Dead Space 2 [Review]

Prepare to fight for your life once again in Visceral Game's brilliant survival horror sequel!

Dead Space 2

When the original Dead Space was released in 2008 it took a lot of people by surprise.  Developed by Visceral Games, whose previous titles had all been based off of the James Bond and Simpsons licenses, Dead Space was a completely original sci-fi survival horror game which not only managed to be incredibly creepy but also ended up being one of the best games of that year.  Now, after a two year wait, the creepy necromorph menace has returned in the form of a long-awaited sequel.

The story in Dead Space 2 picks up a few years after the cliffhanger ending of the original game.  After narrowly surviving his previous encounter with the flesh-hungry undead, Isaac Clarke regains consciousness on the Sprawl, a colony established on a moon of Saturn.  It appears several years have passed with Clarke unwillingly sedated and without any memory of the time that has passed.  All he knows is that the necromorphs are back and it’s going to be an uphill battle for survival.

Dead Space 2 takes no time in trying to set up the plot but instead begins with one of the finest tone-setting opening sequences this reviewer has ever seen.  Within seconds of being brought out of his induced coma, Clarke’s would-be rescuer is transformed into a necromorph before his eyes and attempts to kill him.  What results is a mad dash to relative safety as all hell breaks loose.  It’s only when players can pause long enough to take a break that the first chapter title card appears.  The tone that those opening minutes set is what truly what defines Dead Space 2.

Dead Space 2

While the original Dead Space was all about the gradual buildup to big scares and a general feeling of unease, this sequel is very much about panic.  In the previous title Clarke had to deal with quite a few necromorphs, although the encounters were usually were limited to a handful of horrors every now and then.  This time around the threat is constant and monsters attack en masse.  There are so many moments in Dead Space 2 where the terrifying creatures pour out of every nearby vent and dark corner as players find themselves wasting ammo in a frantic attempt to stay alive.  Although players will feel unsettled only in the opening chapters and a few select ones late in the game, they will certainly be kept busy trying to survive overwhelming numbers of the undead instead.

However when these panic-inducing moments of sheer chaos present themselves, players will not be completely outmatched.  While shifting the sequel’s tone more towards constant action-packed battles, Visceral Games wisely redesigned the game’s controls.  Gunning down alien horrors in Dead Space 2 is quicker and more accurate than in its predecessor as the controls for aiming and shooting are far more responsive now.   Not only that, but players can now reload while running and finding save stations or shops is easier due to an overhauled waypoint system.  While not much has really been added to change the general game play of the Dead Space franchise in this new installment, the alterations made here really make all combat far more enjoyable than before.

To deal with the new horrors he must face, Clarke has a larger arsenal this time around to with which to defend himself.  Most of the guns from the original Dead Space have returned in addition to a slew of new armaments.  The new weapons do take a departure from the previous game’s focus on repurposed miner’s tools and are a bit more conventional in design.  Beyond a particularly interesting weapon called the Javelin, which shoots spikes and pins necromorphs down, most of the new guns are based on old classics like proximity mines and sniper rifles.  While the new guns aren’t immensely different from the original, the new controls definitely make any weapon selection more enjoyable.

Dead Space 2

If the monsters in the original Dead Space weren’t gruesome enough (which they certainly were), Visceral Games has created new necromorphs that put some of the original to shame.  For the longest time, I personally considered the necromorph babies from Dead Space 1 to be among the creepiest enemies ever in a game.  Apparently Visceral Games didn’t think they were disturbing enough as the new enemies on display here are absolutely ghastly compared to the original game.

It’s difficult not to talk about the monsters of Dead Space 2 without spoiling them.  Each of the new additions to the necromorph cast are a result of the environments they inhabit.  Considering that Clarke has to explore a whole city this time around, there is a great deal of variation in both locations and enemy types which will keep players both surprised and horrified the whole time.  All I can say is at some point Clarke visits an elementary school.  I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest of the horrible details.

Unfortunately, sometimes a person’s imagination isn’t enough to really detail the horrors of an alien undead horde.  The visual design of Dead Space 2 really does an amazing job of making both the necromorphs and the world they inhabit appear as gruesome and terrible as possible.  The environments which players will explore throughout the game are filled with terrific, mood-fitting lighting which casts foreboding shadows on walls and adds tension to the darkest and dankest of corridors.  When the necromorphs finally attack, they are truly a gruesome sight to behold.  These abominations shuffle around awkwardly as torn muscle and sinew is exposed all while they snap their mandible-like jaws towards poor Clarke.  However, it would be unwise to stare in horror too long as death comes quickly around these unearthly terrors.  In fact, not only is death quick but rather varied in its presentation too.

Apparently Visceral Games hates Clarke as much as the necromorphs do as the sheer number and variety of death scenes in Dead Space 2 is truly insane.  Whether it be being torn apart by a hulking monstrosity or sucked out of an airlock into the vacuum of space, each of Clarke’s potential death scenes are so brutal and over-the-top that they’re nearly a spectacle among themselves.  Once the player suffers a game over after a necromorph tears Clarke’s screaming head off of his body, they’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure that never happens again.  As disturbing as it may sound, it’s clear that these scenes were a labor of love for the team at Visceral Games.

Dead Space 2

Equally as disturbing as the possible ends for Isaac Clarke is the sound of the approaching horrors themselves.  Simply put, Dead Space 2’s sound design team deserves some sort of award for the work they’ve done here.  Haunting cries for help can be heard in the distance, the scuttle of twisted monsters echoes from vents, and in dead silence a heartbeat can faintly be heard.  In the few quiet moments where all is well in Dead Space 2, there is always a sense of tension.  When things go horribly awry and it’s time to fight for your life, the sounds and screams of the necromorphs are both sinister and alarming.  Dismembering your shambling enemies is all the more satisfying thanks to the fantastic sounds of the game’s weapons.  Be it the high-pitch whir of blades slicing the enemy horde to pieces or the crackle of electricity as a pack of fast-moving monsters is shocked into submission, no matter what your weapon of choice is they all sound amazing.

Between the sound design and brilliant graphics found in the game, Dead Space 2 does a fantastic job of keeping things tense and exciting from start to finish.  The game’s single-player component will take around ten hours to complete on average, but that time is jam packed full of necromorph-killing goodness and memorable moments the whole way through.  The game’s pacing is relentless as Clarke frantically makes his way through Titan Station and – hopefully – to a safe escape.

While ten hours may sound like a short time to some, there is additional value here in the form of a new game plus feature.  Upon finishing the game, players can choose to import all their fully upgraded weapons and equipment into any of the game’s originally available difficulties.  Those looking to complete the game on the hardest default difficulty, “zealot,” would do well to take advantage of this option.  Zealot difficulty is particularly brutal in that many enemies can kill poor Clarke in just a couple hits.  The game takes the intensity and horror of combat to a whole new level when death can happen instantly and at any moment.

Dead Space 2 also features a brand new and incredibly intimidating difficulty, named “hard core,” which is unlocked upon completing the story.  In hard core mode, players encounter necromorphs as though they were playing on the zealot difficulty and they cannot import any previously cleared save data in for extra equipment.  However, there is another condition of this mode that is more brutal than any threat in the actual game itself: progress can only be saved a total of three times.  That’s right.  Players are limited to only saving a total number of three times during their entire playthrough.  All checkpoints are removed from the game and should a player carelessly let Clarke die, reloading only returns the game to the last save.  Nothing says terror like losing hours of progress with a single mistake.

For those who pick up the Playstation 3 version of Dead Space 2, there is another nice bonus to round out the value of the game. As of the time of this review, every copy of Dead Space 2 for Playstation 3 is being printed as the “limited edition” version of the game. Included in this PS3 exclusive package is a port of Dead Space: Extraction, the on-rails arcade shooter released for Wii a couple years ago. It’s a nice bit of extra value and this port does support the Playstation Move as well as the standard Dualshock 3 controller.

Dead Space 2

In addition to the single-player modes, there is also a new multi-player component to Dead Space 2.  Those who have played Left 4 Dead will be immediately familiar with the premise: one team of four players controls a squad of humans while the other team of four controls the necromorphs.  During the course of each match, teams take turns being one side or the other and must complete a series of objectives to win.  There are five maps in all available to play and most objectives boil down to capturing important power nodes and defending or destroying a target.  Winning a match or doing particularly well rewards experience which persistently levels up a player’s profile and unlocks new weapons and perks for use online.

While the multi-player component is competently designed, it just doesn’t have much staying power.  The first couple of hours of play can be quite fun but ultimately it becomes dull rather quickly.  The game has a definite lack of variation as the few maps available aren’t particularly interesting and the design of the only included game mode is so derivative that you’ll find yourself reaching for a copy of Left 4 Dead instead.  That being said, the necromorphs are fun to play and the interface in-game is well designed to help new players find their team’s objectives easily.  The multi-player here is enjoyable enough to pick up every now and then, but it’s the single-player element of the game that is the real draw.

Dead Space 2 is one of those rare sequels that manages to take everything that was great in the original game and improve them in every way possible.  The gruesome visuals, unsettling sound design, and refined controls all add up to make this title such an immensely enjoyable and satisfying experience.  While the multi-player does not particularly impress, the single-player so great that, even though it may only be January, I’m confident to say that Dead Space 2 is easily one of the year’s best games.  Any horror fan owes it to themselves to play through this survival horror gem again and again.

Also, for diehard horror fans and Dead Space loyalists, there is a collector’s edition of Dead Space 2 available for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  Although the collector’s edition does not add anything gameplay-wise besides a special edition suit and some slight weapon variants, it does include some great extras such as a soundtrack, concept art, and 1:3 replica of Clarke’s plasma cutter with working LED lights.  The collector’s edition goes for $79.99 while both the Xbox 360 standard edition and the PlayStation 3 “limited edition” go for $59.99.

Jason Wersits
Jason Wersits
Jason Wersits

MASH Veteran

Jason Wersits is a Senior Editor for Mash Those Buttons. A lifetime resident of New Jersey and a diehard Starcraft fan, Jason spends the bulk of his time on the site working with the review staff to cover the games you care oh so much about.

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