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Game: Dead Space 2
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: January 2011
Reviewed: January 2013
Platform: PC
Genre: Survival horror, third-person shooter
Reviewer: ValkyrAssassin



Crazy Isaac is kept in a straight-jacket

When I first heard of Dead Space, I found the game to be full of potential, as it promised to be a proper horror game set in space. Looking at various media presented before its release it looked set to live up to its claims. Upon playing the game for myself, I found the game to be a fairly dull and predictable shooter that provided only limited ‘scares’ and with a story that while good in plot, was spread too thinly across the twelve hours it took me to complete it. It also was poorly ported, and provided control difficulties mostly due to the very cumbersome and elderly movements that one could exert over the character Isaac Clarke. Since I had bought the game many years after its release, I had already bought Dead Space 2 at the same time, and was wondering if I had just wasted my money on a game which I thought would most likely just be exactly the same as the first one, and one I thought would also be shorter too, so I had very little expectation about the game.

Upon loading the second game in the series (a third is on its way at the time of writing) I was greeted almost immediately to a major improvement over the first one: there were no control issues at all. No messing around with v-sync settings to get rid of lag, no elderly pensioner movements, and ultimately, a lot less frustration. Finally I could turn around and face my enemies as they appeared instead of hopelessly turning to find they’ve already moved the other way!


Another instant improvement, which you would expect from a game that came out over two years after the original, is the graphics, with textures that look much sharper overall, and the lighting, which was already decent in the first game, also being improved upon again. Some sections of the game can look quite spectacular and also much more colourful than at any point in the first game.


Look, this is no time to do star-jumps!

As I navigated through the levels, I found that the new location, called The Sprawl, is much more interesting to travel through, and throughout the game the visuals and art design vary enough to keep things fresh. This was something of a weak point in the first game, because every new section you visited (constrained as it was by being on a single ship) seemed to look and feel pretty much the same everywhere.

It didn’t help that chapters were a predictable length too, as they were about an hour long each, and so you knew pretty much how long you had left and that regardless of where you currently were, you’d be forced to go back to the internal transport system of the USG Ishimura. In Dead Space 2, chapters vary in length quite a lot, sometimes taking a handful of minutes to complete, other times taking up to an hour, depending on your own exploratory efforts (i.e. going back to collect ammo etc, checking alternate passageways).

The game is completely linear, although at various stages you can slightly alternate your path, but ultimately you are on rails, and generally always heading forward rather than re-tracing steps, which is not a bad thing, as the first game was ultimately only fleshed out by Isaac's pedestrian speed and having to always go back to the internal transport. For this reason, Dead Space 2 feels like it has a lot more depth and substance to it, despite being slightly shorter than the first game.



Some sections of the game feel like they are on rails.

Assuming you have indeed played the first game, you will have known about something called the Marker, and how it was used (or rather mis-used) by people who thought they could control its power, but ultimately failed to. This Marker turns people into monsters called Necromorphs, and although being a different Marker in the second game, it has the same effect, this time turning the inhabitants of the Sprawl into the deadly Necromorphs.

The events of the game take place a few years after the first game, and it starts with Isaac in what seems like a hospital full of insane people. These people have ultimately had their minds corrupted by a new Marker, and it is the knowledge inside Isaacs head which has created a second one. There is more to it than that, as the story-telling throughout the game will explain, but I’ll not go into any depth to avoid any spoilers.

The game-play of the first game has been refined upon, with a generally better result, although some game-play elements are not so good. The basics are still there though; you can use stasis to slow enemies and objects down, to aid with traversing through moving doorways for example and destroying the limbs of the Necromorphs, which is still the primary way of killing them (along with those handily coloured yellow blobs that some of the enemies have!).



Where have all the fish gone?

You can also use telekinesis to forcefully send objects into an enemy, and also to get at security panels. With these you now have a very basic mini-game where you rotate three discs to the right angle before a timer bar runs out. These occasionally need to be done while dealing with enemies too, although thankfully for the most part you aren’t interrupted. At one point in the game, in a computer room, you’ll have to move connectors around, and you’ll still have to replace failed power packs in certain areas, but these are all pretty basic tasks, and not what I’d call puzzles, just simple fetch quests. There are a couple of moments where you have to find a recently deceased crew members body to get through security doors, and the first time I encountered that situation, I thought it was an interesting touch, especially as there are various documents lying around telling you about that particular person.

Like in the first game, you’ll find text and audio logs strewn around the levels, but while I generally wanted to ignore them in the first game, I felt more compelled to read them this time round, and they do help add more depth.





Isaac manages to gain some in-game achievements

Combat wise, you’ll start with the same plasma cutter that Isaac had in the first game, and can upgrade to other weapons as you find schematics for them. These weapons, along with your suit and stasis ability, can be upgraded just like in the first game by using power nodes, and while you can choose to spread these between weapons, it is generally best to focus it on just one weapon to maximise its potential. Throughout the game I stayed with just two weapons, the basic plasma cutter which is free, and my own personal choice, which was the pulse rifle. Due to limited inventory slots, I found it would have been a bad decision to waste the credits you find throughout the game on multiple weapons when you simply don’t have the space to store multiple ammunition types in any kind of usable quantity. The hazard suit you wear can be upgraded at various points throughout the game too, and has minor variations in appearance while gradually giving you more inventory slots as you progress through the game. This is nothing new though, another carry-over from the first game.

One game-play carry-over I wasn’t too keen on were Quick Time Events, and they do seem a little more numerous here, although generally just involve pressing the ‘use’ key very fast. What was difficult, though, were a couple of sections of the game where you are flying in your suit and have to dodge debris and navigate through moving wreckage, which requires pin-point precision, otherwise you face a quick death.


Housework wasn’t on the agenda, so the glass was wisely left alone.

Saving throughout the game uses the same system as the first game, whereby save points are located as you progress through the levels. These act like manual checkpoints in a way, and by themselves would not be enough, but luckily the game does auto-save in-between these save point terminals, it just won’t save progress permanently until you reach the next save terminal, which means you obviously can’t just quit if stuck in a difficult section of the game.

I played the game on the easiest settings, and I do play a fair few games, racking up plenty of hours throughout each week, so I’m not a novice, yet I still found even the easiest setting to be a challenge, and along with the semi-QTE sections of the game, there were times where I did die and have to redo things. Luckily not much at all, but it was difficult at times, and makes the unlocking of even harder modes when you complete the game all the more surprising to me. Are there really people that good?!! One mode unlocked at the end is hardcore which sees you given minimal health and ammunition, and also sees you limited to just three saves. Three saves!!!! For the whole game???!! Surely not?? Well, either way, I won’t ever try it to find out personally, but at least it’ll keep the minority of l33t gamers quiet, who always complain that things are too easy.




Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye

Summary

Dead Space 2 is a decent sequel that both continues the story of the first game, and also eliminates many of the flaws of the first game too. It is action packed all the way through, with much better pacing, and also nicer scenery to look at. The story surrounding the plot is of a better depth and quality than the first game, and the plodding nature of the original has gone, while still having enough quieter sections to keep you on edge and make you jumpy when things do start happening.

While I wouldn’t necessarily have recommended the first game, I can genuinely say I’d definitely recommend Dead Space 2. So if you weren’t sure about getting the sequel after playing through the first one, this will hopefully change your mind.


As well as the single player there is also a new multiplayer mode too, and while I’ve not really touched upon it myself, it will add more action on top of the single player experience, which can’t be a bad thing. The main focus of this review is the single player, though, and that’s what I’ll be basing my final score on.


Save System: ‘Hard’ saving at checkpoints, but ‘Soft’ auto-saves in-between. It generally works well and means you won’t be too pre-occupied with saving all the time.
Graphics: Stellar lighting, nice general art design, better variation than the first game, and a decent use of colour.
Sound: Solid voice acting for the main roles, Necromorphs can sound creepy at times!
Bugs: None that I encountered.
Game-play: An improvement on the first game, and maintaining a good pacing throughout the game. There is plenty of action, and areas that’ll make you edgy.
Storyline: Expands on the original plot and manages to better the original, in the way that it is presented, by being more in depth and also better paced.

Arbitrary Final Score: 4 stars

If you like this, you might also like: Stranding yourself on a space station full of monsters, the first Dead Space, Doom 3(!)

Is this review Dead accurate, or is the reviewer lost in Space? Keep your outbreak contained in the forum!