the taloned unbaptised babes in Dante’s Inferno almost certainly were.
But apparently not. Visceral has outdone themselves again in Dead Space 2, introducing not one, but two horrific new child mutants that’ll make your skin crawl: a crawling undead fetus with an explosive sack on its back, and a pack of disfigured adolescents who prefer chewing off your face than doing the things ‘normal’ teenagers do.
Dead Space 2 is sick, in every sense of the word…
It all takes place three years after the original aboard The Sprawl, a mammoth space station built on one of Saturn’s moons, with lead character Isaac Clarke put under lock and key in the station’s asylum after having developed dementia. Admittedly there isn’t all that much to the story – the Markers are back, and so are the Unitologists, some people aren’t quite who they say they are, and Isaac’s girlfriend Nicole is still rattling around in his head. So far then, so Dead Space.
But despite sharing it’s obvious similarities, Dead Space 2 is an altogether different game to the original. Gone are the tight, claustrophobic corridors of the Ishimura (at least for the most part, as to say any more would spoil one of Dead Space 2’s greatest moments), replaced by The Sprawl’s relatively open – and populated – areas, and rather than creeping through engine rooms and ship decks, you’ll be blasting your way through horror-staple hospitals and children’s nurseries. And that itself – ignoring the new-found focus on action for a moment – is a key difference when it comes to setting up the mood for the sequel, with the relative familiarity of the locations helping Visceral play with your emotions more than they ever could with the relatively samey Ishimura.
In fact, it’s the environments themselves that are more likely to creep you out than the Necromophs this time around, trading the loneliness, mystery and dread of the first game for a sense of anger, desperation and turmoil of your own colony coming under attack.
Most of the scares though, come from Nicole, who’s now haunting Isaac for her death on the Ishimura. Whether it’s her suddenly creeping up on Isaac and screaming down his throat or doing something freakishly unnerving, Visceral manage to use the character to build brilliantly on the original’s fantastic mix of shock scares, player paranoia and ‘WTF moments’ and deliver one of the eeriest games we’ve played in years.
The game’s now incredibly slick, too. Controls have been remapped to allow for a more conventional setup (you can reload, for example, by simply tapping Square, rather than the convoluted L1 + X combo of the original), while movement feels far less clunky than that of Dead Space 1. But then it needed to be, with the sequel sharing much more in common with a third-person shooter than the survival horror feel of the original. In many respects, it’s almost like the difference between Resi 4 and Resi 5.
That faster, action-packed focus allows Visceral to throw scene after scene of breathtaking Hollywood-style set-pieces at the player, be it a battle on a speeding train, a gunfight out in space (the new ‘Iron Man’ Zero-G areas are a real highlight), or the insane – though disappointingly poorly designed – final boss. There’s less of a focus on puzzles and tension-building, too, (although the new Velociraptor-like Stalker Necromorphs do a great job at ramping up our heart rate every time) and more emphasis on pouring a tonne of bad guys into the same room as you – a relief for some perhaps, but a nightmare for others. Indeed, it’s quite telling that our favourite moment came via Chapter 10, a moment of brilliance that we wish Visceral could have dragged out for longer than it did. Confused? Well, you’ll see what we mean when you get there…
The inclusion of a multiplayer component further highlights Dead Space 2’s mainstream-action focus, too. Fun but ultimately throwaway, the multiplayer mode borrows from games like Left 4 Dead and Singularity to pitch man against mutant, although we really can’t see it holding you back from the more established online stalwarts that are out there.
Though it starts to waver in the second half (the confusion between straight-out shooter and well-paced horror starts to show later on), Dead Space 2’s epic action sequences and unrelenting spooks had us trembling on more than one occasion. Strap on those headphones, turn off the lights, and prepare yourself for one of the most terrifying shooters you’ll play this year. A different, but equally essential sequel.