Review by finalmissi0n
One of my favorite games of this console generation.
I am completely enamored with this game. I didn't know what to expect initially, since I never played the first game and had very little prior knowledge of the story and characters. But when I played through the amazing opening, I knew then it was going to be one helluva ride. It's got some of the best graphics and sound design, solid gameplay, fantastic in-game storytelling, and is genuinely one of the scariest damn games that I've played. So I wrote this review to hopefully encourage at least a few people--including those who didn't play the first game--to take the plunge.
You play as Isaac Clarke. The game is set on The Sprawl, a giant space colony orbiting Saturn. The basic goal of the whole game is to find a way to destroy the alien artifact that's turning everyone into necromorphs (the name of the creatures you fight), while trying to find a way off the colony. All the while, Isaac is being haunted by visions of his dead wife. The story, when simply written down, isn't anything amazing, but it was good enough to keep the game moving and to provide context. The in-game storytelling, on the other hand, is exceptionally well done. The game is littered with moments of brilliance, including a scene involving a needle that made me want to stand and applaud how creative and ballsy it was. Right from the opening (honestly, one of the most incredible--and unexpected--openings I've ever seen), the game throws you into one jaw-droppingly epic moment after another.
Dead Space is an action/horror game that's played from a third-person perspective, similar to Resident Evil. You'll be traversing through mostly linear levels to find your next objective, solve the occasional puzzle, and mow down a whole lot of necromorphs. The game can be pretty difficult, even on normal. The enemies here are fast and aggressive, and you will inevitably get flanked from time to time, due to the nature of some of the open areas you find yourself in. Luckily, there's an arsenal here that makes up for Isaac's lack of ability to out-maneuver his enemies. You can only carry four weapons at a time, but they are balanced enough that pretty much any combination will do (maybe with one exception. Pro tip: don't waste your time with the flamethrower). You also have the ability to slow your enemies down with stasis, and use telekinesis to launch objects in the environment at your enemies, either knocking them over to give you some precious seconds to regroup, or killing them outright. There's a bit of a learning curve in knowing how to juggle everything in Isaac's arsenal, and it may require a good deal of experimentation--especially if you didn't play the first game like me. Once you've gotten it down, though, dismembering necromorphs is a blast. You'll also be able to upgrade your equipment and abilities using power nodes you'll find throughout the game.
There are also sections where you'll have to navigate through zero-g environments, where the majority of the puzzle-solving takes place. It's incredibly cool being able to fly in a fully 3-dimensional space, and personally I've never seen anything quite like it before. It can be pretty disorienting at times,though, but luckily you can re-align your sight with the press of a button. Overall, it's a great addition that does a good job in breaking up the tension from fighting necromorphs the whole time.
The game has been out for over a year, and it's still one of the best looking games I've ever seen. The art direction (which I read was heavily inspired by Gothic architecture) is fantastic, the locations are varied, and the creatures are appropriately gruesome-looking. The part that stood out to me the most, though, was the lighting. The lighting here gives the game a real cinematic flair. It's pretty obvious the team at Visceral Games got a lot of inspiration from classic sci-fi movies like Alien and The Thing. The visuals here really add up to lend an eerie poetry to the mise-en-scene. Just wait till you see the the subtle green glow from Isaac's helmet reflecting off the walls. Really great stuff.
Usually the sound design is the most overlooked aspect of any game. Here it's one of the standout parts of the presentation. From the sound of tearing through necrotic flesh and bone with a buzz saw, to the muffled scurrying of a necromorph crawling through the air ducts, everything sounds incredible. The voice acting is also well done, being a notch below Uncharted in quality. Wearing headphones for this game is a traumatizing experience--one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
The music, on the other hand, is somewhat understated here, with the game relying mostly on the stellar sound design and visuals to evoke the appropriate mood. But what is here is still very good.
The amount of time it will take to beat the campaign may vary depending on your prior knowledge from the first game (or lack thereof). It'll probably range from 8-10 hours for most people. Once you've beaten the game you unlock a new game+ mode, which everyone should be familiar with at this point. In this mode you can find new suits and have the chance to fully upgrade your weapons. It would have been nice if they had added a chapter select after beating the game, but oh well. Maybe next time.
There's also a multiplayer component which, admittedly, I only played for about 30-45 minutes--not because it isn't fun, I'm just not that into competitive gaming. If you dig the gameplay here and enjoy the multiplayer in games like Call of Duty, then you might like it.
I know I've been throwing heaps of praise on this game, but it deserves it. It's one of the best games I've played this generation. It's got crunchy, visceral combat, excellent in-game storytelling, and a slick presentation. The whole experience is incredibly polished at every turn. Visceral Games is a talented bunch, and I'm a huge fan now just based on the strength of this game alone. Can't wait for Dead Space 3.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Dead Space 2 (US, 01/25/11)
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