Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
In some ways, the most shocking thing about the original “Dead Space” was just how good it was.
Visceral Games took a little bit of “Resident Evil 4” and mixed it with a little bit of “Bioshock” and somehow created a game that was greater than the sum of its parts. It was as genuinely frightening in places as the greatest survival horror games, yet had the gameplay of a great action title.
So now, two years later, even if I say that “Dead Space 2” is just more “Dead Space,” that should be enough to make you say, “OK, awesome.”
But it’s not just more “Dead Space.” It’s better in a lot of subtle ways, improving on the tried-and-true formula in ways that many sequels manage to screw up.
The game once again places you in the shoes of Isaac Clarke, the run-of-the-mill space engineer turned space-zombie-dismembering protagonist. But while Isaac was silent and practically faceless in the first game, he is given new life in this sequel. You see a lot more of him without a mask on, and he carries out several conversations with other characters in the story. It’s a simple change that really helps push the narrative forward, because the plot is able to give you a lot more reason to care about the main character.
But I actually don’t want to say too much about the plot, not because it has some “Sixth Sense”-esque twist that shouldn’t be spoiled, but because it’s a legitimately fun ride that’s more fun if you’re at least somewhat in the dark. Also, if you never played the first “Dead Space,” it still holds up really well, and you might want to consider experiencing that story before diving into this one.
The game still involves you running around in space avoiding alien monstrosities known as necromorphs – reanimated human corpses that have been mutated by alien infestation. But unlike most action games (especially those involving zombies), shooting necromorphs in the head is actually a bad idea. The key to killing your enemies is something the game’s designers call “strategic dismemberment.” I.E., you want to shoot off their limbs. I typically go for the legs first, provided the monster has legs in the first place.
Yes, it can get kind of gross.
While a lot of people probably won’t find “Dead Space 2” “scary,” per se, most would probably agree that it gets pretty disturbing in places, though not in a way that makes it feel like a bad slasher movie. You will deal with mutated babies, some gruesome death animations and quite a bit of blood, but most of the disturbance really comes from the game’s fantastic atmosphere. The settings, visuals, lighting and sound tend to combine wonderfully into a very moody experience.
One area “Dead Space 2” really improves on compared to its predecessor is the pacing and diversity. The original game took place entirely on the U.S.G. Ishimura, a mining ship that, while effective, wasn’t very varied. This time around you spend your time on the massive space station known as the Sprawl, which features some really effective settings such as a church, daycare center and mall. You even spend some time floating around without gravity in pretty wide-open spaces outside, which can be a really nice change from the close-quarters corridors.
There’s also multiplayer in the game, which is OK. It plays fine, and some people will no doubt find it enjoyable, but it’s nothing to write home about and really doesn’t compare to the outstanding single-player experience. Still, it’s there if you want it.
At around eight to 10 hours, “Dead Space 2” is neither the longest nor shortest of game experiences. One of the best things I can say about it, though, is that it immediately made me want to start playing it a second time after the credits had rolled, which is something I rarely do. The game thankfully has a “New Game Plus” option to let you take all of your money, weapons and upgrades into a new game, and I intend to do so on a harder difficulty setting as soon as I get the chance.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you like a little horror in your games and want a fantastic sci-fi zombie adventure, you absolutely need to give “Dead Space 2” a look. It’s kicking off the year 2011 on an extremely high note, and I’m already anxious for the next installment.