The first Dead Space arrived somewhat silently in 2008 but soon won the admiration of both gamers and critics alike with its haunting atmosphere, unique limb dismemberment mechanic, gripping story and satisfying third person gameplay. A sequel was almost inevitable but this time around the anticipation was far greater and developers Visceral Games certainly had a heavy burden placed on their shoulders to satisfy current fans and perhaps win over some new ones.Dead Space 2 takes place after the events of the original game as players once again assume control of engineer Isaac Clarke as he wakes up in a straitjacket with no memory of the past three years. It’s soon revealed that he’s aboard a giant space metropolis known as the Sprawl which, as luck would have it, is in the throngs of a necromorph outbreak. Isaac then has to fight his way to a safe zone in what’s probably the most intense first 15 minutes of a game ever. From the outset it’s clear that the developers are aiming for a more action oriented game this time around.
Once Isaac is safe, for the time being, then business resumes as he tries to escape and survive this new onslaught with a hefty amount of weaponry and module abilities.
For players new to the series, enemies aren’t simply killed with a simple shot to the head but instead require limbs to be severed before they are put down for good. Different necromorphs have varied appendages that need cutting off so a tactic for each is often required. Fortunately the vast firearms cater to this by being engineering tools designed for cutting or allowing bigger aiming reticules to aid limb dismemberment.
Also working in Isaacs favour are the two module abilities; stasis that slows down a given target and kinesis that allows gamers to pick up and fling objects. Adding to the second is the new skill to pick up spiked objects, including enemy limbs, and use them to impale your foes to the nearest wall. This is incredibly satisfying and useful when you are in a bind with no ammo and spare module power. Naturally this isn’t infinite although it does restore itself slowly over time or via stations that refill it faster.
Once again players can upgrade Isaacs’ suit, modules and weapons via work benches to increase their varying attributes. These are even easier to find this time around as the navigation guide (assessed through a click down on the right thumb stick) can show the current objective as well as nearest bench, save point and store. The game once again includes ‘new game +’ modes when you can start again with all your abilities and upgrades from the previous play through. This and the variety of difficulties offer a lot of replay value especially as it is impossible to be fully powered up by the end of the story.
The narrative this time continues the conspiracy laced goings on of the first game while also adding in the effect that the previous events have had on poor Isaac. The visions that he suffers end up taking centre stage and make the main storyline feels somewhat inferior in comparison to his internal struggle. It’s gripping, entertaining, genuinely surprising at times and the fact that Isaac has a voice this time around adds more weight to proceedings.
The atmosphere during gameplay is once again as tense as before with limited light, eerie noises and fitting musical score once again establishing the Dead Space series as a master in its genre. However unlike the first title where the anticipation of attack builds a greater fear than the attacks themselves, Dead Space 2 offers up more sudden scary moments. These often see enemies burst into view followed by the usual fumbling of controls to deal with the situation. Unfortunately this does seem to happen a lot and after a while its impact does diminish. It’s not enough to ruin the game but it does further enforce the greater emphasis on action.
The visuals are once again superb and the lack of a heads up display (HUD) does a great job of immersing players into the environment. Health and module levels are displayed on the spine of Isaac’s suit and ammo levels are displayed as holograms above each weapon. Even the inventory and maps are projected in front of the character and keep the tension going despite menus usually representing temporary safety.
The environment is drastically varied in comparison to the endless corridors found in the first game. Now schools, churches, shops and living quarters all feature courtesy of the Sprawl’s metropolis setting. All of this is incredibly detailed and captivating rather like the world of Bioshock, however unlike the 2K Games shooter, players are very limited to where they can go. This linearity is hidden well as players are able to take certain detours and don’t have to suffer the heavy backtracking that the first game imposed.
One area that has seen improved freedom however is the antigravity sections. Isaac now has the ability to propel himself throughout these specific sections with full 360 controls thanks to the boosters that are now including in his suit. This replaces the limited options in the first title where players could only thrust themselves from one surface to another.
As if offering an improved and engaging single player wasn’t enough, Visceral Games have decided to up the value with a fully fledged multiplayer mode. This sees players take turns in the shoes of a squad of humans trying to complete objectives or necromorphs trying to stop them by any means necessary.
The humans are vastly overpowered with their firearms however the necromorphs do have their numbers, ability to see humans through walls and the element of surprise as you can choose which vent to spawn from. In addition there are also ranks to progress through and upgrades to collect. Ultimately it’s a fun extra but, although it is proof that Dead Space can be translated into a multiplayer experience, it lacks the sense of isolation that the single player does so well.
Dead Space 2 is a fantastic sequel and manages to improve on the original in almost every way possible. With a more personal story at the heart of the proceedings this is a title you can truly invest in. Some may find the drift towards an increase of action worrying but rest assured that this is still survival horror in every way. The interesting multiplayer element helps increase the replay value and the ‘new game +’ ensures that you get plenty of entertainment for your money. There’s no doubt that the developers have listened to feedback and, as a result, crafted a truly superior follow-up.