Dead Space 2 Review
Survival horror has a new gold standard.
January 21, 2011 IGN
Dead Space 2 is an amazing game. I'm going to write about its scary moments, cool kills, and how much I dig the main character's internal struggle, but Dead Space 2 is about more than this. When I beat it for the first time, I sat on the couch with my heart racing and dissected the journey I had just taken. Then, I started my second playthrough, and when that was done, I jumped into a new game for the third time. Dead Space 2 is just that good.
It's been three years since the events of the first game, but protagonist Isaac Clarke still can't catch a break. At the beginning of Dead Space 2, he wakes on a space station known as the Sprawl and finds the place is overwhelmed by an outbreak of reanimated corpses called Necromorphs. From the very first moment of the game, Isaac's fighting for his life.This is where you come in. As Isaac, you'll pick up your plasma cutter, don an engineering suit and take the fight to the beasts out to kill you. The overarching goal is to find and destroy the religious idol (known as the Marker) causing all of this, but the story that makes Dead Space 2 great is the internal war Isaac's fighting. Unlike Uncharted's Nathan Drake who can kill a few hundred pirates and never seem worn down by it, Isaac is totally ruined by the events of the original Dead Space. He saw things no man should have to during his time on the spaceship USG Ishimura, but it's the fact that Isaac's girlfriend died on the vessel after he encouraged her to work there that really haunts him.Isaac's losing his mind in Dead Space 2. The guilt is tearing his very sanity apart. That's heavy stuff and it makes for a really engaging story. Isaac doesn't let anyone else in on the fact that he's coming unglued, so as a player I get to see who he really is and the facade he presents to the other characters. Isaac's internal conversations and hallucinations are among my favorite parts of this game.
But I have lots of favorite parts to Dead Space 2. Right behind Isaac's struggle on my list of cool stuff is the combat. It's more satisfying than it was in the original. Isaac's fast and light on his feet. You can stomp crates in a jiff and melee attack bodies for loot, grabbing things with your telekinesis is responsive, and mixing all of this together with the different weapons in the game is a blast. Slowing down a Necromorph, blowing off its arm, and using the severed limb to impale the foe on a wall is a thing of beauty that doesn't get old.Dead Space 2 is pretty much the best haunted house attraction ever. Visceral stripped out the stuff that slowed down the original game (backtracking, getting disoriented, etc.) and ended up with a fast-paced game that's suspenseful and scary at the same time. You're funneled down these halls and corridors on your way from Point A to Point B, and ghouls pop out for you to blast. I know that "linear" is a bad word in the video game industry, but the package is so well done here that I can't knock Dead Space 2 for taking me on a very specific ride that's marked by awesome moments, environments that range from a cheery schoolhouse to pitch black rooms, and sound that's so well done I'd find myself trying to figure out if it was a monster making its move or my dog rummaging in the living room. Toss in some new disturbing enemies and surprises I won't ruin for you and you have a game that can feel like "the same old thing" at times but becomes much more than that as a whole.
I've already said that I've played the game over and over, so it's important to point out that no ride needs to be the same. Dead Space packs returning weapons such as the saw blade-spitting Ripper as well as brand new items like the Detonator and its trip mines. Each of these weapons -- along with your suit, telekinesis and stasis module -- can be upgraded for maximum ass-kicking, and then the progress can be saved and carried over to your next playthrough. These options and rewards are what kept me wanting to come back. There are tons of new suits (with new bonuses) to unlock and I always wanted to see what my next pimped-out weapon could do.My desire to jump back in really speaks to the shift in Isaac's perspective this time around. Some fans threw hissy fits when Visceral said that there'd be more action in Dead Space 2, but it works and I love it. Isaac feels like a badass here, and he should. He's fought these monsters before and he's used these weapons before. The first game was a scared engineer tossed into hell. The second game is a guy who's lost everything to these monsters and really has nothing left to lose so hell yes he'll put his life on the line and shoot out an airlock if it means killing seven Necromorphs at once. Isaac is stronger here and I feel stronger playing as him.
If you're truly devoted like myself, there's even a mode known as "Hardcore," and it's nothing less than sadistic. The enemies are at their toughest, the supplies are limited, there are no checkpoints, and if you die, you restart from your last save. Oh, and you can only save three times in the entire game. That's crazy talk, but damn, do I want to do it.As much fun as all that is, the "go here and do this" structure does hamper the overarching story. The part about Isaac wrestling his demons is awesome, but the narrative driving the search for the Marker is a bit flat in comparison. Different characters are just popping up to tell you to go there and do that. I wouldn't have a problem with this structure if it ended with Isaac learning something or maturing as a protagonist, but we never get that moment where he takes charge of his own fate. He's always being pushed somewhere by someone.
Another stumble is multiplayer. I've played all of the game's five modes/maps, and none of them did anything for me. Players are broken into two teams: the humans have an objective and the Necromorphs are out to stop them at all costs. As a human, I'd run to an objective, hold out for as long as I could, and then get killed. As a Necromorph, I'd hope my minimal amount of damage dealt killed a weaken opponent or set the kill up for a friend. The pacing and vague objectives really didn't equate to fun. This isn't want I want out of a Dead Space experience.
Luckily, as I hope I've already driven home, Dead Space 2's single-player is so good, you shouldn't question picking this game up. Plus, if you're grabbing this on the PlayStation 3, you're getting Dead Space Extraction as well. IGN's already signed off on the game being cool, so getting it in HD and supporting Trophies is a win. Plus, you can play it with PlayStation Move or your regular controller and both work well.