Dead Space 2 – Review
I hate spoilers in games reviews. Well, not spoilers as such; only an arse would put an actual spoiler in a review, but of the odd one or two that do they might flag it with a SPOILER WARNING in big bold text, which is the gaming equivalent of car crash at the side of the road. You know you shouldn’t look but you do anyway. So, to make it safe for you to read if you’re one of those people that doesn’t read reviews because something might get spoiled, you’ll be ok to read my Dead Space 2 review; it’s safe. I’m not even going to hint at things that might happen because you’re just going to put together the pieces before the twist. What I will do though is bring you up to speed with the overall story of Dead Space and mention the first fifteen or so minutes of the games story.
You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer who was sent to help investigate and aid in getting the USG Ishimura up and running. The Ishimura is a type of ship known as a planet cracker and mankind is now in the business of ‘cracking’ planets because we ran out of resources on earth. “Why don’t we just drill on them?” you ask, well you wouldn’t eat a Cadbury’s Creme Egg with a straw would you? Turns out that everything went to shit on the Ishimura; a religious group known as unitologoists had excavated something known as the Black Marker (which they worship). This Black Marker is a manmade object of unknown origin and was found at the bottom of the Yucatan Peninsula on earth back in 2008, getting inside a person’s mind and driving them crazy as well as being able to alter the subject’s DNA. Isaac has to fight his way through the Ishimura to save his girlfriend and, of course, “the day”. I know it sounds a bit of a standard issue affair and my brief description of the first game hasn’t really done it any justice, but there are so many plots twists and hints at things that you as the player need to make your own mind up about that in even hinting at them I could spoil it for you.
So in trying to explain the story of Dead Space 2 I’m faced with the same problem, but I’ll give you the intro. The game starts with Isaac having flashbacks to the events of first game while being interviewed by a doctor, this serves as a reminder to anybody who finished the first Dead Space of what happened but it also fills in anybody who didn’t play the first one with the enough back story to be able to get on with it. Obviously I’d recommend picking up the first Dead Space in order to be able to appreciate all the little things in Dead Space 2 and, in turn, get so much more from the story of Isaac Clarke, but it’s not essential and newcomers to the series could just jump right in with Dead Space 2. This first section of the game is presented with brilliant style and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before. Bang! (That’s me trying to make you jump, it’s not easy with the written word). The screen goes black. Next thing you know you’re strapped to a table with some guy trying to free you when, just as he cuts you free, a Necromorph spikes him in the head and you’re on your own. This introduction to the game is very clever in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back is: no messing about introducing you to the characters and easing you into its universe; it’s a sequel and it knows that so it just hits the ground running. You’ll be feeling pretty helpless at this point; your arms are tied together, you have no weapons, no armour, no health, no mini map and no magic line to point you in the right direction. Just a girl shouting run down the radio at you to run as Necromorphs burst through the glass walls and air vents before tearing towards you because they want to eat your face.
Any other game would have had you spamming grenades and hiding behind cover in the first 5 minutes. It throws you off guard as the gamer it’s not how this normally works we don’t run! We stand our ground our fight! You have no choice though, the tension and panic levels start to set in as you try and navigate your way through a maze of dark corridors while things are exploding in front of you and other “things” are chasing you from behind. Dead Space 2 is full of standout unique moments like this (no – not where your hands are tied) and they help deliver what is not only a brilliant science fiction / horror story but one that you can care about and really get invested in.
There are two trains of thought when it comes to the player’s character in games; first we have the strong silent type that lets the player project themselves as the protagonist but this comes at a cost of not caring too much about them or the story, much like in Dead Space 1 and games such as Call of Duty and Halo. Then you have the other side of the coin of giving them a voice and making them more of their own person for the player to care about which, if done wrong, can backfire and the main character can just come across as corny or worse – a shell that you don’t care about and can’t even project yourself on to. In Dead Space 2 though Isaac is very much his own man, he’ll react to things going on around him and not just in a cut scene kind of way, he’s doing it as your playing. If somebody tries to contact you in the middle of a fight Isaac will quite humorously ask them if they can call back later because he’s a little busy. I think I even heard him sigh with relief after an intense fight once or twice. Now to anybody who’s not into gaming like some of us are, this might sound a bit daft and not a big deal at all, but I had stopped to watch something going on in another room through a window (this wasn’t part of a cut scene) and what was going on in the room was not only creepy but also quite moving as I watched somebody… oh nearly got carried away there. Well, eventually what was going on in the room made me jump out of my skin but it also made Isaac jump on screen and this wasn’t a cut scene. Sounds like a stupid little thing, I know, but the game is full of hundreds of those little touches which make Isaac and the world all the more believable.
It’s safe to say that we are well into this console cycle now and I still get surprised when a game like this comes along; I don’t know what Visceral Games have done and I don’t know how they have done it but, right from that first section in the hospital, the level of detail in everything is above and beyond what you would expect. It stands tall above its predecessor which, to be fair, was a horrifically beautiful game; you can see the weave in Isaac’s straitjacket, droplets of water and blood float around in the Zero G sections, scratches in the metal walls, torn posters on walls… everything is spot on. The lighting sets the scene perfectly whether it be candlelight, black light or sunlight, every section of the game is lit perfectly. Size wise the Ishimura was big but the Sprawl dwarfs it; when you get to a high point on the Sprawl and look out of a window you’ll know what exactly what I mean, it’s huge!
Thankfully none of these visuals will be ruined by a H.U.D. or on screen maps and health bars, they’ve kept everything you need on screen and built into the game same as before. Your health bar is displayed up Isaac’s spine as part of his RIG system with your stasis ability charge displayed to its right. The objective marker has received an improvement and now lets you change your destination to the nearest shop, save point or bench. If I’m honest though I didn’t feel the need to use it as much as I did in the first game because you’re not running around back and forth like a space janitor cleaning up everybody’s mess; this time around Isaac is the one deciding where to go and the level design just naturally pushes you in the right direction.
Also making a return to Dead Space 2 is that beautiful menu system, you wont be able to help yourself from panning the camera around when its open to look at how everything is delicately laid on top of each other and see the videos being played back to you from behind. Why other games haven’t ripped this off yet I don’t know.
During your time on the Sprawl you’ll be taken to lots of different places, each with their own very different styles (again I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t list them) and it’s a nice change from the same old corridors that you were used to seeing in the first Dead Space. The Necromorphs are as horrific looking as ever, looking at some of them close up will make you wince they are that nasty. Close your eyes and think of a woman; a woman with a split from her neck to her lady bits, with her chest cracked wide open and all her organs on show. Then snap one of her legs around backwards and yank her head up off her shoulders by about an extra foot so it’s wobbling about on her spine. Then, just for shits and giggles, pull on her arms so her skin tears at her shoulders and now imagine her running at you screaming. Congratulations, you’re about half way there to understanding just how graphic the gore is, and she’s just one of the timid Necromorphs! Some of the old favourites are back too like the fat thing that the little annoying things pop out of, the speedy wall climbing crocodile like ones, the slow ones with the glowy bomb bit on the end of their arm and the big armoured buggers that are hard to kill. Then there are the new ones, you’ll have seen the child Necromorphs in the early press and trailers and faced off against them in the demo but there are many more and they all have their very own special ways of stalking you.
So on to the horror. It is, at its core, a survival horror game; I know a lot of emphasis in the run up to the game with the developer diaries and the trailers etc have focused on some of the more action bits of the game, which may have put a few of you off but you need not fear, well actually you kind of do. You have my word, it’s a very scary game and in a lot of different ways; noises in the distance will make you fear for what’s up ahead, clangs of pipes falling over behind you will leave you not wanting to turn around and the close things you can’t see but hear will stop you dead in your tracks. The audio of Dead Space 2 is what really gives it that fear factor; play Halo or Mass Effect’s soundtrack over the top of it and you’ve got a very different game. I don’t think I’ve ever really paid much attention to the music so much in a game before playing Dead Space but it really plays with your emotions. In fact, the most intense fifteen minutes of the game that I played didn’t even have a single enemy in it; it was just myself, those noises in the distance, and the game’s brilliant score, yet it was the most scared I’d been throughout the game. To get the very best from Dead Space’s audio, having a surround sound system certainly helps put you there in the room with Isaac and it’s without question the best use of surround sound I’ve heard in a game. You’ll hear a clang behind you just off to one of the sides and you instantly know exactly where in the room it came from, all you need to decide on is if you want to turn around and look or cheese it for the next door.
I’ve not really got anything bad to say about the game, I’d like to be able to at least pick fault with something so I can come across as being balanced by having something bad to say but I can’t. The frame rate is solid all the way though even at the messy parts when there are stacks of baddies onscreen and stuff blowing up. The depth when looking out of a window across the Sprawl and into space are breathtaking when most other developers would just have stuck up the gaming equivalent of a cardboard set outside the window. There are these Necromorphs (from the first game) that will piss you off a little, they are the ones that kind of climb the walls and dive at you knocking you over before jumping off at another wall. You need to make sure you do some crowd control on them because once two or three of them get up close and personal you’ll have a hard job getting them to piss off with out the use of proximity mines at close range. All that said though, they are face sucking zombie aliens made from reconstituted people and if they aren’t pissing you off they aren’t doing it right. There is, however, the addition of multiplayer to Dead Space 2; it’s a nice addition and is fun with a few friends for a while but, let’s be honest, it’s not why you bought the game. Think Left 4 Dead meets the last Alien Vs. Predator and you’re about there. I would have liked to have seen them go down the Splinter Cell: Conviction route and have a co-op multiplayer with two meathead marines fighting across the Sprawl at the same time Isaac’s story is going on, but if we get lucky we might see something like that in the way of DLC. Regardless of what you make of the multiplayer however, you will be pleased to hear that there are no multiplayer only achievements or trophies, so you don’t even need to go near it if you don’t want to.
So, to bring this to a close, here’s my guide to surviving The Sprawl:
- Check your corners – nothing will make you scream like a small girl than having some ugly bugger jump out of a dark corner for a cuddle.
- Don’t ever lower your gun – two reasons, first it has a torch on the end and second, screaming “aghhhh shit what the fuck!” then pulling the right trigger only to swing your arms around with failed melée attacks miles from the mess of a former man down the corridor who wants a cuddle makes you look stupid.
- Keep the assault rifle on you – it was near bloody useless in the first game but has been my weapon of choice when dispatching some of the smaller annoying enemies.
- Keep a spare power node on you – Normally used for upgrading weapons they will also act as keys for some doors full of treasure which had always outweighed the value of the node.
- Don’t assume that just because your stood next to a save point that you’re safe – you’re not. After saving my game I headed in to the kitchen to grab a glass and a bottle of Coke; I placed the glass on my coffee table, filled it up and pulled the lever on the side of my sofa to recline it. At that very moment a Necromorph jumped out in front of me, I think my exact words as I jumped out of my skin were “JESUS FUUU…ARGHHHHHHH” as I lashed out in fear and kicked my glass of Coke across the living room. Four times I’ve tried to clean it out of the carpet, it’s still not right.
- If you’re at a T-junction and your objective marker is pointing one way – go the other.
- When pouring a drink, just pause the game.
- The graphics are stunning.
- The sound is so much more than half the picture.
- The balance between action sections and horror sections is spot on.
- It has an ending worthy of the rest of the game that will leave you satisfied.
- Fans of the expanded universe will love some of the little hints and mentions of things that happened elsewhere.
- All the tiny details in things like the audio logs and text files you’ll find which expand on an already immersive story.
- It’ll scare the crap out of you.
- Multiplayer is “OK” it doesn’t take anything away from the main game, it's just kind of there on the side.
- There’s a guy that at one point in the game gets turned into a Necromorph right in front of you, he looks a little like a guy out of The Sims throwing a strop before his face melts off.
- It’ll scare the crap out of you.
How long is Dead Space 2? Well I've got a bit of an issue with that, it’s the sort of question we all want answering before dropping £40 on a game and I know what my game clock said at my last save point (but I won’t share that with you for fear of being mocked) I don’t have a problem telling you all that this game is worth that £40 and I want to go back to it and start again already, something which I don't often do. If you haven’t been able to tell; I loved this game, I loved everything about it and hopefully you can understand why I didn’t want to touch too much on the story. It’s full of plot twists, amazing locales, lots clever little things that make you question Isaacs sanity as you go but they are all things that are part of your nightmare, I’ve had mine. If it wasn’t for the fact that I didn’t have to get the game finished for this review, it would have been put back in its case and hidden in my freezer until I felt safe enough to play it again and I don’t think I can pay it any bigger compliment than that.
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