A good sequel. More action but less atmosphere
The first Dead Space was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2008. The underpopulated, oft neglected survival horror genre only gets one or two good entries at the most, and Dead Space was one that practically came out of nowhere. It was a great game that pulled in the best of what the genre had to offer from other games, while adding the bloody and innovative “strategic dismemberment. The sequel continues, and actually improves upon the bloody, noisy combat of the first game. However, it doesn’t quite have the freshness or the scariness of the first game. Nonetheless, if you loved the first game, you should at least like this sequel, and you will want to pick it up.
If you didn’t play the first Dead Space, then I highly encourage you to go back and play that one. Even though it’s a few years old, it has aged very well, and some of its mechanics are unique (except for being in this one). You play as the technician Isaac, a tough but still ordinary Joe who wears a heavy mining suit and defends himself with all sorts of heavy industrial tools. Deformed, hideous creatures called “Necromorphs” shamble towards you and smash you or impale you if you don’t kill them fast enough. Shooting them in the chest or head is kind of pointless. To kill enemies, you have to shoot off their arms and legs. This is the “strategic dismemberment” feature of the Dead Space series that separates it from the games in this genre.
Strategic dismemberment isn’t just a gimmick or an excuse for limbs to get blown off so that blood can spurt out of the wounds. It adds an element of tactics to battles that other games don’t have. Since you are often swarmed by multiple enemies, you have to slow some of them down and then deal with the rest. Shooting the legs out from under them wounds them while keeping them off of your back for a while. If you need a little more help, you also have a “stasis” ability that can freeze enemies for a short time.
In Dead Space 2, this is unchanged, and that is a good thing. The mechanic is still immensely fun. In Dead Space 2, the battles seem a little more challenging though. Enemies come in larger numbers, and towards the end of the game, some of them get really tough. There is a little more variety to the enemies and the challenges in this game. There are more set pieces, “arenas”, and memorable battles. Dead Space 1 did suffer from too much repetition, and this game remedies that somewhat. One of the greatest parts of the game is riding in a windowed elevator with a spectacular view of Saturn, right when a bunch of enemies show up.
Speaking of spectacular views, Dead Space 2 has them in spades. The game makes the most out of its location (orbiting the Saturn moon Titan) and shows you some really impressive vistas. It looks really good on the inside too. The Dead Space series has the same basic look as Doom 3, which is to say that it’s generally pretty dark, but all of the environments have bright spots like computer screen, arcing electricity, or glowing enemy body parts. It looks great, but the look does get a bit too repetitive by the end.
Dead Space 2, like any good horror game, benefits tremendously from great audio. Combat is a visceral, adrenaline-pumping, noisy affair. The weapons are loud as hell. The chainsaw (called the “Ripper” in this game), hums loudly and then when you sink a sawblade into an enemy, the blade emits a screech as it cuts through flesh and bone. The enemies roar and as they jump or shamble at you. Sometimes you see enemies that make all kinds of gross fleshy noises, kind of like what you hear in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing.
There is one area where Dead Space 2 takes a significant step backwards from the first game, and that is with its story. There is virtually no explanation for how you got to be on this space station, and there is next to no story development in this game. You simply wake up in a straitjacket, and how you got there is never explained. The game doesn’t expand on the background of The Marker very much or give you a feel for where the story is going. Then you defeat the obligatory boss type character at the end, and you’re done. I really liked the story in the first game. The visions that you got of your ghostly girlfriend were creepy, and the idea of a misled religious sect craving immortality and becoming monstrosities instead was interesting. Dead Space 2 just isn’t creepy. It’s gruesome and it might make you squeamish, but there’s a certain “it” factor that it lacks.
Dead Space 2 doesn’t have a ton of replayability. It is a polished and well-designed, tight experience that shows you pretty much everything that it has to show you on the first run. It is maybe 12 hours long or so, so you can probably finish it by renting it, which I highly recommend. Dead Space 2 is another solid entry into this series, along with the first game and the highly underappreciated Dead Space: Extraction. Having enjoyed all of these games quite a bit, I am very much looking forward to Dead Space 3.