I loved Dead Space. I'm a huge sci-fi/horror fan, and that game scared the sh*t out of me. The eclectic, unholy mixture of Alien meets The Thing gave us something else to fear when the lights go out: the now iconic Necromorphs. Issac Clarke's tale of survival aboard the doomed ship Ishimura (the ship arguably becoming a character in and of itself) was surprisingly deep considering he never uttered a word. So I waited and waited with baited breath for the sequel, and I'm here to tell you, Dead Space 2 doesn't disappoint. Holy fargin' snit! The first 2 minutes alone are as intense as the first game! It scared the bejessus (is that the correct spelling of 'bejessus?') out of me! And it only got better from there....
As the game begins, our hero Issac Clarke is back, three years on from the horrors he survived on the Ishimura. Now in the 'Sprawl,' a massive space station orbiting one of Saturn's moons, he is being interrogated about the events aboard the Ishimura. But his delusions get the better of him and he is put back under. He is still haunted by memories of his beloved Nicole and doesn't seem to be in complete control of his faculties. Upon waking, all hell breaks loose and Issac flees. Necromorphs on the Sprawl? How is this possible? What about the Marker? He is soon contacted by someone named Daina, who promises to get him to safety. Considering the luck Issac has had with women, he's understandably skeptical.
And then you suddenly notice that our previously silent protagonist isn't silent any longer. Issac has found his voice! And his face! Our hero now talks to those around him, swearing like a sailor (I can't say I blame him, keeping in mind the situation). It's a little weird at first, I was used to the strong, silent type, but I'll admit it does give him a more relatable personality.
The narrative takes a great many twists and turns, and I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, so I'll just leave it at that. Needless to say, Issac's journey takes him all over the Sprawl, uncovering more horrors at every turn. It's a thrill ride with some truly iconic moments spanning a range of different gameplay styles. It's fantastic, if a little confusing at times.
The majority of gameplay once again revolves around using any weapon at your disposal to de-limb the hideously mutated monsters before they can get close enough to rip you into tiny pieces. You have a lot of old favorites to play with like the plasma cutter and line gun, as well as some new toys that are absolutely worth trying out. As was the case with the original, ammunition is always at a premium, so you need to keep an eye on your reserves and make sure you're carrying appropriate back ups. Certain weapons work better in certain situations; more than once I had to re-load a save and re-arm before heading back out to face the horror.
Issac also faces some new enemy types, some more cleverly designed than even the previous incarnations. Enemy AI is fairly advanced in some cases, rather than just charging you head on. Reliance on stasis to slow down enemies seemed more prevalent to me. It's hard to talk about without giving too much away, so I'll just say that you need to be on point and your fingers on the button!
Another thing that I liked the increased reliance on telekinesis this time around. Before you even get your trademark plasma cutter Issac needs to make use of his telekinesis to throw anything and everything at the Necromorphs. Using their own severed limbs against them is now no longer for laughs, but rather necessary for survival. Considering how rare ammo is, especially in your first playthrough, keeping an eye out for usable objects to chuck at the baddies saves valuable bullets for when you really need them.
The other chance from the first Dead Space is the zero-gee sections. Whereas before they were disorienting (yet still very cool), Issac now has thrusters on his suit giving you far more freedom of control. You could design a entire game with these mechanics alone, I really feel that they worked that well. If anything, these moments are too rare, but that's just me wishing for more!
Dead Space 2 looks amazing, even improving on the first. Dismemberment has never looked quite as good. I love the fact that they decided you needed to stomp on your fallen foes to get the goodies deep within them. Where do you keep your ammo? Inside, of course! As if this game wasn't gory enough! The impressive splatter factor aside, the lighting and shadow effects do so much to add to the oppressive atmosphere. Issac once again looks amazing, and there are so many little things like the holographic interfaces that are great graphical touches. It's worth taking a look out of some port windows... the views are breathtaking. It shows just how much effort was put into the little details and I, for one, appreciate it.
One of the things that made Dead Space so scary, and indeed most horror franchises, is the soundtrack. Everything you hear in Dead Space 2 is designed around heightening the tension. Sure, the argument can be made that giving Issac a voice takes something away from the profound effect of silence, but even those moments are still prevalent. Hearing his ragged breathing, the only sound in zero-gee, is just awesome. Add in the sound effects of the weapons, the screams of the monstrous Necromorphs, and stuff constantly clattering around in the background making you jump... well, the combined effects induce true fear, something that is impressive enough as it is. I swear, every time my cat ran out from behind the couch while I was playing this game, I jumped because I was so on edge!
Dead Space 2 is not without some flaws. Utilizing the air ducts to transfer from area to area makes sense as I'm assuming the next section is loading during these scenes. But these sections go on for far too long and are overused. I know you're trying to create a sense of claustrophobia, but honestly.... do we need to do this every thirty steps? I'm also not a fan of the new hacking mini-game. It's hard to see what you're doing, even on a big screen. I understand why it's included, but I don't think it's necessary. There are plenty of other ways to heighten tension and break up the action.
Then there is the Hardcore mode, which I have to say scares me as much as the Necromorphs. Not only do you face stronger enemies, but with less ammo than normal... ammo not being the easiest thing to come by in the first place. To make matters worse, there are no checkpoints, so if you do happen to get chopped to bits, you revert to your last save. But here's the kicker... you only get three saves. Yeah, you heard that right... three. In other words, you need to complete the entire game in with only a few breaks. Considering a standard playthrough takes roughly a dozen hours, any deaths will set you back a significant amount of time. Only true sadists need apply. Having said that, if you ever want to check it out, the secret weapon you get up on competition might make the effort worth it. It's crazy cool, and pretty funny to boot. Check it out on YouTube if you're interested.
Overall, I didn't like Dead Space 2 quite as much as the original. To be honest, I think it comes down to the setting. In my opinion, the Ishimura, while a somewhat bizarrely designed and dank ship, had much more personality than the Sprawl. I don't know if it's my Alien obsession coming to the forefront, but it just didn't ring as true for me. That's not to say that the Sprawl isn't a great locale. I thought the more domestic atmosphere was terrifying in its own right. But apart from that admittedly nonsensical pseudo-argument (it really comes down to personal preference), Dead Space 2 is still an absolutely fantastic survival/horror game that left me sleeping with the lights on. I love this franchise, and can't wait to see what horrors await Issac in the inevitable next installment!
Score = 9.5 / 10