After going through and playing Dead Space’s original title four times through, I eventually turned my OCD brain to the task of Dead Space’s sequel. The results are pretty awesome.
After the end of Dead Space, Issac Clarke is rescued and taken to Titan Station, better known as The Sprawl. When he comes to, he finds himself waking from a nightmare interrogation with his dead girlfriend watching over him with light emanating from mouth, nose and eyes. Straightjacketed and helpless, he is rescued again, only to realize that the Necromorphs from Aegis VII are still around and have begun to convert The Sprawl’s residents – civilian, prisoner, and military personnel alike – into deadly alien horrors.
The gameplay is nearly identical to the original game, and you’ll find all of the weapons from the original in this follow-up title. Likewise, you return to many of the tropes of the first title, including upgrading weapons with power nodes, logic puzzles, and zero-G combat and navigation.
Given that, you’d think that this would just be more of the same. But you’d only be half right…
Dead Space 2 is everything that the first game was… but more. And better.
Sure you have all of the original stuff, but in many ways EA/Visceral Games optimized it and made incredibly well thought out improvements. One of the best improvements was that of zero gravity. There were times in the original that zero-G sections of the Ishimura could be maddening. You could only traverse zero-G in straight lines, landing in predetermined areas. Issac’s newer suits all come with propulsion systems, allowing you to float, and thereby better navigate the Sprawl.
Another interesting development was the selection of suits. While Issac had many suit upgrade options in the original, you got one suit that progressively got better with upgrades. DS2 offers whole different suits available at the stores that not only make armor improvements, but give you special abilities and boosts. For instance, you can get the Vintage Suit to give 10% discounts in the store, or the Advanced Suit which recharges the Stasis Unit 50% faster, as well as a few others.
The destination system also was repaired and upgraded. Not only does it not provide the frustrating non-direction bug any longer, but you’re not left to look at frustrating and ill-navigated map features in the RIG. You can actually change your destination to show you where the closest Store, Bench, or Save Station is.
Speaking of the Bench, they even added new features there. This game allows respec on your weapons. If you find that strategies are in need of updating, you can pull all of the nodes out of any given weapon for a whopping $5,000 credits. Likewise, some new things were added to old favorites. The RIG now allows for you to make Stasis unit adjustments in terms of damage that projectiles will do. Likewise, the Line Gun has timer enhancements, and the Plasma Cutter can be modified to set targets aflame when struck.
Of course, you can also rely on the age-old sequel bolt-ons that are new weapons like the Javelin or the Detonator. I played through without using the Javelin once – but the Detonator was essential to completing some parts of the story.
You also get terrifying new Necromorphs. Some are straightforward like the Stalkers which use pack tactics to bring you down (and are thwarted with Detonator Mines – a personal favorite), or the Puker which vomits stasis fluid on you to slow you down. Others are huge and tricky to deal with like the Tripod, which is reminiscent of the tentacle horror in DS1. Then there are terrifying ones not in terms of strategy, but in terms of sheer existence. No one was spared on Titan Station, not even the children, and Exploders and the Pack exemplify this. Exploders were human babies and toddlers converted into suicide bombers, while the Pack are groups of pre-pubescent children gone feral with claws and fangs.
Lastly, the polish they put on this was amazing. For a three-year-old game on an older platform, the game is lavish in terms of lighting and mood. They put an emphasis on needing light badly. Learn to use your flashlight. It’s one of the more useful things in the game as the designers clearly were going for tension via light deprivation. When the Pack boils out of the woodwork in ill light and you can only see your attackers in flashes of light and muzzle flare, the terror gets turned up to eleven.
I have very few nitpicks with this game, but there were a few, and almost all of them are right at the end of the game.
Every so often, Issac needs to hack an item to get around an obstacle or activate a device. And that’s great! Issac’s an engineer, and this is the stuff he should live for. But, whenever I see that little gear icon show up on a panel, I fight a wave of revulsion. When you hack, you get an octagonal display, and you have to depress the left analog stick and circle around the octagon to find panels that will light up blue-white and activate them. Sounds simple, right? Well, the system is full of red-herrings. Each segment that lights up has to scan first, and sometimes, it’s not what you want. If you select a red herring, it shocks the hell out of you (taking a small amount of health) and you start all over. And that’d be fine if the puzzle didn’t reset where the correct panels were every time. The ‘correct’ segments in the octagon change between attempts, so you can’t apply anything you learned from your first attempt. Given the whole thing is timed, it’s incredibly frustrating- especially when the Ubermorph is coming for you at the end of the game.
Then there’s the final battle. Without giving too much away, it’s incredibly difficult unless you have exactly the right tools optimized for the job. I spent a frustrating hour and a half dying over and over again trying to figure out how to do it with the tools at hand. Eventually, I had to revert to a prior save, and agonizingly return to the last location where there were a bench and a store, which in turn took another hour fighting through areas where the only way through is to take extreme damage while running, limiting the number of med packs and ammo available to me even more – all while being chased by the Ubermorph. Once I got the right tools, the boss fight was a snap – much like the first title, though in the first title, you could choose whatever weapon you chose to optimize.
Also, I’m not squeamish about most things, but there’s at least one part that goes above and beyond the gore and unsettling aura the game gives. You’ll know it when you see it. and that the game makes you an active participant in this horrific display makes it all the more uncomfortable. It actually made me have to grit my teeth to keep watching. Which, I guess for a Horror game is actually a compliment. It just hit me in a sensitive area metaphorically.
The Sum Up
Sequels to video games are usually a binary thing – they’re either really good or they’re callous money grabs by the publisher. This falls squarely in the really good camp. As mentioned before, they took everything that was great about the first game and magnified it, keeping what wasn’t broken, fixing what was, and adding a few new and useful layers of depth. For fans of the first title, you’ll love the game and all of the little nods it makes to the first title. For those new to the franchise, it gives enough of the past to keep you in the present story comfortably. I’d recommend this for anyone who loves survival horror with a keen eye to atmosphere and terror.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC ; Publisher: Electronic Arts ; Developer: Visceral Games ; Release Date: January 35, 2011; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Dead Space 2 purchased by Hey Poor Player.