In: Reviews by Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola12 Feb 2011
In fact, Dead Space 2 has such a strong, terrifying opening that the rest of the game can’t help but fall short of expectations afterward. Because of its excellent pacing, the moments of action compliment the horror. There’s a constant rising and falling tension — stretches of exploration and ammo collection punctuated by small skirmishes that keep you paranoid, building up to a storm of violence. It builds you up only to break you down, over and over again.
Such is the formula of Dead Space, and this formula remains very much intact in this sequel. This time, however, the horror takes place on a space station called the Sprawl instead of a mining ship. Dead Space 2 makes excellent use of this new setting with apartment complexes, hospitals, schools, and more, and all of them look realistically practical, like a space station should, while remaining unique in style and feel. The Sprawl is a well-realized and disturbingly detailed world. With Unitology graffiti, blood splatters, bodies on beds, and crying babies behind locked doors, it always feels like you’re arriving just after something horrible has happened. You see evidence time again that nothing is sacred to the necromorphs, they’re indifferent to age, race, or gender. Whenever you meet one it’s kill or be killed.
And you’ll do lots of killing. Combat has received many little tweaks that make fights more interesting and varied. This time around your telekinesis ability plays a much larger role. It now recharges slowly over time, encouraging you to use it more often, and there’s always something around to throw. Some items are extremely effective; poles, broken pipes, even a janitor’s mop, anything with a long point is just as good as a gun. Better yet, rip the talons off dead necromorphs and use them against others, or cut the limb off a live one and shoot it back. This could easily have been a gimmicky addition to combat, but since the game rations your ammo in the beginning this becomes a necessary tactic that you’ll use throughout. Also, in some places you can shoot a window and suck everything out into space, including yourself if you’re not careful. Unfortunately this only happens a few times in the entire game, but when it does it’s thrilling.
Isaac Clarke is a much more well-developed character this time. He now a voice and talks with the survivors he meets. The dialogue is well-written, and he comes across as a smart guy, asking the obvious questions you’d want him to ask. There’s no exposition or dumb tough-guy talk. Isaac is still very much an everyman caught up in a disaster; he hasn’t (yet) become an Ellen Ripley-like heroic figure, which means you’ll still fear for his life. It always seems plausible that he’ll be killed off.
Despite all these great new additions, Dead Space 2 is far from perfect. The first several chapters are a textbook example of excellent pacing, but things go downhill in the last four or five chapters. Around chapter 10 the game seems to be building to a climax that never happens. It just keeps going. This happens a couple more times before the real end, and the game feels artificially drawn out as a result.
It doesn’t help that at this point the game drops most of its horror elements and goes for all-out action. You’ll fight waves of necromorphs in every other room and they just keep coming. I eventually got fed up and started running, which sadly worked surprisingly well. Monsters cease to be scary when you can just run past them, and I ended up running past most enemies in the final chapter. There are also some environmental puzzles that are not as intuitive as the developers seem to think. They appear without warning, give you little indication of what to do, and halt your progress like a wall. And yet Dead Space 2 never becomes a bad game, just a standard action game. It’s still an intense, exciting, and well-made action game, but without the horror it’s disappointing.
So the game ends on a low note, but the bonuses you get for beating it are enticing enough to make it worth your time. However, if you don’t want to play the campaign again there’s the new multiplayer to try out.
The multiplayer pits four humans against four player-controlled necromorphs and a host of AI monsters. The humans are always after an objective while fighting the clock and monsters, and the necromorphs are always trying to stop them. The humans have designated spawn points, but, in a nice twist, the necromorph players can choose to spawn from various vents on the map. It’s a clever mechanical vehicle that fits with the fiction of Dead Space.
At first, things will feel heavily weighted in the necromorphs’ favor, and they are. Life is hard as a human. Your objectives and the maps are often confusing. Sometimes you have to hack a computer, or shoot a target, or defend a target, or transport a special item, and I got lost more than once trying to find my way to the objective. There’s a definite learning curve as humans, but once you learn the maps and objectives, things balance out, and this will happen pretty fast because there are only five maps and one game type. There’s not a lot of content here, it’s more of a proof of concept. It’s also best played in short bursts because it suffers from the same problem that hurt the end of the single-player: When there’ nothing but all action all the time, eventually what was once intense becomes standard.
It’s worth noting that the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Space 2 comes with a copy of the once Wii exclusive Dead Space: Extraction that’s now playable with a Move controller (or a normal controller if you don’t have a Move, but who wants to play a light-gun game with an analog controller?). This bonus game can be installed from the Xross Media Bar, but still requires the Dead Space 2 disc to play. Extraction is excellent and is the best of the three Dead Space games. You couldn’t ask for a better bonus, so if you’re one the fence about which version of Dead Space 2 you should buy, Extraction is your answer.
Dead Space 2
Available for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC
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