Dead-Space-2---Xbox-360-Review Dead Space 2 - Xbox 360 Review

   16/02/2011 at 18:52       Ray Smith       16 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Dead Space 2, EA, Visceral Games, Survival Horror, Necromorphs

Back in 2008, Isaac Clarke burst his way into the world of survival space-horror in Visceral Games' Dead Space. In a journey fraught with flying limbs, buckets of gore, and more than a few scares, he battled the hordes of grotesque Necromorphs roaming the corridors, walkways and bowels of the starship USG Ishimura. This dark, disturbing tale would ultimately be seen as one of the year's best, and perhaps the first survival horror game in years that managed to scare anyone other than grannies. Fast forward to 2010 and Visceral and Isaac are back, ready to plasma-slice new ground in the highly anticipated Dead Space 2, a game that promises (and mostly delivers) a whole lot more Space and a hearty supply of deliciously dark, Necromorphic Dead.

Set three years after the events of Dead Space, it's clear from the outset that quite a lot has changed in that time. Our previously silent protagonist has somehow had his voice shocked back into existance following his ordeal on the Ishimura - and the psychological damage doesn't seem to have stopped there either. Isaac is clearly now quite bonkers, hallucinating all manner of grotesque things while being held in a mental hospital in the Sprawl, a dense metropolis built on the Saturn moon of Titan. It's not long, however, before Isaac is confronted by something very real, and equally grotesque, as Necromorphs tear their way back into the spotlight in spectacular fashion.

The opening moments of Dead Space 2 are ripe with terror as Clarke makes a mad dash from the twisted creatures tearing the other patients apart, through a series of disturbing cut-scenes and blood-soaked encounters. Stripped of his trademark armour and with no weapons, Isaac is left incredibly vulnerable in the pulse-pounding opening sequence. It's obvious from the get-go: Dead Space 2 aims to scare players silly. And boy does it ever.

Gone are the somewhat cheap scares of the original where seemingly every dead body encountered leapt back to life in an attempt to rip your face off, replaced instead by a series of terrifying ups and unsettling downs. At times Isaac can be swamped with enemies, frantically blasting his way through them as quickly as possible, scrabbling for precious ammunition, and leaving you bashing the controller to replenish his rapidly depleting health. Sometimes Clarke can be eerily alone, surrounded by nothing but the expertly crafted sound and lighting design that combine to create a visceral sense of dread and foreboding. This game oozes atmosphere from every pore and while the graphics have certainly recieved a very nice update, it's the unsettling feel of the locations visited that gets noticed most. The change of setting in Dead Space 2 allows for some truly provocative locales including an Art Deco inspired Unitology church, full of lush carpets and rich tones, and an incredibly disturbing school, painted in primary colours and spattered with blood and gore.

Naturally, blood and gore once again take centre stage in Dead Space 2, as Isaac tries his best to survive the Necromorph outbreak while completing various tasks and objectives - usually set by characters he knows nothing about and for no real reason other than he's told to. Isn't it interesting how when Isaac does get a voice he seems mostly unwilling to speak for himself and is much happier instead to take orders from strangers? What he lacks in balls, he does, however, make up for in guts. And guns.

Dead Space 2 features around ten weapons in the standard single player campaign (with more available through DLC) each one offering a new way to deal death and dismemberment. Favourites from the first game make a welcome return such as the Plasma Cutter, Line Gun and Contact Beam, joined by useful new additions, most notably the Javelin Gun which can be used to impale foes to walls before issuing a jolt of electricity or (when fully upgraded) a small explosion. Add to that arsenal the Kinesis ability allowing objects to be lifted and thrown remotely, and the Stasis Module that slows time for whatever it hits, and there are certainly many options for bringing down those pesky Necromorphs.

While some weapons are undoubtedly more useful than others, the wide range of choice allows players to customise their arsenal to suit their own playing style. The downside to having so many available weapons, however, is that fully upgrading more than one on a single playthrough is a bit of a challenge. The game seems eager to give away schematics for new suit upgrades or weapons every half hour or so, but doesn't seem to be as generous with Credits or Power Nodes to fully appreciate it all on a single playthrough. The option to remove Power Nodes from previously upgraded equipment becomes available at a later stage in the game, but with ammo and health supplies fairly thin on the ground,  it can be a struggle to decide where those precious Credits are best spent.

Eventually, though perhaps with a few false starts, every player should end up with a selection of weapons that they're happy with. A good thing too as enemies this time round are more ferocious than ever. Often it takes only a couple of slip ups to bring Isaac's life to a premature end and in the later stages of the game as wave after wave of enemies are thrown at you, the difficulty spikes considerably. Each enemy type is fairly easy to take down on it's own, but facing multiple enemies of varying types is a truly challenging experience. Many of the Necromorph types from the first game return but there are some new additions to the group, including the Velociraptor-eque Stalkers that hunt in packs, hiding, flanking, and charging in for the kill when the opportunity arises. As for the exploding babies, they're probably best left unmentioned...

One source of difficulty in this game has become something of an institution among Survival Horror games: movement. Isaac feels sufficiently weighty and he certainly should feel that way considering how much metal he has strapped to him, but in situations where running is the better (or only) option his movements can feel a little sluggish and slow, especially when hit with Necromorph puke which, for some reason, reduces him to the lumbering pace of a crippled snail. I can't help but feel like this is the kind of unecessary false difficulty that should have been left behind in the last generation with the Survival Horror games of old. It's a small gripe, but one worth mentioning, especially since the movement in zero gravity is handled so well.

It's a real treat to propel Isaac in zero-G and float around taking in the sights of drifting debris and formless water particles, before quickly remembering there's no oxygen and making a mad dash to the next section, avoiding suffocation. And that's the problem with these sections. They're so beautifully crafted; from the excellent sound design emulating the vaccuum of space, to the stunning views of Saturn's rings - but the game almost forces Isaac along, turning them into little more than brief set-pieces bookending Necromorph outbreaks. It's nice Visceral addressed the repetetive nature of the first game by adding some stand-out, non-Necromorph moments (including an excellent train car sequence and an epic descent back to the Sprawl) though I can't help but feel they could have stretched them out a little longer to improve the game even further. The same can be said for other aspects, including the incredibly dull hacking mini-game and the 'find-a-fuse' puzzles. Gamers aren't dumb and a little more challenge in the so-called 'puzzles' would have been nice, otherwise what's the point? I think it's safe to say that everyone is tired of the fetch-and-carry puzzle by now.

One thing I am most definitely tired of, however, is the seemingly pointless inclusion of multiplayer modes in games that really don't need them. Dead Space 2 is a great single player game. At around eight or nine hours long it's a good, solid campaign, one that rewards and encourages multiple playthroughs. It's secondary online modes then, are clearly a case of multiplayer for multiplayer's sake. And while not at all poorly constructed or executed, the online humans versus Necromorph multiplayer of Dead Space 2 is little more than light, forgetable fun at the expense of the campaign's atmosphere and mood. It's something most will be done with before they reach the eight hour mark, and isn't perhaps worth the price of the EA Online Pass to play – a mandatory action if Dead Space is a pre-owned purchase. The main campaign is more than enough to keep players busy... especially the unlockable hardcore difficulty.

Ultimately, Dead Space 2 is a game much like its antagonists (though thankfully a whole lot prettier), sure there are a few superfluous limbs in need of a good chopping, while others seem far too stunted and sometimes missing altogether, but crack the surface of this horrifying tale and you'll find a game oozing guts and brains by the bucket-load. With plenty of action and a compelling enough story to keep gamers hooked through the night, Dead Space 2 is a triumph of a sequel and one that is well worth playing.

Stars
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