The other day I was driving down a snow covered road with white mounds on either side. Out of nowhere a car decided to dart out from their visually impaired driveway. I swerved to miss them, they hit their brakes, and everyone drove away with nary a scratch. The adrenaline hit fast and hard then pulled away sending a chill down my spine, a sensation that was followed by a quick yet uncontrollable shiver. That’s the very same kind of shiver that Dead Space 2 caused to occur in me on multiple occasions.
It isn’t the overt fear presented in the dark, reaching depths of the Sprawl space station, nor is it the creepy, crawly Necromorphs potentially hiding around every corner or in every vent. The feeling seems to stem from a combination of elements which, while lacking in Visceral’s Dante’s Inferno, come together with expert prowess in Dead Space 2. Detail exudes from every pore and gaping wound as every wall and machine appears to have been individually hand modeled, while growling bass and muffled screams from the sound design leave you constantly unsettled.
Along with the environment and audio, you’ve got the same combat which fans of the original fell in love with. Plenty of different tools of destruction, each with a alternate fire mode to decimate and dismember your alien foes. And dismember them you will, as simply aiming for center mass won’t take them down quickly enough and chews through too much ammunition. Take the new Javelin Gun, for example. It’s normal attack flings big spikes at your enemies. It sticks into them, or the walls, or them to walls. You can then use the alternate fire to electrify your last spike, sending arcs of electricity out hitting nearby enemies. With new weapon additions I still found myself reverting to series mainstays, maxing out upgrade paths on the Line Gun and Plasma Cutter with the Pulse Rifle as backup. This isn’t a bad thing; it just goes to show how well created and fun the originals were. Be sure to let yourself be killed a few times here and there to witness some of the gruesome death animations. Some are quite disturbing.
Sadly, the actual plight of the now-voiced Isaac Clarke isn’t as great as the atmosphere in which it takes place. Set three years after the events of the first title, Isaac wakes up from a medically induced haze to find that everything around him has gone to shit. To its credit, Dead Space 2 wastes absolutely no time getting into the thick of things. If you’ve never played the first title or just forgot what happened, there’s an optional vignette available to watch before you step in to get you up to speed. I knew things weren’t going to turn out great when the first plot twist happened. But by the time the credits rolled I was left wanting from a boss fight that forced a change in difficulty and a send-off that seemed somewhat inappropriate. The story does the job with some predictable twists thrown in and some great set pieces, but ultimately just turns into a vehicle for progression instead of something quite noteworthy.
Actual progression throughout the campaign is handled with care, building nicely with callbacks to the original title where appropriate, and mixing horror with action wonderfully. You’ll be fighting off swarms of bad guys one moment, then tiptoeing your way through corridors, low on health and ammo in the next, literally holding your breath. The feeling of relief that rushes over you after finding just a small health pack is truly intense and exemplifies ‘survival horror’. Visceral also changed up the zero gravity portions of the game, adding propulsion jets to your suit so you’re not only jumping from flat surface to flat surface like in the original, but floating around engaging in semi-acrobatic combat. This change allows for a bit more freedom and even some external, space based flight, which is awesome. After completing the campaign, you’ll be able to start a new game plus mode, which carries over equipment and weapons from previous playthroughs onto higher difficulty levels. Much better than in the previous game, where you’d only get to use them on the same skill level you just completed.
While single player is a great experience, the mulitplayer is exactly what I thought it was going to be: something unnecessary, tacked on to a polished single player experience. While the premise of “Left 4 Dead IN SPACE!” sounds great, the plodding and methodical gameplay just doesn’t fit properly into a fast paced multiplayer encounter. You’ll join one of two teams playing as either the humans trying to accomplish objectives, or the Necromorphs trying to stop them. There’s persistent progression, new unlocks, and all those fancy things someone in a suit decided should be in every multiplayer game since Modern Warfare. But it all comes off as a fairly lackluster way to cram the EA Online Pass in — $10 if you buy the game used — and is a perfect example of why multiplayer isn’t important for every game. And despite never completing the final objective, the humans won every match I played. It would have served them well to have fully embraced Left 4 Dead instead of just trying to use it as a crutch to market something that didn’t need to exist in the first place. I would have been happier with a simple cooperative horde mode.
If you have the option, the PlayStation 3 version is the way to go. Not only does it come with the great light gun prequel shooter, Dead Space Extraction, but it’s on a single Blu-ray disc, as opposed to the two DVD pack you’ll find on the Xbox 360. Extraction is essentially the same game that it was on the Wii, but now in high definition and compatible with PlayStation Move. You can play with a DualShock controller, but that would be stupid.
My suggestion to anyone taking the Dead Space 2 plunge would be to turn off the lights, crank up the volume, and lose yourself in the Sprawl. Visceral has proven once again that they know how to create a highly atmospheric space horror symphony. And if you’re up for the challenge of Hardcore mode, you can even unlock a foam finger gun that goes pew-pew.
4.5 out of 5
Originally posted on Evil Avatar.