Dead Space 2 Review: Welcome to the Sprawl
With Dead Space 3 on my mind having just finished it, I thought I would lay out my thoughts on its immediate predecessor: Dead Space 2. Dead Space was a new IP from EA and what would become Visceral Games, and it was one of the most enchanting and intense survival horror games I has played in years, probably since Resident Evil 4. As a result of my love of that first entry, my expectations were high for Dead Space 2 in 2011, and I was not disappointed. I was worried when EA were talking up the introduction of multiplayer and of making the game action orientated. Having been a huge fan of the isolation and dread filled atmosphere of the first game, I feared that it would become an action game lacking in horror and atmosphere. Admittedly Dead Space 2 is much more action orientated than Dead Space, and it has lost some of its sense of dread, but it has also gained hugely in production values, scale, and has a more tense and personal story.
Set 2 years after the events of the first Dead Space, Isaac is now in a mental ward on-board a vast space installation called the Sprawl. A mining city with a large number of inhabitants, the Sprawl is also a nerve centre for the powerful Earth Government as well as the nefarious and mysterious Church of Unitology. Isaac is suffering the emotional and mental aftermath of the horrors he faced on the Ishimura, but against all expectations a necromorph outbreak suddenly, and Isaac is quickly looking for a way to escape the return of this nightmare and the dreaded undead. Mysteries involving the Government and the involvement of the Unitologists quickly arise, and the whole mythos of the Dead Space universe is greatly enriched by the events of Dead Space 2.
A lot of the story is told through voice logs, but there are a lot more cinematic moments in this game and the cast of characters has been expanded. Isaac is now fully voiced and voiced well at that. Overall the story is superior to the first Dead Space, and the game leaves plenty of questions about the lore and about what murky forces are at work in the background while also providing a satisfying ending to this self contained adventure. You get a real sense of Isaac's mental state, and the characterisation is done very well. The interactions with other characters and survivors really flesh out the story and make for an interesting narrative.
The graphics of Dead Space 2 are fantastic, with haunting visuals and an incredible level of art and architecture detail in the environments, the ornate Church of Unitology being the high point in my opinion. The game also takes a fantastic location twist which greatly adds to the atmosphere and increases the environmental variety. Its really surprising to see how many different areas Visceral managed to put into a game set on a space station. Fires, debris and particles all look great in the fabulous lighting of the game.
As the Sprawl has a civilian population, you will occasionally see people fleeing from awful situations and dark twists on every day locations as the necromorphs spread. Speaking of the necromorphs, the visual design of the enemies in Dead Space 2 is excellent. The enemies are truly disgusting and terrible to face to the point where you do not want to get too close to them. They really do look like twisted reanimated corpses, and there claws, tendrils and other physical attributes all look fantastic.
The sound is, like the first game, incredible. The music is perfect at creating tension and dread at the right points, the sounds of the necromorphs are suitably horrible and the atmospheric and environmental sounds really make you feel like titan station is a place that is lived in and in-use. The voice acting is also done really well, with Isaac being done especially suitably considering his previous status as a mute character. The weapons all sound good, especially the ones that involve interaction with the environment. The grinding of metal and sounds of escaping gases in certain rooms all add to the ambiance of the game, and the quality of the sound design is astounding. Everything is done so carefully that the game feels like a small group of individuals really took care of this aspect of it and made a genuine effort to make it the best they could, and to have this quality of sound is a special thing.
The combat still revolves around dismembering enemies limbs, but the variety of weapons and new enemies, as well as the ability to move while reloading [take note resident evil] makes it brilliant and tense. Even the zero gravity bits have been improved, with the ability to play around via thruster boots being a fantastic addition.
The core game is still the same third person action that the first Dead Space was, but the minor enhancements to the controls really help to smooth out the experience and endear themselves to the new focus on action that the game has taken. Rarely will you be able to flee from enemies, so some survival horror conventions have been lost here, but as an action experience Dead Space 2 controls a hell of a lot better than its counterparts such as Resident Evil 5 and Alan Wake.
There is multiplayer in the game as well though it is not very good and I did not play it for long as it adds nothing to the game and the single player is where its at in this game. The game has a proper new game plus mode this time, making multiple playthroughs an easy and enticing option, and with a game this good I would imagine a necessity.
Dead Space 2 is an outstandingly polished game, with so many mechanics and themes integrating harmoniously. There are no technical issues that I experienced, and Visceral continued their policy of immersion through gameplay. Doors and lifts serve as the load screens, and the UI and inventory merge into Isaac's suit along with the mini-map in a throughout excellent system that more games should imitate and learn from.
There is a greater orientation towards action in Dead Space 2, but the horror elements are still present and are genuinely frightening at times, though it does lack the sheer dread that flowed from the first Dead Space. The player will traverse residential areas, schools, and a frozen morgue among others, and multiple new enemy types increase the tactical nature of the game. There are also some truly brilliant scripted situations and a great pacing to the progression of the game. There are 15 chapters, meaning a long campaign with replay value thanks to the excellent new game plus option.
In the end, Dead Space 2 is not as scary as Dead Space, but it is longer, has more enemies and weapons, better environments and better production values. It is intense, gorgeous and atmospheric that improves on everything that the first game did while also ramping up the scale and enriching the lore. It is a faster and more satisfying game to play, has a strong narrative with interesting characters and great replayability. In short, Dead Space 2 is a fantastic product that represents the pinnacle of modern survival horror in ways that Resident Evil can only dream of, and is one of the finest games of its time as a result.
- Gorgeous visuals and interesting story
- Immersive sound design and wonderful music
- Great action with improved controls
- Lavish and impressive presentation
- Disappointing lack of bosses
- Disc swapping
- The needle
- 9/10 - Amazing