Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dead Space 2 Review - Horror in Zero Gravity

Score: 8.75/10

Dead Space 2
Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Janurary 25th, 2010



Pros:
  • Terrific sound design
  • Impressive play on lighting
  • Just as frightening as the first
  • Tense combat situations
  • Slew of weaponry at your disposal to customize to your needs

Cons:
  • Besides a few small improvements, not a lot has changed
  • Camera work is iffy when navigating the menu in tighter spaces
  • Multiplayer feels like a missed opportunity
  • Despite two discs, only about 7-8 hour Campaign
Dead Space breathed fresh life into the survival horror genre. Most games typically steered toward one element of gameplay too much and ended up lacking in a certain area. For Resident Evil, the scares dimished as the series went on, despite a new enjoyable type of over-the-shoulder gameplay. For Silent Hill, combat was lacking but the haunting environment was still enough to make you think twice before deciding to walk down a dark hallway. Dead Space managed to combine both, into one of the most thrilling survival horror games I had ever played. The sequel proves no different, offering the same great cinematic thriller experience with fast-paced action to boot.

In Space, Everyone Can Hear you Scream

Isaac Clark is picked up shortly after his narrow escape in the first game and interrogated heavily about his encounters on the USG Ishimura. Suffering from the effects of The Marker, he still has visions of his deceased girlfriend and is admitted to a mental institution. He awakens to a horror he thought he had previously escaped, as Necromorphs run rampant across the metropolis on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. It is up to him to find the newly created Marker and stop the nightmare once again.


One thing Dead Space doesn't seem to lose is its general atmosphere of horror and fear. While the first game felt much more isolated, the setting of this game shifts from a desolate space frigate to a populated city space metropolis. The result had me wishing I was alone again, as the accompanying screams of the populus fleeing in terror did little to enhance my courage. Citizens cower at the sight of the Necromorphs; some torn limb from limb before your eyes, some banging on the doors you pass pleading for help. The crying of women and even children is enough to tug at anyone's heartstrings, and made me actually miss the empty hallways of the first.

Not as quiet as the previous game, Isaac now speaks and interacts with a few new characters he runs into along the way; each slowly peeling away the layers of why the event is happening again. This actually adds to the interest in the character of Isaac, as his intereaction with the visions and characters are a welcome addition to the story. The story has a few surprises along the way, but ultimately felt less satisfying. The first game was much more of a mystery and investigation into the unknown terror that had made its way into the ship. In this one, Isaac already has the general idea of how to stop the Necromorphs and where they were coming from.

Engineering at its Finest

Dead Space progression remains the same, with you heading from Point A to Point B, solving simple puzzles and fighting baddies along the way. The weapons this time around are much more satisfying. The Javelin remains the high point, allowing you to pin an enemy down and use the Alt fire to electrocute them. There are your standard Flamethrowers, Mine Guns, and Sniper Rifles this go around, so expect to choose your favorite four to uprade. Weapons and health are once again upgraded by the Power Nodes you find scattered around the levels or purchased from the Store. There are also schematics to collect to obtain plans for new armor and weaponry in the levels themselves...so nothing has really changed in the economics of the game.



With shiny new toys come shiny new enemies. The baddies this time around are much deadlier than the four legged predecessors of the first. There are hordes of demonic children that swarm your every position, exploding infant worms, and spitting mutants that all work together to bring you down. For example, the spitting fiend's saliva will slow your movement to a crawl, rendering you unable to run from the pack of baddies closing in on your position. The most interesting addition was that of the Stalkers. These "velociraptor" like creatures never attack you head on, but peek around corners and jump over your head until they decide it's time to attack, by which they let out a shriek as they charge. They were incredibly fun to encounter and even more difficult to take down in a group. Baddies in general were smarter, faster, and gave much more intense confrontations than the first.



The main idea behind combat still remains the same; dismemberment is the way to win. Shooting at an opponent's chest directly does little damage, but picking them apart one piece at a time proves more effective. The fact that stasis is now on a recharge timer only furthers the encouragement of its use; as taking apart enemies one by one can become difficult with four of them charging at the same time. It's a simple, yet satisfying way to approach combat; and rarely gets old. In fact, the latter 3 or 4 chapters of the game proved truly difficult, even on Normal.

And We All Float On, Again

One of the more entertaining aspects of Dead Space are the Zero-G environments. These free-floating segments allow you to kick off the ground and float around the room at your leisure. The controls feel much improved this time around, and help when you are not sure which way is "up". These segments come up only on occasion, but each time they do, you find yourself dashing around for the hell of it.

Another great aspect of the game is the ability to purge a room of baddies by shooting out certain windows. This sucks all the enemies into the vacuum of space, and you along with it unless you shoot a specified target overhead in time. Tack on a few on-rails events and high-speed flying manuevers, and you have enough variation in gameplay to keep the progression fresh.

Dead Space Too?

The biggest flaw with Dead Space is the issue with most sequels. The game plays far too similar to the first, and I do mean far too similar. While the first one was enjoyable and this game also stands as a great entry, it feels like more could have been done. With the slew of other sequels that have vastly improved and changed up the dynamic of the gameplay, this game felt far more like an expansion and far less like a sequel.

There are also a few minor annoyances that can occur along the way. The menu still appears in-game, but if you are in a tight corridor, you find yourself having trouble navigating the thing to get to the item you need. There are still many scripted events that are great the first time, but predictable should you repeat them. With the game clocking in about an 8-9 hour campaign depending on difficulties along the way, the game is relatively short despite containing two discs. While it is fun to go back fully equipped and see your powerhouse weapons in action, it would have been nice to have a bit more.

Meet Your Volleyball Team!



Multiplayer is a new ground for Dead Space, and although it won't inspire you to quit Call of Duty, it is a surprisingly fun addition. Players are split into two teams: The CEC Security and The Necromorphs. The CEC are set with a task, usually involving fetch and retrieve or protecting items objectives. The Necromorphs have the obvious task, take out the Engineers one by one. Respawn timers are set in place, so you must work as a team to take down the opposition. After each match, the typical unlocks and rewards can be recovered to let you stand out from the crowd.

Although surprisingly fun, it won't hamper your desire to hop back on other multiplayer games. It's a nice distraction, but nothing we haven't seen before.

Overall

I'll be honest, I expected a little more in the innovation department with this sequel; but if it isn't broke, don't fix it. The game still provides a satisfying survival horror experience that intensifies with each room; complete with scares, jumps, and a whole lot of dismemberment. If you loved the first Dead Space, this one is just as enjoyable.

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