Dead Space 2 – Game Analysis & Review
By Patrick Newman
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Composer: Jason Graves
Engine: Visceral Engine
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Genre: Survival horror, third-person shooter
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
While faster and more streamlined in design and gameplay than the original, Dead Space 2 lacks the visceral scares that made Isaac Clarke’s first trek through Necromorph-infested territory so engaging. While the level of combat, and with it, the gore has certainly been ratcheted up a few notches, the quiet chilliness and random explosions of savage violence are harder to come by. Whereas the first game truly earned its place alongside the ranks of survival horror classics like Resident Evil, the sequel doesn’t trust suspense and instead keeps the action at a high, sustained pitch. This can be fun if one is looking for a touch-and-go arcade-like experience, but Visceral Games’ original has already trained us to expect more.
The story begins almost immediately after the first Dead Space ended, by re-introducing us to engineering hero Isaac Clarke after his escape from the space-zombie-infested ship Ishimura. Haunted by the failure to save his girlfriend Nicole, Isaac traverses the area surrounding his mental hospital residence to find himself caught in the same horrifying calamity. The character is different now than when we last left him, since his experiences from the first game have knocked a few screws loose (hallucinations abound in this game), and as an audience we are unsure of whether or not to trust his perceptions. Is Isaac going crazy, or is he genuinely being manipulated by complex, outside forces?
Whichever the outcome, the presence of the Necromorphs is a sure thing, as they have infested The Sprawl (a space station built on one of Saturn’s moons) with the same creepy thoroughness as they did their tighter, earlier quarters. Now, not only single workers have fallen to their number, but entire families, meaning further disgusting variants on Necromorphs such as deformed, suckling newborns. The setting, which is full of shopping districts and polished suburban housing, is one of the major ways in which Dead Space 2 does depart from and improve upon the original’s setting. There’s something more innately disturbing, I think, about our comfort zones being preyed upon by monsters than faraway industrial structures in space.
The game’s story is another strong suit, as Dead Space 2 pars down what were sometimes sluggish, redundant level designs in the original into more effective horror setpieces. The game clocks in at just under 10 hours of gameplay, which seems about right for such a bleak, draining ride. Unfortunately, while the length of the experience has been reduced, the abundance of monsters has shot skyward, and so we are left with something more closely resembling Left 4 Dead 2 than Silent Hill. Ammo can now be found everywhere, and while Necromorphs are stronger and more heavily armored in this installment, the strategy of blasting them to pieces with clip after clip of ammunition can feel repetitive in a franchise that made its mark by knowing when to pull the strings, and when to hang back.
The multiplayer mode, which further brings Dead Space 2 into comparison with Left 4 Dead 2, pits teams of Necromorph players against their human prey. Each class has specific strengths and objectives – humans work together to accomplish vaguely-defined missions, while the parasitic Necromorphs are focused solely on killing the humans – and when the mode’s inconsistent pacing and team dynamics didn’t sink the ship, it was all a lot of fun. However, the game’s reward system is misguided in its emphasis. More often than not online players, having quickly discovered that it’s faster to level up by racking up kills than by completing missions, abandon their teammates in favor of blowing away hordes of monsters, which quickly kills the sense of community that makes these matches so enjoyable. As a standalone game it might have been fine, but as with many sequels, it suffers greatest when compared to the original.
And so it goes with Dead Space 2. While Visceral Games tries to be new but better by amping up the action and flavoring it with intentionally-disorienting zero-G gameplay, Isaac’s hallucinations, and more clever “door-opening” puzzles, a scare is worth a thousand gunshots, and Dead Space 2 is decidedly lacking in them. The winning sound design and the disgusting monsters have returned, but without that sense of shock and surprise that were their signature at the franchise’s outset.