When it comes to science fiction, space is always presented as a pretty action oriented place, from space battles to asteroid fields to roaming cannibals (you thought I was going to get through that without a Firefly reference? Silly you, you thought wrong). But from way down here where the majority of us are standing it is nothing but a whole bunch of blackness with a twinkle here and there. Nothing but calm. That same calm usually works its way into these space adventures, but it is in games like Dead Space 2 that this calm is something that should be feared the most, because it is in these moments that something is most likely about to go terribly wrong.
Years following the events of the first game, we find protagonist Isaac Clark wrapped tightly in a straight jacket in a hospital on one of Saturn’s moons. Suffering from the mental degradation of dementia, he is still tormented by the loss of his girlfriend who likes to come to him in rather disturbing hallucinations. But she is not alone as a constant memory of the past because somewhere in this city is another Marker, bringing with it yet another onslaught of the reanimated corpses that have been changed into necromorphs, violent creatures who are out to spread the love.
As Isaac sits in the hospital wing waiting for his arms to be released from his restraints a necromorph rather rudely makes his presence known by plunging an arm (?) through the orderly’s face, kicking me into fight or flight mode. With his arms still tied to his abdomen only one option is really available and we are forced to run for our lives as chaos erupts around us. I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who would rather take these monsters head on with a gun from the get go, but I think that this was an extremely effective start to the game in creating terror and panic. I am not here to be a hero, I am here to survive, and I will run like the wind for as long as it takes.
Eventually Isaac does free his arms and retrieves a gun in order to become more offensive in his journey throughout the station, and though I cannot speak to the controls of the first game and whether or not they have been improved on, they are smooth enough here for those of us running on instinct. The one complaint is that the hints that accompany the gameplay come a little sporadically and could have been used earlier during the gameplay. One example of this is that I wasn’t told until an hour in that the crates I have been seeing littering the area could be stomped on for prizes. An amateur mistake I know, especially considering this isn’t a new concept to games, but this wasn’t something I assumed was possible considering I didn’t have the knowledge of the first game to go on.
With that minor gripe aside in concern to hints on how to use the controls, the controls themselves are well mapped to the controller and are easy enough to use throughout the game. One key thing to note is the ease of use and aim of Isaac’s arsenal. In order to take down the advancing necromorphs, quick and accurate aiming is required since unloaded a barrage of bullets into their mass won’t do the trick. Instead more precise shots are needed to amputate limbs off of the creatures, and though this seems like a challenging thing to do it is actually not too bad. But if the arms flailing about still give you some problems it always helps to scream “DANCE MONKEY DANCE!” as you shoot at their legs, cutting them off at the knees. A crawling enemy is still dangerous, but much slower to bring about your death.
This is just the basic side to Isaac’s fighting style. As you progress through the game additional weapons will be made available that go about killing in a range of ways. Like to give the necromorphs a taste of their own medicine but don’t want to use one of their own limbs to do so (poetic, but not always the easiest option)? There is a gun for that. Just simply line up your shot and your kabob will be ready in seconds (electrocution option for those who like their meals well cooked). Leaning more towards a pyromaniac lifestyle? There is a gun for that. Want to set up motion detonating bombs so that the necromorphs will explode at a safe distance? There is a gun for that. Point is there is a large variation of ways to bring down the hoards, including primary and secondary options for each gun, all with satisfying results. Just be sure to level the damage, capacity, and reload times up on your favorites because being caught with an empty barrel can lead to a heap of trouble.
Even with the effectiveness of the gunplay there is never a moment in which my prowess leads me to a feeling a safety no matter how many tactics I tried to combat my fear, and often my spinelessness led to even more problems. Having someone talk to you over the phone just distracts you from what you should be paying attention to (as well as just gives them plenty of fodder to make fun of you with as you hyperventilate and scream like no one should in their life). Turning the volume down just keeps you from hearing Jason Graves’ beautiful soundtrack and makes it more likely to miss the audible clues of the immanent danger of sneaky little buggers breathing down your neck. Sure you would think walking with your back against the wall would help this problem (which I did for the majority of the game), but they don’t really allow walls to stop them from their assaults as they often jump through them in a surprising fashion.
No matter what I tried I could not overcome the effectiveness of the design of the game. On their own a necromorph running at you is scary enough (they fall somewhere in between an enraged orangutan and ET running through the closet with his arms raised), but the aesthetics are what really do this game justice. Every once in a while you will be able to look out into space or out into the rest of the city, but for the most part the game keeps pretty confined to throw in claustrophobia. With that said the linear level design never feels worn, and though the majority of it is covered in splashes of blood or dead bodies it never feels like you are walking through the same corridors over and over again, especially when dementia moments are added in to really make things interesting. Similar to Alan Wake, which is the only other horror game I have to compare this to, the use of lighting and shadow is fantastic in its use, both in looks alone and how different a game plays when you must rely on a flashlight to see around a room. As I just mentioned the music adds another level all on its own, but there are also the in-game sounds, ranging from a cup that I accidentally kicked when going through an eating area to a crying baby. Heck, the lack of noise is just as bad as hearing something roll across the floor in the distance.
Believe it or not it is possible to get used to these creatures and their tactics as the game continues, so there are plenty of ways in which the game evolves to keep things fresh. Often you will find yourself in space with your oxygen running low, hanging upside down with your leg keeping you in the air at the center of a room, trapped with a door that won’t open at your back due to a power failure, and more often than not it may be something as simple as running low on health packs. Let’s just say that the first time I got a large health pack I turned into Gollum with his ring, but I quickly learned I wasn’t going to be able to be stingy considering I had to use it two seconds later anyway. Plus, new types of baddies are always popping up, and though it takes a demented mind to choose to use babies and children as weapons in a game, they sure are terrifying. From small scale to large, easily dispatched to the terminator, the classes of baddies will keep you on your toes and provide plenty of incredibly gory, albeit awesome, cinematic deaths. While playing through normal there are plenty of checkpoints littered throughout the game, but there are still moments in which death means frustratingly getting pushed back further than you would like, so don’t become too willing to try and witness them all.
Though I may not be the best judge of this, in my personal opinion Dead Space 2 has done everything almost perfectly to create a terrifying experience for the player, including look, gameplay, sound, enemies, etc, making it easy to recommend this to anyone who likes to be scared. And with the “New Game +” option you can go back in with the weapons and suits of your previous playthrough. Just be sure to go to the bathroom first.
Final Grade: 9/10
PS – Seeing as I am not big on multiplayer I don’t really have a lot to say about this aspect of the game. With that said I did give it a try and could say that though I would rather just stick to the campaign, it is pretty fun playing on teams of security vs. necromorphs. And I don’t know why, but there is a certain level of joy that can only be attained by running around as a toddler and jumping on people’s backs.
Dead Space 2 is available on the XBOX 360, PS3, and PC. Visit the official game site at http://deadspace.ea.com/
Still not convinced? Check out the trailer below: