The Dead Space series of games has quickly become one of my favorite new IP’s this console generation. Dead Space has reinvigorated the survival-horror genre in a particularly gruesome and disturbing fashion, and it does it all in the dark, cold realm of outer space. What more could you ask for? The sequel takes everything great about the first game, twists, grinds and reanimates it into something even more fucked up. This translates into a genuinely disturbing gaming experience where playing on Survivalist/Zealot difficulty (if you want the true survival-horror experience) means you cherish every line cutter or plasma rounds you can find and health and stasis packs become a rare premium. Oh, and you better have damn good aim otherwise you’re fucked. As with the first title, Dead Space does away with the video game cliche of head shots taking down your enemies in a one-hit fashion. Instead, you must cut the limbs off the Necromorphs (the reanimated baddies controlled by the marker signal which grotesquely rearranges it’s host human body into a nightmarish concoction of razor sharp blades, tentacles, exposed spinal columns, multiple jaws and so on) using whatever tool or weapon you have at your disposal. Take out the legs, then go for the arms until there’s nothing left but a mutilated torso.
When DS2 begins, you find yourself awakened out of a coma-induced stasis by an unknown man (I’m betting more than likely he’s involved with the Unitologists) who is quickly killed off by a slasher and then mutates into one himself before your very eyes. Poor bastard barely gets a word in edgewise before his guts spill out all over your feet. And this sets up the story for DS2. Isaac Clarke, formerly a CEC Engineer assigned to assist the USG Ishimura (the planet-cracker class space craft overrun by Necromorphs in DS1) narrowly escapes the Ishimura and the Marker infected planet of Aegis 7 before they both blow to bits. Somewhere along the line Clarke is picked up by EarthGov and transferred to The Sprawl since his mind contains the blueprints for constructing a new Marker. Don’t worry, none of the aforementioned contains any spoilers since DS2 clearly lays this out in the prologue when you begin the single player campaign in Dead Space 2. And if you didn’t play the first one (WHICH YOU SHOULD DAMN IT) you can always find out what you missed by playing “Previously on Dead Space….” from the main menu of the Single Player content.
While Isaac is aware of his girlfriend Nicole’s fate, who was stationed on the Ishimura at the time of the outbreak, he still can’t seem to shake the guilt from his Marker-addled brain. As you progress through the game, Nicole will make several “appearances” taunting you, whispering sweet-deranged nothings into your RIG’s helmet and generally cause you to have a full-on mental collapse. These hallucinations, apparitions or facsimiles only cause you to become more unwound and creep out, especially when you’re trying to take on a herd of Necromorphs and Nicole starts that total mindfuck thing again. As the game progresses she becomes more benevolent, but her presence is still eerie nonetheless.
Graphically, this game is intensely detailed, even more so than the first title. The Sprawl is a full-scale city with Apartment complex’s, Unitology Churches, Schools, Libraries, Medical Labs, Shopping Malls and a Mass Transit system. Each area is uniquely and intricately portrayed as you would believe a school or shopping center to look on The Sprawl. For instance, the School sector has vibrant green, yellow and red colors, features classrooms with chalkboards, toys and even a gymnasium, all which you can explore. Pick up an item with Isaac’s kinesis ability and you can see in detail if it’s a book, a stuffed animal, a basketball, a bottle of chemical cleaner etc. These little vibrant details bring a genuine level of creepiness, especially in the School, Apt, Shopping and Living areas knowing that there were children and people dieing horrifically gruesome deaths. Where school toys and shopping bags lay, blood trails permeate the surface as well. You will also hear back stories of some the citizens on the Sprawl via text and audio logs. Finding them all can be a challenge, but one I welcome on a second playthru just to find out what happened to who or how they spent their last moments of life. And in each sector you are never safe, as Necromorphs have overtaken The Sprawl. You may feel at ease in the Library, but start wandering around and you’re bound to have a herd of Necromorphs tear thru the walls and air ducts to shred you to pieces.
As you begin your journey through The Sprawl, you will have little more then a straight-jacket and a plasma cutter, but in Metroid style fashion the further you venture, the more capabilities you regain. Soon you will have all your old friends at your disposal: stasis and kinesis modules, your engineer RIG, a bevy of various weapons available for purchase via the store and so on. DS2 does have a more expansive selection of weapons for purchase, all fully upgradable via the bench using power nodes however you will need to strategically plan out for what weapon suits you best because their just aren’t enough power nodes to go around. Everything can be upgraded, from your RIG’s hit points and air tank to the duration and number of charges the stasis module can wield. New weapons in DS2 include the Javelin Gun (launches electrified spears), Seeker Rifle (Sniper Rifle), Mine Detonator Tool (grenade launcher) as well as old favorites such as the Ripper, Line Gun, Pulse Rifle and Contact Beam. Which weapons you purchase and fully upgrade will be essential to your load out and how you play the game.
Selecting your load out of weapons is extremely important, even more so when you start upping the difficulty level beyond casual to Survivalist, Hardcore and Zealot. DS2 features an even more abundant plethora of Necromorphs, expanding on the vast variety of the first game. While their aren’t as many boss fights, their are now more Necromorph herds charging at you, sneaking up behind you and flanking you ALL at the same time. You can enter an area and almost have that lingering feeling as you approach your next unlocked door if Necromorphs will start bursting through wall and ceiling panels, anywhere from 8 to 10 to 15 at a time, depending on how fast your trigger finger is and how accurate your aim can be under severe pressure. Some of the new enemies include the Puker, a lumbering chap that regurgitates acidic vomit which eats away at your health and slows you down. The Stalker, a Necromorph that resembles a Velicoraptor hunts in packs and hides behind crates, occasionally peeking it’s head out to literally bark out strange noises then charges at you full steam for a knock-out punch. Also, the Ubermorph is related to a “Regenerator” from the first game except it seems faster and has a far less human form. Also like the Regenerator, the Ubermorph cannot be killed making it a royal pain in the ass when you encounter this baddie later on.
What would a Dead Space game be without several not-so trust worthy companions? Like the first game, you’ll meet some stragglers along the way, some more than willing to help than others. Nolan Stross, another patient who was infected by the Marker signal and kept in stasis like Isaac repeatedly talks in riddles, acts twitchy but all in all tells you that there is a way to cure you of your affliction and stop the Marker signal. Then there’s this hot blonde chick named Daina who offers you help as soon as you are let free from your stasis-induced prison. Hans Tiedemann is the main human antagonist of DS2 and the EarthGov appointed administrator of the Titan Sprawl, coming from a military background following in his fathers footsteps of governing The Sprawl. His beliefs are deep-rooted and while he evacuates The Sprawl (going against orders from his own superiors) to save as many lives as possible, he views Isaac’s interference as nothing more than a annoyance at first. However as the game progresses he will deliberately try to sabotage your escape routes. And last but not least is Ellie Langford, a CEC Officer who managed to escape with several of her co-workers until their numbers dwindled down to just her. When you first encounter Ellie you don’t know if she’s friend or foe, and it makes for a tense moment. Will she help you or will she ignore your pleas for assistance?
It also wouldn’t be a Dead Space game without some jump scares and downright cringe-worthy moments. DS2 has plenty of jump scares, especially if you play in the dark with headphones amped up. The persistent threat of hallucinations from the marker and even revisiting some old ghosts make for some of the games most genuinely scary moments. Towards the end of the game you will be relentlessly pursued by hordes of Necromorphs while you try to put together the scattered pieces of how to destroy the Marker. One such piece involves Nicole and a machine that puts fears of laser eye surgery to shame. I was literally gripping the handles on my chair, cringing at what was happening to my character on screen. Yes, it was that disturbing. Their are plenty of gore glorified death scenes depending on how you die (sometimes it’s not always a Necromorph that kills you, there are plenty of hazardous dangers lurking in the environment alone on a doomed space station). Dead Space 2 is a definitive experience when it comes to space horror and in some sequences, is just downright malicious with your character.
Dead Space 2 is the total package when it comes to sci-fi horror in space. Cool weapons and gadgets? Check. Downright scary enemies that may haunt your dreams? Check. A beautifully crafted environment with it’s own dangers? Check. A interesting back-story based upon an alien artifact that has corrupted the minds of mankind for it’s own malevolent purposes? Check. Interesting characters that keep you on your toes because of your own paranoia and you have no fucking clue what they’re capable of? Triple Check. I could go on, but I think you can put it together. I thoroughly enjoyed Isaac’s second Necromorph experience and while it falls just a little short of DS1, not because their is anything wrong with the game mind you, it’s just that I’ve been thru this experience before albeit on the confines of a spaceship so I already had an idea of what to expect going in. But as sequels go, this is about as perfect as they get.
Oh, did I mention there’s also multiplayer now? You can play as EarthGov soldiers fighting against hordes of human controlled Necromorphs. While I’ve only played a few hours of the multiplayer experience it was a solid experience on it’s own and doesn’t detract from the single player campaign at all, which is where the real meat of the game is.
This review was completed on the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Space 2. As an added bonus, the PS3 version contains the Wii port of Dead Space: Extraction. A very nice extra for DS enthusiasts. In my critical analysis, that makes the PS3 version the definitive version of Dead Space 2. If you own both a PS3 and an XBOX 360, you’d be well advised to purchase the PS3 iteration (and I’m not saying that with bias, it’s just fact). For the same price, you get the equally awesome Wii-only Dead Space: Extraction rail-based shooter that has been updated with HD graphics for the PS3. Essentially, you are getting two games for the price of one. Look for my review soon of DS: Extraction HD port on the PS3.
SCORE: 5 / 5
***PERFECT SCORE MEANS I RECOMMEND THIS TITLE TO ANY GAMER***