Dead Space 2 was a tough game to review. Usually, as a game reviewer I have to run a hundred meter dash to the finish line in order to crank out a write-up in a reasonable about of time. That rarely becomes a problem. However, I can’t seem to play Dead Space 2 for more than an hour without freaking out and needing a break to compose myself. Mission accomplished, Visceral Games; you’ve created another uniquely terrifying atmosphere for your sequel.
When we last saw Isaac Clarke he had successfully escaped the USG Ishiruma after it was overrun by Necromorphs. However, his sanity was not able to make the departing flight. Dead Space 2 picks up some three years later with Isaac Clarke waking on The Sprawl, a heavy populated city on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. For the past few years Isaac has been a test subject and patient getting treatments for his newly-acquired dementia, induced by the traumatic events aboard the USG Ishiruma. But when a necromorph outbreak starts ripping apart The Sprawl, Isaac not only has to battle the undead once again, but will also have to face off with his own psyche.
And therein lies the beauty of Dead Space 2’s setup and delivery: it’s not just about what will jump out and scare you (answer: a lot of things), but what will screw with your mind as well. The player and protagonist Isaac Clarke are linked, experiencing the same kind of reality collapse. Just like Isaac, you’ll begin to question what is real and what isn’t as the game wears on. In a way, it’s kind of like the experience of watching Christopher Nolan’s movie Memento, where the reverse delivery of the film gives the viewer a sense of short term memory loss not unlike what the main character experiences. The only difference being that in Dead Space 2 the player and main protagonist are connected by a similar psychological frailty. Kudos for pulling that off, Visceral Games.
Visceral also made a wise choice in giving Isaac Clarke some personality for the sequel. He may not babble on and on about how his day is going (badly, obviously), but he’s definitely no longer the Gordon Freeman, silent type. But that shift needed to happen for this type of story. Dead Space 2 is a psychological thriller narrative. If Isaac was still a blank slate it wouldn’t work. He’s more the everyman -- someone any gamer can connect and sympathize with. And because there is that connection with the character, Dead Space 2’s story hits the right notes and delivers.
It’s also ironic that the more psychologically fragile Isaac Clarke is, the more badass he becomes. He’s not running from the Necromorphs this time around; he’s running at them. Isaac’s close quarters combat moves are faster, his arsenal is larger, and he’s got a plethora of perk-enhanced suits at his disposal. The necromorphs should learn that you never mess with a crazy white guy. Not only can Isaac pistol-whip and stomp at a much quicker speed, making them actually useful in combat, but stasis and telekinesis have been streamlined for the better. Now you can actually make instant use of them in the heat of a fight. This is incredibly useful when the necromorph herds begin to overwhelm, and they will. It also never gets old freezing a necromorph mid-stride, only to blow off every limb from its body with a few well placed Plasma Cutter shots. While you could upgrade weapons in the original Dead Space, the ability to equip different power suits with different perks is new to Dead Space 2. You can now completely mold not only Isaac’s arsenal, but also his protective armor casing how you see fit. While you unlock each new suit in a linear fashion, that doesn’t necessarily mean the latest is the greatest. Each suit has its own pros and cons. Choosing which one works best for you is dependent on your preferred play-style.
The final frontier is a little more explorable in Dead Space 2 because of complete 3-D movement in Zero-G space. Instead of just b-lining it from platform to platform like you did in the first Dead Space, here in Dead Space 2 you can freely jet around as if you were Iron Man (complete with foot rocket boosters). This makes traversing these Zero-G segments much easier in this sequel. It also leads to some clever and cool environmental puzzles, as well as some incredible Uncharted-esque action set-pieces.
The only black sheep in the Dead Space 2 package -- and by that I mean not so awesome -- is the game’s multiplayer component. Having now seen the entirety of the multiplayer package it is apparent that it was tacked on to “flesh out” the Dead Space 2 experience. Multiplayer is made up of five game-types (meaning five total maps) that all share the same general setup: the human players have to perform a series of objectives, while the necromorph players try to stop them. This is the case whether you’re in the “Titan Mines” trying to construct a Shockmine, or on “Escape” where players must perform a few tasks in order to evacuate the ship via escape pods.
What it basically boils down to is that variety in gameplay is not evenly distributed to both the human and necromorph teams. Human players get different weapons and quasi-interesting goals to accomplish, set against a clock countdown that amplifies the tension. The necromorph players, on the other hand, only get to choose which species of monster they are. And while there are four different breeds -- ranging from nimble melee baby monsters to long-ranged projectile shooter beasts -- gameplay still boils down to you finding the humans and spamming the trigger to kill them all. Essentially, humans get to play objective-based multiplayer while necromorphs only get to play team deathmatch. So you can see how the fun factor in multiplayer is a bit one-sided.
Even when you factor out multiplayer, Dead Space 2 is an awesome game that will easily please fans of the original title. If Dead Space 2 is your first introduction to the mad world of Isaac Clarke, have fun. You’ll soon see what you missed out on the first time around. Dead Space 2 is a rock solid gameplay experience wrapped in shocking scares, terrific atmosphere and some kickass action sequences that I never thought possible for Isaac Clarke. Just make sure you have a spare pair of underwear handy.