Giant Bomb Review

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Dead Space 2 Review

5
  • PS3
  • X360

Two years later, it turns out EA's Visceral Games team still knows how to make a damn fine horror-action game.


 Someone clearly decided that Isaac Clarke should have a face.
The first Dead Space was a surprise to me because it took a bunch of familiar concepts from other games and movies, and put them together so expertly that the result somehow felt original and highly satisfying in its own right. With an established Dead Space formula now in place, the only surprise about the game's first sequel is that it's actually better than the original. Dead Space 2 expands the scope and intensity of its sci-fi horror action without stifling its tense atmosphere or fiddling too much with its nearly perfect third-person shooting. If you care at all about keeping up with the evolving standards of cinematic action games, you simply can't miss it.

You're once again in the role of that valiant space engineer Isaac Clarke, the poor sap who was sent on a routine mission to find out why the giant mining ship USG Ishimura had gone dark, and then barely survived the terrible horde of monsters its crew had become. At the end of the first game we saw Clarke escape the Ishimura and destroy the sinister artifact responsible for the whole undead mess, but beyond those final events his fate was unclear. This being a sequel, Clarke is of course pitted against another outbreak of those awful necromorphs, but the game's writers laudably avoid taking the lazy way out by merely having Isaac's superiors transfer him to another mining colony that also happens to get overrun by monsters. All in a day's work, right?

 The Sprawl is, well, a pretty sprawling place.
Instead, you start with Isaac waking up in a straightjacket with no idea where he is and no memory of the three years since the Ishimura incident. Also, everyone around him is in the process of being slaughtered. This lack of backstory contributes to a healthy mystique that builds up around this second necromorph outbreak as you fight your way through it, and get closer to the truth of why this awful business is happening again and who's responsible for it. In the first game you didn't hear a peep out of Clarke, but now he's joined the noble ranks of formerly silent protagonists who have gone on to more prominent speaking roles, since his trademark robotic helmet will lower during dramatic scenes so he can plead his case to the scant few survivors nearby. The game takes this opportunity for richer characterization and uses it to plumb the depths of Clarke's tattered psyche, but he comes off as kind of a one-dimensional, square-jawed action hero who's never quite in danger of actually losing it, so I didn't feel especially connected to what the game depicts as a grueling internal conflict. But I did appreciate his interactions with the other characters and the way they fleshed out the game's overall storyline.

Isaac was silent in the first game largely because the dreadful atmosphere of the Ishimura itself was in a lot of ways the real star of the show. As terrifying as it was, though, the ship was a purely utilitarian mining vessel, and at some point when you've seen one drab industrial corridor, you've seen them all. Dead Space 2 moves the setting to Titan Station, a vast colony built right into the mined-out remnants of Saturn's largest moon. In contrast to the Ishimura, this place is a fully functioning city in space, complete with residential apartments, churches, and schools. You'll find yourself fighting through all of those places, which serves the dual purpose of nicely varying the backdrops and also providing the means for some really uncomfortable scripted situations involving the occasional innocent bystander.

 Yuck, somebody call an exterminator.
All that space-horror window dressing is great and everything, but for all I care Dead Space could revolve around prancing unicorns on Gumdrop Mountain as long as it still played the way it does. Ultimately, it's the perfectly tuned third-person run-and-gun shooting action that attracts me to this series, and that gameplay has only gotten better in Dead Space 2. It still revolves around shooting the heads, arms, legs, and tentacles off of every necromorph you see, and the basic controls for doing that are still so well tuned that I can't think of any way to meaningfully improve them. Everything from the acceleration in the over-the-shoulder aiming to the fact that you can sprint backwards makes the game a joy to control. Look, any game that lets you reload even while you're running is A-OK in my book. If there were a university course about third-person shooter design, it would devote an entire unit to the way this game plays.

There are a few new weapon types (a minelayer, a sniper rifle) alongside the iconic original guns like the plasma cutter and line gun--and of course there are a few tricky new types of enemies to use them on--but otherwise, the mechanics here feel pretty familiar. You still have peripheral tricks like the stasis weapon that lets you slow down enemies, and the kinetic power that lets you launch objects at them. It didn't occur to me until I threw in the first Dead Space, but everything just moves a bit faster here than in the first game, from the way you move around the environments to even how quickly the clever in-game holographic UI pops up when you grab items. It's a subtle difference but one that improves the overall flow of the action in my opinion.

(It's worth noting the preceding comments about the controls apply only to the console versions, since I didn't have a chance to try the PC version of Dead Space 2 prior to release. A lot of people had trouble with the feel of the first game's aiming on the PC, for what it's worth.)

 Nothing a good solid boot to the head won't fix.
That minor increase in speed goes hand in hand with the game's slightly greater emphasis on big action. That's not to say there isn't also plenty of quiet suspense, though. You'll creep through plenty of dark corridors, never sure when another necromorph will burst from its carefully hidden monster closet and startle the crap out of you. There are also a number of subdued sequences that take place in a vacuum, where your air supply is limited and there's almost no sound, and in zero gravity, with objects lazily floating all around you. Those zero-G segments might be the most improved thing about the game, since Isaac's suit now has little boosters that let you fly around freely, rather than having to launch yourself in a straight line from surface to surface. The designers use that new freedom to stage one mindboggling, lonely spacewalk outside the station itself that honestly left my jaw hanging open. It's really effective, evocative stuff.

But the bigger environments and quicker gameplay allow some stunningly larger-than-life action sequences to take place as well. Remember when that giant tentacle came out of nowhere near the beginning of the first game, and you had to actively shoot its weak points as it dragged you through the ship? The sequel has a bunch of stuff like that, amplified by a large factor. There aren't a lot of boss encounters, per se, but you'll certainly have to deal with plenty of giant ugly monsters while in some compromising positions. And while you'll spend lots of time in tight, dark corridors, there are plenty of instances of larger-scale combat against multiple enemies in wider areas, as well. I felt like the designers struck the right balance to keep things varied and still retain this game's identity as a follow-up to Dead Space.

I don't like to spend a lot of time describing the look of a game these days because, hey, it's 2011. That's what we produce videos for. But Dead Space 2's visuals are worth recognizing simply because they're so impressive. The amount of detail in every single room of Titan Station is downright baffling when you consider that someone had to model and texture and assign physical properties to every single surface and object in there. I'm not trying to equate more detail with a better visual style or something, but the game's environments have a stunning amount of craft in them. There's also a great, restrained use of lighting that helps to heighten the tension from area to area. The sound design is just as appropriately horrific; some of the sounds the new necromorphs make from the shadows, announcing their presence before you even see them, are absolutely bloodcurdling. It's a game that looks and sounds incredible, and one that, like the first Dead Space, demands the biggest screen and speakers you can give it.

 There is also multiplayer.
Dead Space 2 has multiplayer, though I wouldn't have told you the game needed it, based on the way it plays. But it turns out the multiplayer isn't half bad. Here is where I make the requisite " Left 4 Dead Space" joke and tell you that it pits four human players against four necromorphs in an objective-based format that flips the two sides after one round. And just like in Valve's series, the humans are relatively hearty while the monsters are frail as all get out, meaning the players on the monster side will respawn repeatedly as fast as they can to prevent the humans from reaching their goal before time expires. The game only ships with five maps, but it does have a progression-based leveling system that unlocks new weapons and abilities. That provides a decent carrot for you to chase after, and there's some room for coordinated teams to strategize against less-organized opponents and achieve dominance. The multiplayer doesn't seem especially deep, though, and consequently I suspect it will lose its luster after a week or two.

The good news is the campaign alone is worth playing through two or even three times. I personally enjoyed Dead Space 2 so much that I played through the PlayStation 3 version start to finish, then immediately started another run on the 360, and plan to play it again on the highest difficulty after that. Coming from someone who rarely has the time or interest to play a game more than once, that's saying something. It helps that the designers got the whole "new-game-plus" thing right this time around by allowing you to take your upgraded weapons and gear into subsequent playthroughs, and also that there are numerous achievements and trophies that reward multiple, harder runs through the game(though none, it's worth pointing out, that apply to multiplayer). The two console versions looked virtually identical to me, but I have to give a slight nod to the PlayStation 3 version simply because it ships on one disc, while the Xbox game comes on two and features a disc swap halfway through. The first production run of the PS3 version also contains the previously Wii-exclusive prequel Dead Space Extraction dressed up with HD graphics, optional Move support, and trophies, though subsequent pressings will lose that bonus. For the time being at least, that's a pretty valuable bonus.

Just like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 doesn't do anything especially new, it just does everything exceedingly well. EA's current management set a mandate a few years ago to improve the quality of the company's internal game development, a directive this game and its predecessor directly resulted from. If the Dead Space franchise is ultimately the only memorable result that effort ever bears, it will still constitute a memorable legacy indeed. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
210 Comments
Posted by Togechu64

awesome!

Posted by Yummylee

Heyooooo

Posted by Fobwashed

nooooes!

Posted by Milkman

No "pimped out" weapons? Boo!

Posted by l4wd0g

Great review Brad

Posted by fwylo

TL;DR 
 
5 Stars, I should probably play the first one then.

Edited by jmrwacko

Seventh!
 
Also, Isaac Clarke kills aleins and doesnt afraid of anything.

Posted by Tactical_Kill

I called it! 10000 points for me :D

Posted by rjayb89

Agh, glad I'm wrong.  Good bye, 5000 ICI points.

Online
Posted by Chris2KLee

Good review. Wish they'd kept Isaac's face hidden. He looks so generic now.

Posted by McGhee

Ah! So close.

Posted by makeyourself270

I really cannot wait to play this game.  The first one was great and this one looks even better.  Surround sound headphones are gonna make me poop myself.

Posted by Lingxor

I felt like the original Dead Space was dismissed a little too easily in your 2008 goty podcast. Hopefully the rest of the guys will take notice this time.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

I wonder how it plays on PC with a gamepad...

Posted by WEGGLES

Anyone here play the PC version? Played the first on 360, but have since built a gaming capable PC and would much prefer to play it on that... but if the 'feel' is off I may suck it up and get the 360 version. 

Posted by Yummylee
@Chris2KLee said:
" Good review. Wish they'd kept Isaac's face hidden. He looks so generic now. "
Isaac's face was still shown in the original game, though, albeit not as often as you'll see it in Dead Space 2, but Isaac's real life mug did still exist in the original. 
 
I'm wondering if Brad forget that fact as well, or just used the caption in the first pic as a gag. Though he had played the first Dead Space again so I imagine it's the latter.
Posted by big_jon

Called it.
Posted by HadesTimes

Woot! My copy arrives by weeks end! YAY!

Posted by Brad
@Abyssfull said:
" @Chris2KLee said:
" Good review. Wish they'd kept Isaac's face hidden. He looks so generic now. "
Isaac's face was still shown in the original game, though, albeit not as often as you'll see it in Dead Space 2, but Isaac's real life mug did still exist in the original.  I'm wondering if Brad forget that fact as well, or just used the caption in the first pic as a gag. Though he had played the first Dead Space again so I imagine it's the latter. "
Yeah, just a (poor) gag. I played through the first hour of the first one a few nights ago and had completely forgotten that you do see his face briefly at the beginning.
Staff
Edited by ShiftyMagician

@brad said:

(It's worth noting the preceding comments about the controls apply only to the console versions, since I didn't have a chance to try the PC version of Dead Space 2 prior to release. A lot of people had trouble with the feel of the first game's aiming on the PC, for what it's worth.)

 I can reasonably assure you that the PC controls were more responsive in terms of aiming compared to controllers.  Some people experienced a weird floaty feel (including myself when I first played the game), however that was because they had Vsync turned on.  Vsync for DS1 on PC was a bit broken where the game ran slower and caused a delayed response with the mouse.  Turning it off solves the problem, leaving with accurate controls and smooth framerates.  To still apply Vsync without the bugs, you had to force it at your graphics card settings section in Control Panel.
 
 Besides that little bit, great review dude.  A shame that they really had to tack on multiplayer, but thankfully to no expenseof the rest of the game.

Posted by Mattalorian

I'm glad to hear the console versions are excellent, but I'm very curious about the PC version. As Brad mentioned, the PC version of the first game had some control issues, but I'm curious if those issues were sorted out in the sequel. For what was originally supposed to be a console-only title, I wouldn't be surprised if they threw together a half-assed port for the PC. I sure hope that isn't the case.

Posted by h0lgr

Dude, yes!

Posted by Bones8677

By "Optional Move support" does that mean that you don't have to use the Move to play Dead Space Extraction?

Online
Posted by 2HeadedNinja
@WEGGLES said:
" Anyone here play the PC version? Played the first on 360, but have since built a gaming capable PC and would much prefer to play it on that... but if the 'feel' is off I may suck it up and get the 360 version.  "
I dont think anyone actually played it yet since the game is only out today in the US and end of the week in europe ... unless you live in germany like me ... we don't even have a release date yet (probably end of February)
Posted by anarchyzombie9

HYPE HYPE HYPE HYPE

Posted by Ratcabbage
@WEGGLES: I just got Dead Space on PC and the controls were very sluggish. Did a quick search and found out that vertical sync was the culprit (it's enabled by default). When I disabled that everything smoothed right up. There were some screen-tearing side effects but the improvement in control was night and day, so it was an acceptable trade-off for me. Can't speak for Dead Space 2 but I assume the problem would be addressed.
Posted by Zamir
Posted by patrick5152003

played about 30 mins so far. pretty fucking good.

Posted by ShiftyMagician
@2HeadedNinja said:
" @WEGGLES said:
" Anyone here play the PC version? Played the first on 360, but have since built a gaming capable PC and would much prefer to play it on that... but if the 'feel' is off I may suck it up and get the 360 version.  "
I dont think anyone actually played it yet since the game is only out today in the US and end of the week in europe ... unless you live in germany like me ... we don't even have a release date yet (probably end of February) "
If absolutely no one gives an impression of the controls for PC by the time I get it in Australia, you can bet that I will check that game out and go through any problems some may experience.  Likely with the speed of people in the internet, you should hear it from someone tomorrow or so.
Posted by MaddProdigy

Great review Brad. Little stuff like mentioning you didn't play it on PC, and so can't speak for the controls, really add personality and make it feel more like a review (well I didn't see something but this is my experience) and less like a factual statement (this is a 5 star game, anyone who says otherwise is wrong). Always a pleasure to read, and I think I'll be picking this up as soon as I can!

Posted by MThand3d

Incredible

Posted by Vodun
@Brad said:
" @Abyssfull said:
" @Chris2KLee said:
" Good review. Wish they'd kept Isaac's face hidden. He looks so generic now. "
Isaac's face was still shown in the original game, though, albeit not as often as you'll see it in Dead Space 2, but Isaac's real life mug did still exist in the original.  I'm wondering if Brad forget that fact as well, or just used the caption in the first pic as a gag. Though he had played the first Dead Space again so I imagine it's the latter. "
Yeah, just a (poor) gag. I played through the first hour of the first one a few nights ago and had completely forgotten that you do see his face briefly at the beginning. "
I recently saw an interview with some EA bigwig who claimed that they lacked any recognizable faces, like Mario and the like. Brands really. Could this de-masking be a step in that direction?
Posted by Claude

Dammit. Fucking goddammit. Yeah, video games... they want to be played.

Posted by Reuben

Nice review! Can't wait to get it, next paycheck -__-

Posted by cinemandrew
@Brad said:
" @Abyssfull said:
" @Chris2KLee said:
" Good review. Wish they'd kept Isaac's face hidden. He looks so generic now. "
Isaac's face was still shown in the original game, though, albeit not as often as you'll see it in Dead Space 2, but Isaac's real life mug did still exist in the original.  I'm wondering if Brad forget that fact as well, or just used the caption in the first pic as a gag. Though he had played the first Dead Space again so I imagine it's the latter. "
Yeah, just a (poor) gag. I played through the first hour of the first one a few nights ago and had completely forgotten that you do see his face briefly at the beginning. "
Even then, you can only see his face in the beginning if you've already beaten the game. If you haven't, you're not able to swing the camera around until after he puts the helmet on. On your first play-through you don't get to see his face until the very end.
Posted by TwoOneFive

okay, im waiting on LBP2 and buying this first. it makes sense though since it takes a couple of months for the seriously "HOLY FUCKING SHIT" levels to appear online in LBP2

Posted by Chuck_

Awesome review Brad. The EA Store actually messed up the shipping for my copy and I got it a day early. It. Is. Incredible. 

Posted by cap123

gonna buy dis as well as dead space one once i'm finished with assassins creed,  and have a good scary marathon session.

Posted by ApolloBob

Is there Peng?

Posted by Vitor
@MordeaniisChaos said:
" I wonder how it plays on PC with a gamepad... "
Identically I'd imagine. The first game's issues were to do with mouse pointer latency and disappeared as soon as you stuck in a 360 controller. 
Posted by polyorpheus
@cinemandrew: I don't think that's the case. I played Dead Space for the first time a few nights ago and I moved the camera around and I could see his face from the front. This was on the 360 version.
Posted by LiquidSwords

Great Review Brad! 
Having no money at the moment really blows!

Posted by crevisjr

Well this makes my decision on what to buy next even more difficult!

Posted by alexfase

Picking it up today!

Posted by kalmis
@fwylo said:
" TL;DR  5 Stars, I should probably play the first one then. "
same
Posted by Undeadpool

If it's good enough for Heavy Metal Brad, it must be damn good. Gonna play through the first and then pick this one up.

Posted by ReyGitano

Thank you Brad for letting me read a well written Dead Space 2 review today.

Posted by fishmicmuffin
@kalmis said:
" @fwylo said:
" TL;DR  5 Stars, I should probably play the first one then. "
same "
The first one..... which also got 5 stars from Brad! 
Posted by Sooty

Doesn't demand the biggest speakers you can give it because survival horror games are always scarier when played using a decent set of headphones, there's no comparison...

Edited by Krystal_Sackful

My dad bought this before I did. My dad is so cool.
Also, I didn't read the review for fear of spoilers, but images imply there's a mall level. Mall levels are my favorite part of system shock style games and one was sorely missing from the first Dead Space.