Itâ€™s been three years since Isaac Clarke left on the rescue mission to the USG Ishimura. Three years of nightmares and visions that have left him tied in a straight jacket and locked in the bowels of the Sprawl. That is until the Sprawl, a giant space station orbiting Saturn, is overrun by the horrific necromorphs. Once again Isaac is caught in a desperate fight for survival while trying to discover the truth about the Concordance Extraction Corporation, the fanatical Church of Unitology and the deadly alien-controlled necromorphs.
Following on directly from Dead Space, the well-received re-invention of the survival/horror genre, Dead Space 2 is a welcome continuation of the story of engineer Isaac Clarke. Although itâ€™s more action orientated then the original, full of gut wrenching deaths and big set pieces, there are still plenty of good scares. Dead Space 2 is one of those rare games that holds your attention from the shocking opening through every darkened room, narrative twist and intense battle.
We first see Isaac in therapy, watching a recording of his girlfriend Nicole. We discover that not only did Isaac fail to save her life on the Ishimura, he was the one who talked her into taking the job on the planet-cracker class ship. The opening shows Isaacâ€™s love for Nicole, his sense of responsibility for her death and his horror at the blood-soaked waking nightmare she has become. Itâ€™s very well done and sets him up as a worthy and likable hero. So, as soon as Isaac gets out of his straight jacket and into his CEC engineering suit, all the good memories of the original Dead Space come flooding back. Just as in the original, the soundtrackâ€™s both subtle and creepy. The armour, monsters and weapons look better than ever and the transitions between cut-scenes and gameplay are fluid and seamless. With Isaacâ€™s health shown on the back on his suit, remaining ammo indicated on each gun and the RIG holotech taking care of video messages and inventory, the lack of a traditional HUD - a very successful feature of the original game - works as well as ever.
Also working well are Isaacâ€™s range of weapons. The line gun is as destructive as ever, sending out an impressive spread of necromorph-dismembering death. Add to this a scoped seeker rifle, a powerful force gun and the circular saw shooting ripper, and Isaac has all the tools to survive everything from a church full of stalkers and infectors to a school hall packed with crawling baby necromorphs with exploding heads.
Dead Space 2 is incredibly instinctive and easy to play. Switching between weapons, reloading, using primary and secondary fire - its like you were born with an electricity-spitting javelin gun in your hands. For a game that relies on shock attacks from hidden enemies, instinctively being able to equip guns, reload or use health is very welcome and helps you survive a lot of those surprises that constantly spring out of the deep, dark shadows. If Dead Space was all about a terrified Isaac trying desperately to survive, Dead Space 2 shows us an Isaac ready and able to clear a room full of necromorph scum.
Despite the greater focus on action, Dead Space 2 is still a very dark story. However, among all the shadows, it is a fantastic looking game. From Isaacâ€™s suits, especially the bulky and beat-up CEC Vintage suit, to the necromorphs, where every one is more disgusting than the last, everything is designed extremely well. Though most of the game is played in semi-darkness, often with only the RIGâ€™s holographic directional system or your gunâ€™s targeting light to help you find your way, there are times when you walk into some beautiful and dramatically lit areas.
But, within the darkness, Dead Space 2 is full of some wonderfully gruesome deaths, plenty of extreme and inventive kills. Yes, Isaac is a very likable guy, but I have never enjoyed seeing any gaming character getting killed as much as him. If heâ€™s not getting his arms ripped off in showers of blood, heâ€™s getting cut completely in half, or eaten, or speared, or he might get his head severed from his shoulders while meat glistens, blood seeps from the ragged wound and bone catches the glimmer of a flickering and dying light.
Along with the deaths are the kills. Dismembering is just as important in Dead Space 2 as in the original. Shots to the body donâ€™t work nearly as well as lopping off a leg and an arm. But, you always have to keep in mind the Zombieland â€˜double tapâ€™ rule. Just because theyâ€™re down, it doesnâ€™t mean theyâ€™re dead. In Dead Space 2, when in doubt, stomp it into pulp [I can attest to the sheer, glorious fun of this - Ed]. But you arenâ€™t just limited to shooting and stomping. Isaac still has the telekinesis and stasis abilities from the original game. Stasis will slow down fast approaching necromorphs, while with your telekinesis you can pick up various objects and use them as thrown weapons. Both are very easy to use in combat and are also needed to get though some minor puzzle elements such as replacing high voltage fuses or slowing down slamming doors.
Another of Isaacâ€™s useful skills is his ability in zero gravity. However, orientating yourself in space, and figuring out where to go and what to do when you get there, is about the only real frustration in the game. While the space walks look great, and are a wonderful contrast to the claustrophobic corridors within the Sprawl, the zero gravity sections tend to slow the game down. Sometimes you go through sections where nothing much happens - just one corridor after another. There are doors, some workbenches were you can upgrade your weapons, or the occasional shop or save node. Until youâ€™re standing in an elevator and down drops a necromorph. You can see what the developers are trying to do - build the tension then provide the shock - but with the gameâ€™s greater focus on action, it doesnâ€™t really work.
There is not a lot in Dead Space 2 that doesnâ€™t work. Even the eight player online mode, which is rather limited, is still a bit different and very enjoyable. Once you have been automatically connected to a quick game you find yourself in one of five maps on either the human or necromorph side. The human team has to battle its way to a checkpoint while the necromorphs get to select their monster and spawn point. So, as a necromorph you search around the map, find a quiet spot behind a group of humans, and then crawl out of the floor to attack them from behind. Although a rather lightweight online package, and lacking the atmosphere of the story, itâ€™s playable and fun.
Dead Space is a very enjoyable survival/horror. It is unashamedly linked back to the Silent Hills and Resident Evils of the past. The game is violent, gross, sad and occasionally spectacular. Everything looks great, from Isaacâ€™s suits to the endless depths of space. Although there are tweaks to the gameplay, and some additional suits, weapons and necromorphs, they all feel like small differences from the original. This is not a game thatâ€™s a significant departure from the first. Although online is quite limited, the engaging story and well-drawn characters make the story mode well worth the ten or fifteen hours it takes to complete. However, the game is very linear, as both the genre and tightly scripted narrative demands. So, there are no surprises left for a second play-through.
But, if you loved Dead Space, youâ€™ll love this. There are some familiar faces, some very familiar places and a story that adds emotion and depth to the original. Even if this is your first taste of the franchise, if you like horror, violence, severed limbs and bodies crushed into seeping bloody pulp, then the dark depths of dead space is just the place for you.