January 25, 2011
Fear is something that's hard-wired into us from an evolutionary standpoint. It heightens the senses, gives us a burst of adrenaline and helps us react to fight or flight situations. So why then, does all of this kick in when we're playing a video game? We're not actually being attacked by monsters for real. We're not in any genuine imminent danger. In fact, the truth is, it’s all about immersion, and making you feel like you are there. In Dead Space 2, there's always this all-pervading sense of peril and the ever-looming threat of death lurking around each and every corner, and it still feels real, even if it isn't because of the believable world and moody atmosphere that Visceral has created. Suffice to say then, that Dead Space 2 is bloody terrifying.
Following Isaac Clarke's terrifying ordeal on the USG Ishimura in the original, Dead Space 2 picks up with the engineer as he finds himself trapped within the confines of the expansive Sprawl colony - a human settlement built on a piece of Saturn's moon, Titan. Starting out utterly vulnerable and at the mercy of his own fractured psyche, Isaac soon finds himself back in his clunky engineer's suit, blasting and stomping his way through another frightening outbreak of spindly Necromorphs. Only this time, he must fight against himself too, as he intermittently experiences disturbing hallucinations that threaten to send him completely insane.
Dead Space 2's atmosphere and sense of place is every bit as accomplished as the first Dead Space's, with the Sprawl as lived-in and convincing as the Ishimura was with its numerous compartments, twisting corridors and strategically-placed open chambers. In the Sprawl, you'll find yourself wandering through typical human institutions like the shopping mall, the church, the school and residential areas, which like BioShock, thrive on suggesting horrific occurrences with little snapshots of life before disaster strikes. You might, for instance, find a child's room with a night light projecting pretty patterns on the wall while a lullaby plays with toys scattered across the floor. In the next room, blood and filth cakes the floors, leaving you wondering what the hell happened here. The suggestion is far more powerful than anything literal thrown directly into your face could ever provide.
It's this well thought out setting that's part and parcel of the game's unsettling atmosphere, which relies less on hitting you with jump scares, and spends more time building a creeping sense of dread before hitting you square in the face with an unrelenting set-piece designed to drain your ammo with panic fire. That's not to say that there aren't any jump scares. No, there are still plenty of those, just like the usual difficulty spikes to contend with that create the occasional impasse and make life difficult. However, you always have enough tools at your disposal to make it to the next shop where you can stock up on medical supplies and ammo. You just have to know how best to distribute what little resources you're given.
Dead Space 2's narrative is unsurprisingly hugely compelling and even if you haven't played the first one, there's a handy recap video you can watch before you get underway. Giving Isaac the power of speech for the sequel also makes perfect sense within the context of the story, as he's a man fighting with his own demons more than anything else. And of course, the other star of the show is Isaac's iconic rigs (his suits), which come in several flavours throughout the game. There's the standard engineer suit, which has undergone a few tweaks since the last model, the Security suit - which the Sprawl security team wear in multiplayer, which we’ll get to later - and the Advanced suit, which is the sleekest, top of the line armour. Oh, and look out for a schematic that enables you to purchase the original Vintage rig if you're missing it.
The first thing you need to know about Dead Space 2’s gameplay is that it's essentially more of the same, so if you played and loved the first Dead Space, prepare to strap yourself in for another trip through video games' greatest haunted house. As ever, Dead Space 2 is all about the thrill of dismemberment, as you navigate your way through strobe-lit corridors with your weapon and flashlight held primed and ready to carve up anything you come across. Shadows flicker and play with your perceptions and the game is so well-paced that even the rare moments of relative calm keep you completely on edge, constantly wondering where the next gristly monster is going to leap from.
Dead Space 2's new weapons and improved telekinesis (TK) abilities are an absolute joy too, giving you a greater variety of options during intense encounters with the game's menagerie of Necromorphs; of which there are multiple new additions that keep you on your toes. Brutes and Tripods are a larger class of monster, requiring a careful strategy to limit the amount of damage you take, while the Pack and Stalkers rely on the element of surprise to rush you when you least expect it. Stalkers in particular are frightening in that they're intelligent, biding their time by peeking around corners, waiting for the optimum moment to strike, at which point they charge at you with a blood-curdling, high-pitched screech before slamming you to the ground.
Isaac can carry four weapons at a time, so selecting the right ones to use for the right situations is key, and of course, ammunition is scarce. Even on the easier difficulties, you'll be scrabbling around for line racks, plasma energy, pulse rifle ammo and javelins for the tasty new Javelin Gun, just to scrape through to the next sequence. You'll find the Plasma Cutter utterly indispensable as always, but then the Javelin Gun also slots neatly into Isaac's arsenal, enabling you to pin Necromorphs to walls before sending several thousand volts coursing through their rotten carcasses, spreading to anything in the vicinity.
When things get desperate – and if you can stay cool in a crisis – then you can always resort to using TK to hurl Slasher limbs or steel rods at your assailants to transform them into walking pin cushions. This is especially ideal if you happen to be near a weak window, which you can smash to cause decompression and suck the entire contents of the room out into the deep dark void of space. Just be sure to shoot the pressure pad at the top of the window frame to seal yourself in though, otherwise you’ll get caught in the shutter and suffer a slow and agonising bisection.
Talking of agonising, much like the original, Dead Space 2’s final boss encounter is another massive disappointment, especially after a tough and testing final chapter that sees Isaac relentlessly pursued for the duration. A better payoff would have been a just reward for an edgy concluding section that puts a serious strain on managing the remainder of your ammunition and health packs, but it fails to deliver on all counts. We're not sure whether it's an improvement over Dead Space 1's ending or not, because truth be told, both seem like a bit of a letdown, which is a shame considering the rest of the ride is so exhilarating.
Once you've dispensed with Dead Space 2's engaging storyline, you'll want to give the new multiplayer modes a whirl, and thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. Casting you as either a Necromorph or a member of the Sprawl security team, the objective-based games are both focused and enjoyable. More importantly, it has that 'one more go' factor, and the promise of upgrading your equipment by unlocking new weapons and rigs is pretty hard to resist. It's not the best multiplayer mode out there and it's certainly not the most original, nor does it seem as natural a fit as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer turned out to be, but as a fun diversion, you can't really go far wrong.
With four on each team, it's a blast as either side, even if you're losing. Spawning from any nearby vent, springing out at the right time to scare your rivals when playing as the Necromorphs is consistently funny, as is leaping from the ceiling as a Lurker, vomiting across a room as a Spitter or Puker or just leaping and clawing your opponent's face as the Pack is great. As the human team, there's the satisfaction of tearing into an unending stream of Necromorphs with your cache of weapons, making playing as either side is bloody good. Best of all, respawn times are fast too, so you're never left twiddling your thumbs/tentacles.
What's more, the complete lack of multiplayer achievements means that you're free to enjoy the monster mash without adjusting the way you play in the pursuit of that elusive cheevo. We know multiplayer achievements are somewhat divisive, but we're glad that Visceral had the good sense to leave them out here. Besides, there are plenty of inventive and interesting achievements to earn simply playing through single-player, whether it's impaling a Slasher Necromorph with its own arm, carefully severing the heads of 30 Crawlers, dismembering 2,500 limbs or looking out for the ubiquitous Peng treasure, there's plenty to look out for and keep you amused during the game.
Dead Space 2 is a worthwhile sequel to its predecessor, delivering the same brilliantly foreboding atmosphere, outstanding audio and peerless lighting. Despite the somewhat tedious final sequence that far outstays its welcome, fans of the original won't be disappointed by Visceral’s latest instalment. Everything else that comes before moment though is pure video gaming gold, which is both fantastically paced and an unreserved joy to play.
A perfect blend of a spare, subtle soundtrack, filled with incidental sound effects that keep you constantly on your guard. It adds to Dead Space 2's oppressive atmosphere, while pouring on the terror at all the right moments. You'll jump out of your skin on several occasions, that's for sure.
Dead Space 2 excels in producing some of the most gloopy, oozing instances of gore and viscera with a remarkable level of detail. It's the environments that steal the show however, with rusting decrepit facilities giving way to dripping cavernous mines and sterile office buildings. Every inch of the Sprawl looks believable, making DS2 a very immersive experience.
It's virtually the same as Dead Space 1 in terms of playability, so it's still wonderfully fluid and intuitive, but Visceral have made a clear effort to tighten things up, so movement is slicker, the TK mechanics feel better and the game in general is just massively fun to play. Occasionally, the action does become a bit too overwhelming though.
Dead Space 2 is the complete package with its new multiplayer mode, but Dead Space purists will be happy to know that there's a single-player component of similar size to its forebear, offering a solid 10 hours or so of gameplay and just as much replay value as before. Multiplayer is a fantastic bonus, but might not be quite enough to tear you away from the likes of Left 4 Dead's Versus mode, which does a similar thing, only much, much better.
Another strong Dead Space list that's actually a lot easier to complete. There's no multiplayer achievements to worry about, but getting every achievement will require at least two playthroughs, one of which will have to be on Hard Core difficulty, which really is horrendously, mercilessly tough. You have been warned.
Dead Space 2 isn't necessarily better than the first game, it just improves in some areas that weren't necessarily that bad to begin with. The audio is still utterly masterful, creating suspense at all the right junctures, while the visuals and gameplay make Visceral's game one of the finest examples of cinematic gaming at its best. The bottom line however, is that Dead Space 2 is one of the most downright terrifying games that you're ever likely to play. It'll give you nightmares, guaranteed.