Review: Dead Space 2
By Nick Henderson on February 10th, 2011 (13 comments)
In 2008, EA's Redwood Shores, now known as Visceral Games, released a game that could easily contend with Resident Evil as the most influential third-person horror/action game of all time. The game was met with rave reviews, myself included, thanks to it's haunting atmosphere, wonderful pacing, and tight, responsive controls. In addition to being an excessively polished title, Visceral built a compelling universe that was robust enough to spawn a story that spanned numerous mediums. Since it's launch, the series has seen the release of several animated movies, comic books, and even a novel. Visceral has a lot to live up to with their first sequel and in a lot of ways they have delivered on their promise but does the game surpass the level of quality set by the original or does it fall short. Read on to find out.
Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: January 25, 2011
Achieving critical acclaim and mainstream success in the survival horror genre is difficult to say the least. Despite the few serious frustrations that I had with Dead Space 2, there is certainly no denying the brilliance of the formula that it loyally follows. Few games handle pacing and third person combat with as much grace and style. While the original Dead Space introduced these genre improvements, its sequel will definitely be remembered as the defining entry in what is sure to be a long running series. Rather than redesign the wheel with Dead Space 2, Visceral has built on and perfected the formula that they delivered two years ago. The result is a near perfect horror-action experience that is only hampered by a few frustrating design choices.
At first glance, Dead Space 2 is a seemingly familiar affair but it is the small advancements that make the biggest impact this time around. Whether it is the new voice given to the formerly silent hero, Isaac, or the improvements to the controversial breadcrumb mechanic, almost every aspect of this game feels like it fits and serves an important purpose. Isaac's new-found voice and personality shift the focus of the narrative entirely and ultimately result in a more focused and satisfying experience from a storytelling perspective. When you add in the beautifully detailed environments, amazing lighting effects, and the near perfect sound design, Dead Space 2, at it's base level, is an all around better game than the original.
As the story opens, Clark finds himself waking from a coma on a massive space station known as the Sprawl. In mere seconds (literally), Isaac is thrust back into the nightmare he just woke from. Necromorphs have somehow infested this enormous city and Isaac must once again do what is necessary to survive. Themes of guilt, paranoia, and atonement run rampant. The few supporting characters that do crop up do an adequate job at developing the world but they never develop enough to be considered memorable. With that said, they definitely take the story in the right direction and their presence is not unwanted.
What you shouldn't expect in Dead Space 2 is change. A few new weapons are introduced for ample dismemberment but for the most part, the core game-play remains completely unchanged. Workbenches still allow players to upgrade weapon and vitality stats by assigning nodes to various weapons and armor and the interface which players will use to interact with these elements remain unchanged. Recognizing that fans appreciated the atmospheric and forgive me for saying, visceral, nature of the original, it feels like this was their primary focus when developing a sequel. Sequences that dragged the experience of the original through the mud have been removed entirely while the more enjoyable sequences have been expanded and improved upon in some major ways. The zero-gravity sequences, for instance, have been expanded in scope while giving the player much more freedom to move around. These moments are perfectly spaced, brilliantly designed, and balanced beautifully against the numerous set peace moments littered throughout this 15+ hour experience. It is a roller-coaster ride with the perfect number of dips, loops, and slow, ominous climbs.
Remarkably, Visceral Games has also taken a mechanic that has often been dismissed as lazy and unnecessary in the past and made it relevant in a really smart way. When games like Fable 2 and the original Dead Space turned to the breadcrumb trail mechanic for pointing the players in the direction they need to go, critics hated it. Thankfully, Visceral has redefined the mechanic and established this as one of the most useful mechanics in the game. With a simple press of the right thumb stick, a blue line points the way to the next objective but it is actually the secondary functions of this mechanic that prove useful. Pressing up and down on the d-pad actually changes the color of the trail and leads players to the closest store, save point, or work bench, making it easier to retreat and regroup when confronted with a challenging encounter. If used properly, this tool can ultimately help shape the experience into whatever the player desires while minimizing frustration. The only downside is that the mechanic is never emphasized strongly and players are bound to forget it exists when frustrations are running high.
Unfortunately, the many positive emotions felt while playing Dead Space 2 are often counter-balanced by moments of extreme frustration. Thanks to a total disregard for typical game design conventions, Visceral often floods rooms with enemies from all angles while forcing the player to focus almost exclusively directly in front of them. Due to the fast paced nature of enemy encounters and the unavoidable urge to stay in one piece, tunnel vision often blinded me to threats that were approaching from behind or to the side. This often led to cheap deaths and lots and lots of profanity. This problem can often be handled with good use of the stasis mechanic but thanks to its imprecise targeting and short effect, this won't do a whole lot of good until it has been upgraded substantially. It's an often offensive problem with the game and it's worse to think that a simple quick turn button could have fixed this entirely.
Dead Space 2 is a lengthy single player game with great replay value to boot but EA has remained devoted to their intentions of shipping every one of their games with a multi-player component. After last year's Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, I would consider myself in full support of including a multi-player mode when it innovates and adds to the experience. Luckily, Dead Space 2 still manages to include a passable multi-player experience even when it doesn't necessarily innovate in any real way. Taking a page out of Left 4 Dead's book, the game splits the players into teams that alternate between Necromorph and Human survivors. Humans are tasked with accomplishing objectives to ensure their survival while Necromorphs can spawn from strategically chosen vents to prevent the humans from succeeding. The game is fun regardless of which team you play on and it's leveling and skill earning system is sure to be enough to keep the attention of gamers for short while. It certainly won't have the legs of a Call of Duty game but this additional mode is well designed and a worthy addition to an already satisfying package.
Following up a game as refreshing as Dead Space was sure to be a challenge and after Visceral's latest outing, Dante's Inferno, I wasn't sure if they would pull it off. Luckily, Dead Space can certainly be defined as Visceral's bread and butter franchise. They have proven that they know this universe inside and out and are able to make the changes necessary to ensure that they deliver a blockbuster experience with each entry. With the exception of a few major frustrations, Dead Space 2 stands out as one of the most polished and wonderfully satisfying horror/action experiences this side of Resident Evil.
Score: 84% - Great; very few major issues
I have been around since the very early days of 4Player but you may know me as “the short one” or the guy who is really into Dexter and that sweet new DmC reboot. I am a gaming enthusiast at my core and I love sharing my opinions on the subject with anyone who will listen. I am a cautious optimist and will try any game at least once. When it comes to gaming, I prefer to leave no stone unturned.
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