Review by horror_spooky
No one can hear you scream
On the Xbox 360, Dead Space 2 is split into two discs. I played the first half of the game, and after getting to the second disc, I quit for a little while. I felt sad that Electronic Arts apparently bastardized Dead Space, robbing it of its survival-horror elements in the first half of the game. I decided to give the game a chance again, and I discovered that the second half of the game is stellar and matches the first on every level, even surpassing it in some areas. Dead Space 2 may seem like it sold out at first, but those that stick around until the end will be treated to what is quite possibly the best survival-horror game of this console generation.
As I mentioned, the first half of the game is a disappointment. However, the opening moments are very well done. Isaac is in a straight jacket when the game begins, and being vulnerable like that is truly terrifying. This moment is likely to go down as one of the scariest and most memorable moments in gaming history. Defenseless against the dangers around him, Isaac without his engineering suit feels completely naked. When the suit is finally donned, a sense of relief flooded over me. It was the familiarity of the suit, the knowing that it could protect me from the Necromorphs that made me feel this elated.
This awesome beginning quickly devolves into what can best be described as Call of Duty in space. There are forced moments that try to be horror, but they fail. The new enemies are largely frustrating until they are better utilized in the later stages of the game, puzzles are very few and far between in the first half, and there aren't enough hazards for Isaac to get demolished in, which was part of the reason why the first Dead Space was so scary and atmospheric.
Set pieces dominated the first half of Dead Space 2. Granted, they are a bit more interactive than the set pieces that populate Activision's unstoppable Call of Duty franchise, but they still feel cheap and out of place. The zero gravity segments get a little out of hand and become outright cartoonish in nature. Enemy confrontations are still genuinely scary at least, thanks to the fact they don't shoot, but rather remain true to their Necromorph nature, even if the newer enemies are a bit annoying to fight.
The second half of the game is nonstop horror. Enemy encounters become more intense, Isaac's mentality deteriorates, and there are numerous quality scares. Plot twists occur frequently, resulting in a twisting narrative that throws one obstacle after another into Isaac's path, all the while he has to deal with the haunting memory of his dead girlfriend. The game itself takes place a few years after the first game, with Isaac having gone insane after the events he experienced in the first Dead Space game. Dead Space 2 features the discovery of another marker, another Necromorph outbreak, and more interesting NPCs, some friendly, and others dastardly.
Death animations were a huge part of the first game. Every enemy could kill Isaac in unique, gruesome ways--not to mention all of the various environmental hazards. Dead Space 2 carries on the tradition of killing Isaac off in the goriest ways possible, with more elaborate and disturbing death animations. It may be morbid to praise the death animations in a video game, but for a survival horror game, stuff like this really ups the horror factor, and it's been done since the days of the original Resident Evil.
A wide variety of weapons are available to Isaac, though a good chunk of them are recycled from the first game. Isaac also has a bunch of new suits that can be purchased, and the power node system returns to upgrade weapons and armor and the like. I feel like upgrades would be better handled with a currency system instead of the power nodes, but I digress. This game allows the option to Respec power nodes at least, so there is a bit more freedom in experimenting with the different weapons so that you don't wind up wasting power nodes on weapons that are disliked.
Isaac's rig includes the ability to use stasis to momentarily freeze enemies and to use kinesis to launch objects at foes or to solve puzzles. I wish that Visceral Games explored new possible abilities for Isaac's suit, but these two basic abilities get the job done. It's still fun as ever to suspend a Necromorph in mid animation and then systematically render them a non threat. Kinesis also works wonderfully in combat, with plenty of objects lying around the environments that can be launched at enemies.
Making the best out of these abilities is integral to the second half of the game. Ammo becomes less and less plentiful, and the store's high prices means that to buy ammo means to sacrifice buying healing packs, and vice versa. Enemies deal ridiculous amounts of damage, with some capable of one-shot killing Isaac. Necromorphs work together to corner Isaac, and use their unique abilities in tandem to take him down. Dead Space 2 features one of the best enemy AI systems that I've experienced in gaming.
No horror game is any good without good audio. In this area, Dead Space 2 excels. The musical jumps are well placed and scary. The voice acting is expertly done. The Necromorphs sound horrifying when they are clawing their way along the ceiling and around corners. Screams of victims echo throughout the game world, chilling me to the bone. Coupled with the fantastic visuals and the great atmosphere, Dead Space 2 is not only one of the best looking 360 games, but it's also one of the best sounding.
As for elements that make Dead Space 2 a different experience than the first, that's hard to say. Dead Space 2 is basically exactly like the original, except Isaac is no longer mute, a decision that I think unnecessarily robbed Isaac of his mystery, and everything is a lot more polished and epic in scale. The stakes are higher. The enemies are more dangerous. The human characters are more important. The graphics are better. The sound is better. Chapters transition seamlessly from one to the other with no loading screens. Dead Space 2 is an improvement over the first game in nearly every regard.
In a surprise move, Visceral has added a multiplayer component to Dead Space 2. Honestly, I enjoyed it. The downside is that it requires an online pass, but the actual multiplayer gameplay is fine, not completely dead like most multiplayer games that aren't named Call of Duty or Gears of War, and is actually quite entertaining. In the multiplayer mode, players control engineers on one team and the other team controls Necromorphs in a manner not unlike Left 4 Dead. While it's infinitely more entertaining to play as the Necromorphs, the game is scarier as the human team. It's not quite as balance as Left 4 Dead is, but the multiplayer in Dead Space 2 is still very entertaining and enjoyable.
Dead Space 2 starts off weak, but by the finale, it blossoms into a hardcore horror game that enthusiasts of the genre will love. Dead Space 2 proves that survival horror still has a place in the gaming world. Featuring an immense amount of quality, a fun multiplayer mode, and vast improvements over the original game from a technical standpoint, Dead Space 2 is very likely the best horror game available on this generation of consoles.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Dead Space 2 (US, 01/25/11)
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