The old adage is untrue – in space, plenty of people can hear you scream, as you’re being viciously eviscerated by the ravenous Necromorph s inhabiting the Sprawl. Former silent protagonist Isaac Clarke has finally been given a voice in the chilling continuation of the Dead Space franchise in the meaner, leaner Dead Space 2. It doesn’t attempt to innovate or break its exemplary deep space survival horror conventions, but instead serves up a hefty helping of familiar yet completely unsettling moments and the voracious monsters that want only to take a meaty chunk (or two) out of your torso…or your face. Whatever’s tastier.
Enter Isaac Clarke, bruised and broken by the loss of girlfriend Nicole. Hospitalized for a span of three years, seemingly maddened by the ominous Marker, Clarke’s memories of his time aboard the Sprawl (an enormous populated area on Triton, Saturn’s largest moon) are muddy at best. But before you can so much as begin to put all the pieces together of where Clarke is or what he’s being subjected to, a host of nasty Necromorphs burst onto the scene, leaving a defenseless Clarke and personnel to fend for themselves. It’s a mad dash to safety with Isaac outfitted only in a straight jacket. You can run or you will die. And that effectively sets the tone for another bone-chilling ride through the minds responsible for one of the greatest modern survival horror titles yet.
From the mile-a-minute opening to the end of the game’s fifteen sprawling chapters (spread across two discs on the Xbox 360 version) the pace never truly lets up, though eventually does settle into a familiar rhythm, lulling players into a false sense of security before tossing something completely different at them when they least expect it. You’ll quickly become accustomed to the sprawling corridors, winding into oblivion, and soon after the dizzying strings and aural cues signaling the advent of Necromorphs.
Presented in a format reminiscent of Gears of War or – more appropriately – Resident Evil 4, you’re charged with keeping the space engineer Isaac Clarke alive and solving the mysteries of the Marker. Traversing the formidable Sprawl is done while looking over Clarke’s shoulder in a third-person view. Lurking in any shadow, nook, and cranny could be one of the terrifying, hideously malformed Necromorphs that seek only to tear you apart. They infiltrate their hosts and mutate the original organic materials into something completely inhumane. What was once a crew member could now be a lumbering, 6-limbed, hellish beast whose one-track mind is set on picking the flesh from your bones.
Luckily, Isaac’s mining tools as seen in the first game make a much-appreciated return to help him slice ‘n dice through the Necromorph population, quite literally. The plasma cutter is an old favorite – simple but effective, and if you happen to have retained and if you happen to have your original Dead Space game save, you can even use Isaac’s refurbished plasma cutter rather than the standard issue, available in the store like all of the other available weapons after the proper schematics have been unearthed from different locations. My favorite arm, the line gun, returns as well as doers the Ripper and flamethrower, excellent and satisfying tools that are required to take the limbs off of the wretched once humans.
New to your arsenal are some extremely deadly weapons, such as the Javelin gun, which fires off spikes that can be very ingeniously used to pin enemies to the wall while you have a field day incapacitating them. The detonator gun is similarly exciting, acting similarly to the line gun’s alt-fire, allowing you to place trip mines in hot zones so that unsuspecting Necromorphs, well, fall down go boom; especially useful for cleaning out larger areas before scavenging for items. Every available munitions is a blast to pick up and annihilate the creeps aboard the Sprawl with, though you’ll find a winning combination of 2 or 3 at a time that work best for you – for me, it was the simplicity of the line gun and the plasma cutter, since both rely on making clean cuts and less on frills to get the job done.
And if your vanilla weapons for some reason aren’t rugged enough to get the job done, as in the first game, you can collect Power Nodes to weld into them, or all-important RIG suit in order to stay on top of the ever-growing Necromorph infestation. You can also use them to open doors found throughout the Sprawl (and return trip to a very familiar place) in order to find secret items, supplies, and more nodes. As you commit node after node it’s satisfying to look at how one shot from a certain gun may take down a Necromorph that previously needed four or five shots. And if you decide to change up your path of progression, opting to go for reload speed rather than damage, the handy Respec ability is available for 5000 credits, allowing you to customize your weapon or current RIG to your liking from scratch, removing all the nodes you welded in the first place. For spots in the game where you might have powered up the wrong weapon for one situation, this is a fantastic tool for giving you a new fighting chance.
In addition to Clarke’s impressive arsenal, Kinesis and Stasis are also indispensable, having made impressive improvements in the time since Isaac’s time aboard the Ishimura. You can pin Necromorph s to the walls with their own limbs – a great strategy considering the limited supply of ammo. With the added enemy types, namely Pukers, who can slow you down just about as much as Stasis slows down the monsters themselves, you need as much as help as you can get. There are a wealth of added nasties to get under your skin. I won’t ruin them here, but if you’ve ever wanted to know what the nightmarish version of an infant is, you’ll find out here.
The veritable cornucopia of augments to an already awe-inspiring game are certainly appreciated, especially the ability to quick-heal with the press of a button rather than venturing all the way into Clarke’s inventory to do so, as so many situations arise too quickly and you may not be prepared for a quick boost of health. You might find yourself burning through your health packs, however, just because they’re so convenient.
Not only does Dead Space feel and sound spectacular, it looks gorgeous. Sharp, sci-fi environments coupled with varied locations throughout the Ishimura make this one of the best-looking games released yet. And there’s no shortage of gore. As with the previous game, Isaac can die in any number of ways, sending blood, limbs, and entrails all over the screen. For instance, one special type of Necromorph spears Isaac through the torso and proceeds to lop all of his appendages off before the game allows you the simple courtesy of a “game over” screen. It’s almost worth playing just to see how many different ways Isaac can perish at the hands (?) of the ghoulish Necromorphs. And there are plenty of ways.
A fleshed-out, meaty multiplayer mode, New Game+, offers up new challenges for each new playthrough, and the examination of Isaac’s fragile reality, Unitology (the religion behind the Marker and the Necromorphs), guarantees that the edge-of-your-seat moments do not cease to excite.
Dead Space 2 brings a tight control scheme, tense and exciting gameplay (albeit a bit repetitive), and a fairly interesting plotline together to weave a deliciously creepy tale that survival horror fans will eat up. I thoroughly enjoyed what this sequel had to offer, even though many of the repetitive fetch quests of the original game were replaced by some “honey-do” maintenance quests. But such things rarely matter when you’re busy eviscerating (or being eviscerated by) hordes of nasty Necromorphs and their spawn in this fast-paced sci-fi thriller. It’s also one of the most enjoyable survival horror purchases currently available, and you’d have to be insane (or a Unitologist) not to appreciate its bloody charms.
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