With its perfect balance of horror and action, 2008’s sleeper hit Dead Space was a thrilling ride from start to finish. Dead Space: Extraction proved that, if done correctly, on-rails shooters can be awesome. And now the highly anticipated Dead Space 2 takes the franchise to another level, where it can be mentioned in the same breath as the Uncharteds and God of Wars. Dead Space 2 is not only a sequel that lives up to its predecessor, but surpasses it in almost all aspects. It’s one of those games which you’ll want to play through again immediately after finishing it.
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The sequel takes place three years after the first game. Traumatized by the grueling experience aboard the USS Ishimura and the death of his girlfriend, engineer Isaac Clarke finds himself hospitalized on the Sprawl – a massive city built on one of the moons of Saturn. It doesn’t take long before Isaac’s familiar foes, the hideous Necromorphs, start appearing throughout the hospital complex. Weak and unarmed, Isaac must desperately make it out of the place with the help of a mysterious new ally in what is probably one of gaming’s most intense opening sequences. And just when you are about to get tired of all the running, you’ll get your hands on the game’s signature weapon, the Plasma Cutter. When the friendly NPC starts explaining how to effectively dispatch the Necromorphs, Isaac simply responds by saying, “I have a lot of experience”, a moment that will surely make you smile if you are a fan of the first game.
Yes, the mute protagonist from the first game now talks, but those worrying about him going all Nathan Drake on us and wisecracking as he slices and dices Necromorphs needn’t worry. Isaac is still a pretty serious character. Slowly losing his mind and being constantly haunted by visions of his dead girlfriend, Isaac must somehow uncover his connection with the Marker, the mysterious artifact from the first game and his haunting visions. Isaac is a far more likeable character this time than a faceless guy in a mining suit should be and that’s definitely a plus for the game. The story itself doesn’t step beyond sci-fi/horror-movie clichés, but is serviceable and offers a convincing backdrop to the action.
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Dead Space 2 follows the same structure as the first game for the most part. However, being set in a much larger environment (an entire city as opposed to a single ship in the first game), there’s quite a bit of variety in the environments and a lot more room for bigger set pieces and scripted events. This also means that the game eliminates a lot of backtracking and is much more fast-paced and action-oriented than the original. Consequently, the emphasis on the horror elements is a little less this time around, barring the occasional benign corpse suddenly getting up or a necromorph spawning behind Isaac. However, that doesn’t work against the game. Dead Space 2 fares far better as an action game, thanks to the crisp controls and amazingly satisfying combat. Like the first game, the only way a Necromorph can be killed is by dismembering it and preventing it from moving. You’d expect this “strategic dismemberment” mechanic to get old, especially if you’ve played the first game, but surprisingly, it doesn’t.
Dead Space 2 features some new enemy types and throws in some new toys to play with. Each weapon comes with an alternate mode of fire, letting you create your own strategies while dealing with the variety of Necromorphs. The kinesis and stasis abilities also make a comeback and can prove extremely vital when things get hairy. Upgrades to your equipment and armor have a noticeable effect and the limited resources will make your think twice about choosing the right upgrade. Some light puzzle-solving and a bigger emphasis on zero-gravity environments keeps things fresh throughout the adventure. Dead Space 2’s gameplay packs just the right amount of challenge without ever becoming frustrating. More importantly, it is fun. A lot of fun.
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It is also a very good looking game, from the details on Isaac’s mining suit, to the moodily lit levels, to the hideously deformed Necromorphs. Special credit goes to the in-game interface design, especially the slick holographic inventory/objective screens and the various status meters on Isaac’s suit. Rock solid frame-rates and barely any texture pop-in help enhance the already great visuals. Just as the visuals, the game also excels in the audio department, from the disturbing sounds made by the enemies, to the nasty splash when you stomp over a downed Necromorph, to just the ambient sounds during some of the quieter sections of the game. Playing the game on a big screen in a darkened room with a decent 5.1 audio setup is really quite an experience.
The single-player campaign should take you around 10-12 hours to finish on the normal difficulty setting. While some of you may think that’s less than the first game, those 10-12 hours are packed with quality gameplay and memorable set-pieces that will have you coming back for more. The game features multiple difficulty levels and an aptly named ‘hardcore’ mode that makes the enemies far more lethal and limits the number of times you can save the game. More importantly, a New Game+ mode is also included, which lets you keep all your upgrades and weapons from previous playthroughs. It’s worth mentioning that the PS3 Limited Edition of Dead Space 2 comes with a completely remastered, Move-compatible version of Dead Space: Extraction and is priced as a regular PS3 title. So if that isn’t value for money, what is?
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If all that is not enough, Visceral Games has also thrown in a multiplayer mode. It’s definitely not the primary reason for anyone to buy the game. The idea is a bit like Left 4 Dead 2, except that it’s set in space and has creepier creatures in place of zombies. Players are divided into two teams – humans and Necromorphs. The human team must complete certain objectives, while the Necromorphs attempt to stop them. We didn’t get time to play enough multiplayer, but it doesn’t really go beyond being a fun little add-on to what is primarily a single-player game. Besides, the single-player campaign is so good that you’ll get your money’s worth even if you don’t touch the multiplayer at all.
Tense, creepy, disturbing, action-packed and a whole lot of fun, Dead Space 2 is a sequel that’s even better than the awesome original. Sure, the story could have been better, but then it’s so much fun dismembering Necromorphs that it’s easy to overlook minor flaws. Visceral Games has definitely created a franchise that can stand alongside some of the big names in the genre.es in the genre.