Isaac Clarke, the unluckiest space engineer of the 26th century, is more unfortunate than ever in Dead Space 2. 2008′s superb Dead Space took the style of survival horror shooter action exemplified by games like Resident Evil 4 and meshed it with an atmospheric deep-space setting and some terrific, distinctly sci-fi gameplay elements, creating something that felt simultaneously familiar and unique. Dead Space 2, on the other hand, will feel thoroughly familiar to those who have played the original; its few improvements over Dead Space are minor tweaks rather than game changers. But blasting the limbs off of hideous necromorphs remains tremendously satisfying, and although the pacing lags a bit during the game’s middle portions, this second outing packs more than enough scares and surprises to make stepping back into Isaac Clarke’s suit extremely worthwhile. In addition, a new multiplayer component successfully translates Dead Space’s particular breed of dismemberment-focused combat into a pulse-pounding team-based experience that casts you as both humans and as the foul necromorphs. And, at least at the time of release, the PlayStation 3 version includes a hefty bonus: the great on-rails shooter Dead Space Extraction (previously a Wii exclusive), at no additional cost. As long as you’ve got the stomach for it, Dead Space 2 is one sci-fi horror thrill ride you definitely want to take.
6286463NoneIsaac should know that this is no time to hang around.
The first few moments of Dead Space 2 smartly accomplish a good deal in a very short amount of time. We get a glimpse into Isaac’s psychological state, his psyche still tormented by the painful loss he experienced on the Ishimura during the events of the first game. We also learn that the three years since then have been little more than a blur to Isaac–he’s in some kind of hospital facility, but has only the vaguest memories of his time there. And almost before you can say “necromorph outbreak,” you take control of Isaac as he runs for his life from the hideous creatures who, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, have suddenly appeared and started slaughtering the human population here in the Sprawl, a vast urban area on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Isaac, who said not a word in the original game, has a voice here, and although he’s a bit bland as a character, the intensity of the action that surrounds him makes you feel invested in his desperate struggle for survival. Revealing glimpses into the world of Dead Space–such as a trek through a Unitology center that sheds light on the inner workings of the church whose activity is inextricably linked to the necromorph outbreaks–keep the momentum rolling during the early chapters. The game later falls into predictable rhythms for a while, but it picks up steam again toward the end, as the story goes to some unexpected and exciting places and puts almost as much emphasis on Isaac’s struggle against his own demons of guilt and regret as on his battles against the necromorphs.
But those battles against the hideous undead mutations remain front and center, where they belong. The key to dropping necromorphs is still blasting off their often frighteningly pointy limbs, which you do with a number of repurposed mining tools and a few actual guns, all of which feel powerful and are immensely fun to use. All of the weapons from Dead Space return in this sequel, including the plasma cutter and the line gun, which fire beams of energy capable of slicing necromorph limbs clean off. Another returning weapon is the ripper, a terrific tool whose spinning blade can result in a noisy, grisly end to necromorphs who make the mistake of getting too close to you. And there are a few new weapons as well: the detonator lets you place laser-triggered trip mines to set explosive traps for approaching necromorphs, and the javelin gun fires spikes at such a tremendous velocity that any necromorph unfortunate enough to be in their path is likely to find itself impaled to a wall.
Show no mercy to necromorphs who have boarded the subway without a ticket.
As you progress, you can upgrade your weapons with nodes that you collect, making them noticeably more effective at limb-ripping and laying waste to necromorphs, resulting in a satisfying sense of progression. What’s more, it seems kinesis technology has seen remarkable advances in the three years since Isaac’s fateful trip to the Ishimura, and it’s now a much more effective offensive tool. Using this ability to pick up severed necromorph limbs or any of the sharp rods conveniently scattered across the Sprawl and hurl them at necromorphs is no substitute for a trusty plasma rifle by your side, but it works well in a pinch. There’s a delicious feeling of dishing out poetic justice in turning the necromorphs’ own limbs against them, and making use of this tactic is an effective way to conserve your often very limited ammo supply.
The Sprawl’s pressurized environment also occasionally offers a spectacularly reckless and dramatic way to eliminate some necromorphs. Certain rooms have windows that you can easily shatter with a shot of your weapon or a hurled object. The instant you do so, everything in the room–furniture, necromorphs, and you–is rapidly pulled toward the window as the air rushes out into the vacuum of space. To save yourself, as you are being pulled toward the opening, you must quickly shoot a sensor that brings a metallic emergency door down over it. It’s a risky and thrilling maneuver that brings some action-movie-style craziness to what is often a more grim and atmospheric adventure. These Hollywood set-piece moments and others that involve speeding trains, pursuits by massive necromorphs, and other surprises are great, but they’re not entirely enough to keep things from falling into a predictable rhythm for much of the second half. Still, things start revving up again as you approach the conclusion, and the outrageous final moments make for an intense and truly memorable climax.
Despite your powerful and satisfying arsenal, you still feel as if you’re in constant danger, and that’s never more the case than when you’re faced with a few of the terrifying new types of necromorphs that make their debuts here. One new variety, called the pack, resembles a twisted version of a human toddler. Individually very weak, these terrors run at you in groups, emitting bloodcurdling shrieks all the while, and if one manages to leap up onto you, it can cause tremendous damage. The other new standout necromorph type is called a stalker. These hunters display an intelligence previously unseen in necromorphs, making use of cover to try to stay hidden from you until they decide to strike, charging at you with incredible speed. It’s particularly satisfying to hit one of these charging beasts with your very useful stasis ability, stopping it in its tracks before blasting it to bits. On the other hand, these creatures are so speedy and so prone to charge at you when your back is turned that Isaac’s slow turning ability can at times become less a source of tension than a source of frustration.
The pack are one of the deadly and terrifying new types of necromorph that you encounter.
Stasis remains an invaluable part of your arsenal, but turnabout is fair play, and the bile of another new necromorph type, the puker, slows you down almost as much as your stasis ability slows the necromorphs down, leaving you extremely vulnerable for a short period of time. All of these new necromorph threats fit in perfectly with all the returning varieties from the first game, creating a diverse and deadly assortment of both short- and long-range attackers to keep you constantly on edge as you make your way across the Sprawl. Unfortunately, as in the first game, the camera sometimes contributes to the challenge. When you’re backed up against a wall and a necromorph gets too close to you, the camera often won’t show you your assailant, and targeting the creature can require you to move around to get a decent angle, which is frustrating when your health is rapidly being slashed away.