The sequel to the 3rd person perspective 2009 survival horror title, Dead Space 2 continues the story of Isaac Clarke, a spaceship mechanic forced to confront monsters corrupted in body and mind by a bizarre alien artifact. With new creatures and weapons supplementing the return of those from the first game and a whole new environment to explore, it’s an iteration of the franchise that carries on the successes of the previous title.
In Dead Space, contact was lost with the USG Ishimura, a massive mining spaceship. Isaac was dispatched in a search and rescue operation hoping to find his girlfriend Nicole, the chief medical officer on the doomed ship. Upon arrival he found that the ship and mining colony had been overrun by necromorphs, murderous creatures fashioned from the corpses of their previous victims and given life by an alien artifact call The Marker.
Though zombie-like, these creatures are not so easy to destroy. Blasting off a necromorph’s head will only slow it down rather than kill it. To fight these creatures Isaac must dismember them, cutting off arms, legs, claws, tails and spines with mining equipment modified to become weapons.
Isaac fought his way through the monsters, destroyed the marker and uncovered the truth; that Nicole had died and her ghost haunts him in visions. After his escape, Isaac entered a stasis sleep for the long journey home.
As Dead Space 2 begins, Isaac is awoken in the hospital on The Sprawl, a satellite city floating in orbit over Saturn. A new necromorph outbreak has taken place and once again Isaac must fight for his life and band together with a few other survivors as he uncovers the truth behind The Marker, the necromorphs and the Church of Unitology; the powerful religious organization that worships The Marker and its alien originators.
The Good: Weapon balances have been improved and new enemy types have been introduced which add more variety to the combat but without abandoning the comfortable feel of the previous game’s controls. Players of the previous game will enjoy how some of the tools like the stasis beam and the ability to telekinetically throw sharp objects have become effective weapons rather than afterthoughts. New guns like the javelin launcher, capable of pinning a necromorph to a wall and then releasing a shocking blast, will provide some new opportunities for destructive mayhem.
The HUD used for this game is a perfect integration into the world. Rather than have health meters or ammo counters built into the edges of the screen, all that information is found on the character model. Isaac’s current health is displayed on his “RIG,” a computer interface running down his spine. When a weapon is readied it projects its current ammo load as a floating hologram. This integration of information helps with the player’s immersion.
Environments are much more varied. In the first Dead Space title the action took place entirely on board industrial mining vessels with a sci-fi gothic look and feel. Now on the Sprawl Isaac faces necromorphs in the apartment blocks, the Unitologist cathedral, the mining levels, the solar array and even the station’s elementary school. There’s also a return to a familiar location from the first game.
Much like a good movie, a video game needs the proper pacing and Dead Space does a good job of keeping the player moving forward while not feeling restrictive. There is a definite set path but the game rewards exploring side alleys with hidden caches of supplies and text and audio logs left behind by the other residents of the sprawl that fill in the story around the necromorph outbreak. The feelings of horror and dread come not simply from jump scare tactics of bodies falling out of lockers or necromorphs leaping through ventilation ducts. There is also the constant worry of managing resources as it’s necessary to make each bullet count. There’s nothing more horrifying in a survival game than to be startled by a monster and fire off half your ammo in panic before killing your attacker. After all, there could be something much worse waiting just around the corner.
The Bad: Though a lot of work has been done to keep combat varied, there are still segments of the game that will feel repetitive, breaking down into a pattern of kneecap, elbow, elbow shots with the basic weapon. Though these fights are less common than they were in the first game, it may still be a distraction to some players.
The physics effects and flying body parts can, at times become comical. The use of the havok engine means that corpses and objects will scatter about in a “realistic” fashion but this sometimes results in bits and pieces rolling end over end or rebounding off walls like a superball. On one occasion, a monster’s severed hand balanced on the point of its thumb and slowly revolved like a top. In a game all about chopping the monsters into pieces and stomping on their corpses it is inevitable that a player will encounter these bizarre and distracting effects.
Would I recommend this game? Absolutely. This game is a refinement of all the things that made its prequel so good. It’s a terrifying thrill ride full of surprising twists and visuals both beautiful and revolting. Fans of sci-fi horror like Event Horizon, Pandorum, and Alien will find a lot to love and even if you don’t play it yourself, find someone else who does and watch it over their shoulder.
Does it pass the Bechdel? No. There are few voiced characters and the female characters never interact.
crowbait: I’ve been a big fan of this IP, having repeatedly played the first game as well as the prequel title Extraction on the Wii, read both the novel and the graphic novel and seen the animated prequel film. I’m even playing a cut down version of the game on the iPhone! I’m glad to see that this new iteration lives up to the promise of the original Dead Space. Now, if only the rest of the franchise material could be so good . . . Ignition. Aftermath.