Review: Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 is Visceral Games' sequel to their surprise horror hit Dead Space. The latest entry is increasing the action, but is it as good as the first outing?
- Worth The Time?Not really, unless you're a die-hard fan of the first game and want more of it.
- Things LovedThe atmosphere and visual style, dismemberment, the awesome graphics and gore, good action and solid gameplay, improvements to gameplay features, the idea of the multiplayer.
- Things HatedIsaac Clarke, the repetitiveness, the predictability, the complete lack of anything scary, practically no boss battles, the story, the complete combat focus shift, the lackluster nature of the game's multiplayer mode.
- RecommendationDead Space 2 is pretty much a game that can be gotten second hand or skipped, unless you're a major fan and want more of what you had in the original, then it's worth playing as there is entertainment to be had.
- Name: Dead Space 2
- Genre: Third Person Shooter, Survival Horror
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online (4-8 Players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Visceral Games
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R453-499 (PS3, 360), R317-350 (PC)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Dead Space made its stylish debut back in 2008, and it was a game that was loved for its space setting, gruesome combat focusing on dismemberment and, of course, its fresh horror element – in that you didn’t know what to expect from it based on the fact that it was a new game. As it naturally goes these days, the game was successful enough to warrant a sequel being made, and so here we have Dead Space 2. Being a big fan of the original game, it should come as no surprise that I was somewhat excited to give the sequel a play, regardless of my doubts, and after I have done so I unfortunately have to admit that I was indeed left quite disappointed with it. Really, really disappointed.
If you have played the original game, you’d have known that it was a complete experience with a nice little shock ending. There wasn’t much indication that a sequel would take anything in a better direction, story-wise that is. However, Dead Space 2 tried to make its story a key part of the experience anyway, and the plot has engineer Isaac Clarke waking up in a hospital on a massive space station called the Sprawl. He has no memories of the last three years, and he’s going crazy after all he went through in the original game. But, he’s just been released by Franco, who is the protagonist from Dead Space Ignition – the little action puzzle game prequel to Dead Space 2 – and almost immediately after Isaac is set free, Franco is killed and transformed into a Necromorph, leaving Isaac alone and running for his life. From there, the game’s story pretty much follows Isaac’s journey on the Necromorph-infested Sprawl, where the main goal of the game soon becomes a mission to destroy the religious idol known as the Marker, which is the cause of great trouble.
Sadly the story itself is just silly, but the main reason I’ll be placing such a huge emphasis on it is because it ultimately has quite a negative impact on the horror element as a whole. Firstly, Isaac can now speak, and he’s been given a personality – just like that. However, his character is just an empty shell to put it lightly, and it’s not entirely clear what he is meant to be. It soon becomes apparent that his character is better suited for a generic military warhead, as for the most part he’s depicted as a gruff action man, despite being an engineer, and strangely there are a few instances in the game where he has a stab at wit in his dialogue, and it seems out of place. It’s really difficult to connect with someone who doesn’t even show the slightest bit of fear or reaction towards the scary monsters he encounters, but I guess he wouldn’t really be afraid after having killed them by the dozens in the last game. Ultimately, the way to describe Isaac Clarke would be just a lifeless character filled with cliched lines and profanities, because that’s all he is really.
Here’s the kicker, though. The game tries to spice things up by making Isaac’s insanity a primary focus of the plot, and it will cause him to hallucinate and see ‘ghosts’ of his dead girlfriend, Nicole, who met her end in the story of the first game. However, the fact that Isaac still holds as much depth as a brick in terms of personality makes it hard to even care about what he’s going through, because you can’t relate to him. If that wasn’t enough, the game actually tells you right in the beginning that Isaac is suffering from a unique form of dementia due to so and so reasons. Really, did someone honestly think that it was a good idea to tell the player, at the beginning where everything is new, that the main character is insane and will be affected by it in such and such ways? How could the game then possibly expect you to fear the hallucinations and be concerned with Isaac’s mental health when both you and him know that everything you see, insanity-wise, isn’t real? It completely removes the anxiety involved in determining what’s real and what isn’t, which kills the point of dementia and already casts a shadow over the horror element.
In actuality, the original Dead Space could have highlighted Isaac’s madness far more due to him never saying a word throughout the entire game, and the only thing you’d hear from him is mad screams whenever he attacks something or gets attacked. Now, I understand that it probably sounds like I’m heavily nitpicking right now, and I am in a way, but all of the above is going towards one of my crucial points, which is that Dead Space 2 is just ultimately hard to take seriously as a horror game. The reason this is important is because Isaac’s madness is meant to add a psychological horror element to the mix over and above the monstrosities you’ll face, but all it really does is end up negatively impacting the horror element as a whole, and this is made worse by the game’s deeper flaws.
Before I get into all of that, let it be brought to light that Dead Space 2 is still a decent enough action game, and if you’re going into it with that in mind you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of it. It plays the same way as the original game, with you up against an army of angry Necromorphs and your ways and means of beating them include an array of guns that have dismemberment in mind. There have been various gameplay improvements, most noticeably with the zero gravity sections, which now allow you to free-fly around the place using jetbooster rockets instead of having to jump from surface to surface. Another improved feature is that of the Kenesis ability, which is easier to control and can now be used to tear off sharp limbs from fallen enemies and impale Necromorphs. Otherwise, there isn’t much else new save for some extra guns, most of which are pretty cool. And there is the fact that the game has become more linear now as opposed to requiring you to backtrack all over the place. For the most part, the game has taken a more combat-orientated shift, and that’s apparent based on the never-ending supply of ammo and power nodes for upgrading weapons, abilities and armour. Naturally, the larger supply just means more enemies to fight, and less scares to be had.
However, while Dead Space 2 performs decently enough as an action game, as a horror game it falls miles short of being even the slightest bit intimidating. I’ve already touched on Isaac’s insanity, so that’s one part of the horror element squashed, but here is where the rest of it just goes south. It simply must be understood that one of the main reasons horrors scare, particularly psychological horrors, is because the player or watcher is fearing the unknown. Your mind is doing all the work, which amplifies the scare effect. Now, the original Dead Space had the advantage of being new and ambiguous, and you went in not knowing what to expect, but in the case of Dead Space 2, you’re more than well prepared for everything the game will throw at you, and it doesn’t help that you pack enough weaponry to take on anything at all.
The game is extremely predictable, painfully so if you’ve played the first game, and nothing really scares you. The most that will happen is you’ll get startled at something jumping at you, but if you’re caught by it once then chances are you won’t get caught by the same thing the next time. It even gets to a point at times where you may know that a monster is going to ambush you down to its exact location and method, but you’ll be unable to remove the threat before it happens, and you’ll be forced to trigger the ambush in order to kill the monster. An example of this would be a monster hiding in a vent. Now, admittedly the game has a good atmosphere and there are a few great and unexpected horror moments in the game, but unfortunately they’re just overshadowed by the game’s predictability, and its next giant flaw: repetitiveness.
Since we’ve seen it all before with the original Dead Space, the sequel has to arrive ready with a new bag of tricks, mostly because it’s a horror game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t and the game has instead upped the monster count. It’s as though it took pages out of the Space Invaders book, and the Necromorphs now charge at you in small armies. Sometimes, they just refuse to stop coming at you. They’re not hard to kill at all, but sometimes you’ll just die due to the sheer number of them. It not only makes things repetitive quite soon, but it goes on to further make combat a chore and completely reduce the scariness of the monsters. I wouldn’t even be joking if I said that the Necromorphs are most likely more afraid of you than you are of them. In addition to upping the monster count, the game has certainly increased the gore tremendously, but all this does is make Dead Space 2 more generic with people dying in the most gruesome ways everywhere you go. At least the first game had you see glimpses of things that were inexplicable and they completely freaked you out, like a bloody man who repeatedly slams his head against a wall until he kills himself, or a woman who is cutting up someone with a cleaver only to stop when she sees you, stare at you creepily and then swiftly slit her own throat.
Essentially, the above just destroys the horror element, and all you’re left with is a solid, but repetitive action game that packs a few surprises here and there. At least the first game, over and above its advantage of being ambiguous and new, could boast having pacing, unique boss battles and some stand-out creepy moments, but Dead Space 2 has none of that, because pacing is destroyed by armies of enemies scattered all over the place with no real growth or noticeable change in pattern, boss battles are practically non-existent and there are absolutely no truly creepy or scary moments – the ones that are there are simply excessively gory moments that are more gross than anything else. Dead Space 2 tries so hard to get to you with its excessive gore, large amount of dead and mangled bodies and shameless swarms of baby and child Necromorphs, but it all reaches an overdone point at which it all just becomes silly, especially since all you’ll be doing is adding tremendously to your kill count, no matter what comes at you in the game.
Worse still is that the game will basically show everything it has to offer after the first hour. From then on it’s just a repetitive gore fest that doesn’t really impress or scare. Added to the fact that the story hardly feels worth following or taking notice of, and Dead Space 2 hardly feels like a sequel to its predecessor – it just feels different, but the same. Now, there are 15 chapters to get through, which makes for quite a lengthy single-player campaign, but it just becomes tired and repetitive long before the end, with hardly anything exciting to break it up. Furthermore, the chapter-switching isn’t done as well as it was before. In the original, chapters were nicely divided, and getting to the end of one allowed you to breathe a sigh of relief at having made it. Also, each chapter had a specific goal or objective in mind, and it did well to progress the game’s story. In Dead Space 2, by contrast, there’s no real difference from one chapter to the next, and it all just blends into one alien-infested shooter in any case, with a little text reminder popping up on-screen to alert you that you’ve progressed to the next chapter. There’s just so little to differentiate one section from another that a lot of time spent playing this game could be in autopilot, and it’s hardly noticeable that you’ve made progress.
Completing the game opens you up to a Hardcore mode, where everything obviously gets a lot more challenging, and the grand kicker in the nuts is that you’re only allowed three saves throughout the entire game. It’s an interesting option to go for, but it’s bound to frustrate more than anything else, because a cheap death would remove hours of progress. Still, it’s a nice challenge for the weirdos and daring out there. Failing that, there is a multiplayer mode featured in the game, but while the idea is interesting, there’s no reason really to get excited about it. The multiplayer has two teams of four go at each other, and it’s objective-based, where one team will be the humans trying to complete the given objective while the other team will be the Necromorphs trying to stop them. Each playable character is allowed to carry two weapons, and more suits, weapons and equipment are unlocked through level progression and gaining experience.
The Necromorphs are the more interesting of the lot, and you’ll get four types to choose from, namely the Spitter, Puker, Pack and Lurker. The Spitter is a long-ranged monster with a chargeable projectile attack, the Puker is a short-range character with a special fire snare ability, the Pack are powerful melee monsters and finally the Lurker is a small, wall-crawling, long-ranged Necromorph. They’re pretty fun to play with for a little while, and it’s made interesting by the fact that you’re able to select your spawn point and work in numbers to take out the humans, but really, the mode lacks depth and is mostly the same from game to game, so after a couple of matches or a few hours you’ll most likely get bored of it. There’s not much incentive to keep at it, and it doesn’t do a whole lot to keep you playing it.
At least when it comes to the visual and audio experience, Dead Space 2 impresses. The game looks great, and the level of detail put into the environments and models is awesome. It’s quite an atmospheric game, and you’ll definitely appreciate the zero gravity and outer space sections, as well as the eerie level design. Unfortunately the voice acting and dialogue is hit and miss, mostly miss for Isaac Clarke, but the sound is amazing, and it’s perhaps the one true area where the monsters can at least give the impression that they mean business. Factoring out the voice acting and dialogue, there isn’t much the game won’t impress you with when it comes to its graphics and audio, which is great.
In the end, Dead Space 2 is a major disappointment. It’s a decent enough shooter and action experience, but sadly it’s just not much else. The game definitely has high production values, but ultimately it just feels uninspired. In fact, at times it even feels like this sequel tried to make something out of nothing, and there just aren’t any revolutions made from the first game to now. Dead Space 2 is not a bad game, but it’s not a great one either, and it falls in the shadow of its more lively and exciting predecessor.