Every gamer worth their weight in salt will speak miles to the fact that the Resident Evil series is the standard for survival horror video games. I would have agreed with that fact 5 years ago, even with the advent of games in the genre like the Silent Hill series, Fatal Frame, Clock Tower, etc.. There are plenty of survival horror games that tried to give us scares and mess with our heads to various degrees with eerie noises, low ammo, cameras instead of guns, fog, and odd camera angles.
In 2008, a game came along that changed all that. A game that literally redefined survival horror, presented in a setting and atmosphere that was original. It took science fiction and slapped it in the face with horror. That fusion was Dead Space. Dead Space presented an experience with survival horror that was so polished and well thought out, I could almost honor it by calling it RE4+++ in Space. But to do that would take away things that Dead Space did for the genre that no RE has done or might ever do. It built the perfect sense of tension and apprehension from the unseen. There weren’t gimmicks of noises and moments. There was a living, breathing evil in space that your character had to overcome. Everything felt organic, tension was built slowly with moments of fast fighting and intriguing storytelling.
Dead Space is the story of Isaac Clarke, a CEC engineer dispatched with two other CEC crew to investigate the loss of contact with the USG Ishimura. The Ishimura was a planetcracker, a ship designed to harvest planets for minerals. In Issac’s future, Earth’s resources are pretty much exhausted, so humanity has spread into space to hunt for precious minerals to use a fuels and materials to survive. The Ishimura was on a mission to a planet called Aegis 7 when it dropped out of contact. Clarke’s crew arrive at the Ishimura and due to a collision with a asteroid debris field, manage to crash land their shuttle into the Ishimura cargo bay. This is the start of the horror that is to be the next twelve chapters of one of the best survivial horror shooters I’ve ever played.
The story, gameplay, characters, environments, weapons, and feel of the game were all well done. The story dynamically evolved around Clarke, who learned about the ghastly fate of the crew of the Ishimura and the colonists of Aegis 7 as we did. There were no cut scenes, no crazy quicktime events, and no cliche villians or bosses. The game flows so smoothly that you really don’t consider the larger monsters you face to be bosses, but rather just larger obstacles in your way to escaping the horrors onboard the Ishimura.
Skip ahead to the second game and you have what made the first game great plus improved gameplay, sound, and graphics. This time it’s months after Clarke escapes from the Ishimura and destroys the marker (an ancient alien artifact responsible for madness in living humans and mutation of dead bodies into necromorph creatures) on Aegis 7. Clarke is found and rescued, brought to an CEC facility orbiting Saturn’s moon, Titan, called “The Sprawl”. In there, Clarke is committed for his involvement with the Ishimura (but not for the reasons one would think) and questioned repeatedly about his experiences onboard the ship and his contact with the marker. Central to this is a key plot point from the first Dead Space. Clarke’s deceased girlfriend, Nicole, haunts his mind and dreams. A construct of the marker that he can’t shake. Clarke is locked away in a Sprawl asylum ward until he is freed (by the main character from Dead Space Ignition). The game from start to finish is paced like a wild action movie done right, with just horrors rampaging through the Sprawl as Clarke escapes captivity and pieces together how the horrors of Aegis 7 have followed him there.
Everything familiar has returned from the first Dead Space, and has some improvements. The gameplay and shooting mechanic from the original game returns pretty much unchanged (as it was great already), but Issac’s access to the store (which provides his weapons, health, armor, and items) is much easier to navigate and armors can now be interchanged on the fly (whereas in the first game, you could only wear the next level of armor until you reached the max level armor, the old armors would disappear from your store safe). Now Issac has the ability to change armors whenever he wants at a store, so you can alter your looks and obtain the benefits each suit of armor has (some suits have better bonuses to healing or damage). The balance of weapons is nice, with old favorites returning like the Plasma Cutter, Pulse Rifle, Line Gun, and Force Gun. New additions like the Javelin Gun make for more interesting ways to finish off evil, by sticking them to walls!! The weapon upgrade system is the same from the first game as well, with Issac needing to retrieve “power nodes” and using them at a Bench to upgrade his Rig, Stasis, and all weaponry. Basically, everything that worked well in the first game has returned with bonuses.
The graphics of the game have gotten an upgrade as well. Everything looks sharper and more detailed in Dead Space 2. Details on Issac’s suit are sharp, his armor gets bloodier and dirty the more you melee necromorphs. The environments are crisp and alive, feeling like a station now vandalized and falling apart from the onslaught of monsters combing it’s halls for victims. The enemy designs are original and terrifying, all twisted humans who have become absolute horrors hellbent on killing anyone still alive.
One of the best additions to this sequel is Issac Clarke himself. Issac is no longer the silent protagonist that we project ourselves into in the story. Instead, he’s evolved into a true storied character, with feelings, emotions, and witty retorts. He has a personality, problems, issues with his dead girlfriend, and a tenacity to survive the most horrible situations. He is like the space version of Ash from Army of Darkness, except smart! He is relatable to gamers because he is flawed and vulnerable. Isaac is losing his mind, a result of his contact with the marker, with the apparition of his dead girlfriend playing tricks with his reality. The new dimension this adds to the already horrible environment on the Sprawl makes the game much more interesting, My only wish was that it was used a little more, with the player actually questioning the horrors around them a bit more. Instead, Clarke’s psychotic hallucinations seemed to start and stop in controlled fashions, only plaguing him at convenient moments of respite.
Controls in the game feel about as tight as they did in the first game. There is really no difference in the feel of the shooting mechanics between the first Dead Space and this one. The biggest change to the controls of Dead Space 2 is the anti-gravity mechanic. Clarke now has the ability when he is floating to propel himself with small thrusters built into his armor. This adds a flight component that was absent in the first game. Instead of Clarke simply jumping to a point where he could magnetically lock on to, he can now free float and propel himself where he needs to be. The flying controls of this part of the game feel smooth, never clunky or confusing. There is even a button to re-orient yourself with the level ground, so you can correct yourself should you become disoriented. Everythng about this new game mechanic of the game feels well fleshed out and tested.
Sound and music in the game is about as creepy and chilling as it ever was. The soundtrack itself will probably give someone nightmares, as it’s tracks are well done pieces heavily influenced by horror films. The sounds in the game are beefy and gross when they need to be. All of the weapons from the first game sound exactly the same, but as they sounded great before, there was nothing that needed to be really changed this time around.
Overall, Dead Space 2 is a great sequel to what I feel is a refreshing revolution to the horror game genre. This time around, the story is multi-dimensional, the universe is more fleshed out and much darker, and the protagonist is a full being, a worthy character with depth and emotions. This is a must-play for any fans of the first game or of survival horror in general.
- Enhanced graphics
- Deep storyline
- Clarke’s character is fully realized and he has a personality now that is likable and relevant.
- New weapons and armors
- Multiplayer system
- Distorted reality from Clarke’s delusions could have been worked into the storyline better.
- Would have enjoyed more easter egg bonuses for game completion of first game and this game (infinite ammo, better upgrades, etc.)
Dead Space 2 was published by Visceral games and published by Electronic Arts inc. It was released on the Playstation 3 & Xbox 360 and is available now for $59.99. The copy played for this review was a new retail copy.