Developers: Visceral Games
Publishers: Electronic Arts
Plot: Isaac awakes from the nightmare on the Ishimura to find himself trapped in his own mind and being interrogated by a strange organisation. It is only a matter of time before the Necromorphs awaken once again.
I don’t think I have ever quite waited for a sequel with as much baited breath has I have had with Dead Space. The first game pretty much rewrote the survival horror textbook, bringing it right back to the days when Silent Hill and Resident Evil were in control. It has been a long time, before we have been thrust into a protagonist that was both strong and heroic, yet still a slave to the horrors of the world around him. Yes, Isaac Clarke has grown into one of the most bad-ass gaming heroes out there (and this game really hammers this point home with sequences that will take your breath away), but the fear factor is rarely diminished. Dead Space delivered the scares from the well-timed jump scare to the psychological dread of the situation. Also, unlike most zombie games (and yes, reanimated flesh is a new take on the monster, but I guess we are still in zombie territory), there are endless possibilities and directions to take the Necromorphs. When they can take dead flesh and carve it into the Leviathan or the Brute, then you cannot help but wonder what other monstrosities are lying in wait for us. So yes, when Dead Space 2 was released, it was a guaranteed hit. True horror had returned and we were only too willing to embrace it.
What’s new with Dead Space, then? Well, for a start, all of the little dynamics had been ironed out. Dead Space 2 should be applauded first and foremost for fixing problems we didn’t even realise were there. The weightless sequences, where gravity is sucked out of a room, have been improved to the point, where Dead Space’s once-imaginative and fun puzzles, are now quite frustrating. In the first one, Isaac had to pick a spot to hop to and the game would take him there. Now, Isaac has boots that can propel him across rooms, like a jetpack with much more precision. Suddenly, these rooms are much easier to get around, more fun to explore and generally better thought out. The stasis module is much more useful this time around as well. It was a good idea, but not really used enough. Dead Space 2 upgrades it to your most precious weapon. The Necromorphs are definitely faster this time around and sometimes, when one of them breaks into a run at you, that blast of stasis is the only thing keeping you alive. Also, by the end, when you find yourself taking on dozens of enemies, you will actually need to use those stasis recharge packs that were almost dead weight in the original game. Power nodes, usually spent on upgraded your prized weapon, might now find themselves working towards bulking up your stasis attack. Another little bonus is that you have to stomp corpses to pry additional credits, health kits or precious ammo from fallen enemies. It makes you work that little bit harder to get some prizes, but on the upside, every fallen enemy will definitely have, at least, something to offer. No more desperate searching for Pulse Rifle rounds, but turning up nothing from the monster you just offed. It is harder than it sounds too. It feels like a pointless feature at first, while you wander around a cleared room, checking the dead bodies. Why even add the new stomp? However, in mid-combat, you find yourself faced with a tough choice. Do you use your telekinesis to crush the Necromorph in the hopes of getting some bullets to fend off the endless swarms coming for you? Or do you not take the risk – it could be a bunch of credits, rather than anything to help you fight – and grab one of the Necromorph’s loose limbs to use as a projectile. That decision could be a life-or-death element and makes every skirmish in Dead Space 2 feel like a tactical chess game. Just with a lot more blood and screaming. On the other hand, the stomp is starting to annoy me. Too often is an emotional or psychologically scarring moment ruined, because as soon as an important character die, you feel the need to crush your friend’s ribcage off the off-chance there is a diamond semiconductor in there.
But what about new enemies? It’s no good giving Isaac some new toys to play with if there isn’t anything fun to shoot. Well, on the whole, it is the same old faces, even if they are upgraded a bit. The enemies are stronger and faster, making Dead Space 2 a more combat-based experience. Not that it becomes an all-action/no-horror sequel – the enemies are that lightning quick that the sense of dread and anxiety before any attack is still there. The same rules apply: shoot the limbs, the new-born Necromorph are much stronger than the others and stay away from the vents. Most of the more specialised older enemies are kept hidden for cameos in the second half. There is something pretty creepy about being on the final stretch of the game, thinking that you won’t bump into the scariest of the enemies in the original, only for them to finally lunge from around the corner. I have two particular Necromorphs in mind, but I am not spilling any beans here, so those jump scares are just as chilling for you, as they were for me. The new enemies are a mixed bag, but there are a couple of good ones there too. The children Necromorphs are another great example of how Dead Space knows how to write a good horror sequences. They are small, brattish things that are tough in numbers, but quite easy to take out once you get them alone. However, it is their imagery that gets to you. They are the most humanoid enemy we have met yet, which is made even more troubling, because they are essentially ten year olds made into terrifying cannibals. If they do manage to kill you, that small cut-scene will stay with you for some time. However, my favourite addition to the cast are definitely the Stalkers. Your first encounter with them is a terrifyingly tense one. Their heads are made of rock-like substance and their method of attack are sneaking up on you, before charging you down and smashing you to a bloody pulp with their impenetrable skulls. As you hear their guttural cries to each other, as they hide in the shadows, you are taken back to the Velociraptors out of Jurassic Park. The comparisons are easy to make, and most of you agree that, if you don’t make the first move and outmanoeuvre them, they will make short work of you. Every showdown with the Stalkers is a master-class of survival horror, as you need to use your wits and arsenal to take down a monster that, given the chance, is much stronger than you.
Is it better than the original Dead Space, which I gave five stars in my first gaming review on this site? Well, on some levels, yes. The gameplay has been improved and the first game might not quite satisfy you, when it comes to that nail-biting adrenaline. The story is also more in-depth, the writers making use of the extended game to explore both the Necromorphs and Isaac. In the first, Isaac was a nameless hero, but that trick wouldn’t have worked twice. Here, we see behind the mask, find out what horrors are playing behind those eyes and come up with one of the most interesting heroes in recent gaming. However, the problems with Dead Space 2 comes from the factor that made the original so vital for any gamer’s collection: the horror. Yes, the game still boasts some fine jump scares. The very first playable sequence is a perfect introduction to the game, getting bored with the slow build-up we expect from horror and starting with its best scene minutes within booting the disc up. However, soon the same old trick gets a little dull and Dead Space 2 finds itself needing to evolve into a more traditional action. The jumps aren’t too scripted, which some might find better (there is something pretty fun about running from a fight and into the arms of that baddie just around the corner), but the psychological dread that the first game promoted so much, is dialled down her slightly. The final section is a brutal slog to the end and perhaps a little too hard for its own good. And even the action is missing a good boss fight. A mid-game battle with a terrifying Tormentor is far too cinematic (although quite awesome, especially as it happens directly after an unexpected plot point), and the ending is more of ‘the same fight as before, but much harder’. By the time you finish, you wish something was switched up a little bit in the closing stages.
Final Verdict: Dead Space 2 tweaks things for the better, but arguably loses some of the original’s charm. Still a strong survival horror.