Review: Dead Space 2 Is Insanely Terrifying

Dead Space 2 now has me thinking video games may not be a healthy pursuit after all. Despite playing through the original Dead Space twice, my heart was not as well-conditioned to its horrors as I originally thought.

Visceral Games' newest sci-fi fright-fest piles on the spooks and scares just as well as its predecessor, a 12 hour long deep dive into the insanity of engineer Isaac Clarke. In Dead Space 2, Clarke, the unlucky engineer who tore alien undead limb from limb in the original Dead Space, faces a new Necromorph onslaught on a space station dubbed the Sprawl. Even Isaac's mental state, shattered after the events of the first game, is conspiring against him in his attempts stop the Necromorph infestation.

Isaac arms himself with new weapons and faces new, ghastly foes; but Dead Space 2 doesn't bring many new tricks to the survival horror formula—save for its online multiplayer mode. It does, however, keep the thrills coming.

Ideal Player Brave souls who want to be stressed out by their entertainment, who like a good scare and who don't mind closets bursting with undead monsters. Those who may have given up on the "survival horror" brand of video game when other contenders started to feel less fresh—even if Dead Space is already starting to feel less fresh.

Why You Should Care The original Dead Space is one of this generation's great horror games, a masterpiece of terrifying sound design, great atmosphere and tension. Dead Space 2 matches its predecessor in those departments and fixes a few of its unlovable quirks.

What's new in Dead Space 2? Not a whole lot. Isaac Clarke still has access to a long list of weapons, many of them familiar (plasma cutter, line rack, flamethrower) and can upgrade those weapons and his space suit to boost his power as he faces hundreds of deadly Necromorphs. Visceral does add more to Clarke's arsenal and gives him a few new outfits, some with unique characteristics, to play with. But the core gameplay is pure Dead Space. Isaac can stop Necromorphs dead in their tracks with a time-slowing stasis field and use a telekinetic beam to throw things around. Improved is Dead Space 2's zero gravity movement, which gives Isaac the chance to float and fly through space.

New strains of Necromorphs? While the old, reliable blade-limbed Necromorphs from the first Dead Space reappear in droves, a few new variations on the undead make the sequel much more challenging. One particularly loathsome type is the Pack, childlike undead that quickly swarm the player in groups. The Puker uses one of Isaac's own tricks against him, with a vomit attack that slows the player's movements. Crawlers, infants turned Necromorph, are little more than sad suicide bombers. Stalkers hide in the shadows, then charge at the player with the speed of a velociraptor.

But still the same gory amputation-based gameplay of the original? Definitely. The core gameplay remains unchanged. Necromorphs will burst forth from closets and air ducts, surround Isaac and leap from the shadows; slicing off their limbs is still the best tactic. Despite Isaac's ever increasing power, you'll still feel as if you're in constant danger throughout. Hacking mini-games, zero G space flight and light puzzle solving serve to break up the action. One thankful deletion in Dead Space 2 is its total lack of turret gun shooting galleries.

How's the story in Dead Space 2? It starts well and ends well, with thrilling action sequences that don't feel like repeats from the original Dead Space. The sequel actually opens with Isaac Clarke in a straitjacket, running for his life from Necromorph hordes, a smartly scary introduction to the world of Dead Space 2 and the state of our hero's mind. The game sometimes looses its step with uninteresting side missions and fetch quests—and some of the creepy environments Isaac finds himself in border on silly instead of truly scary—but if you've enjoyed the fiction of Dead Space, the sequel delivers more of its lore in spades. (For those who haven't played the original, a "previously on Dead Space" short will get them up to speed quickly.)

How's the multiplayer? It doesn't feel necessary, because Dead Space 2 can stand on its own as a single-player game, but it is not an unwelcome addition. Where Dead Space 2's story-driven mode comes in waves tense and terrifying, then quiet, its multiplayer side pits a team of humans against a team of Necromorphs in an objective-based mode that's a constant frenzy. Humans have access to unlockable weapons and upgrades, while Necromorphs have Left 4 Dead-like sight and the ability to spawn at the location of their choosing. Teamwork is key here and multiplayer can be great fun. But single-player is really the draw.

Does Dead Space 2 do anything wrong? Other than feeling perhaps too similar to its predecessor, Dead Space 2 is a great horror game. There's little in the way of innovation in this entry, if that matters to you, which is only disheartening because the original felt so refreshing.

The Bottom Line Dead Space 2 is as much a hallmark of great terror engineering as the 2008 original, a fantastic, horrifying trip through a hellish environment.

Dead Space 2 was developed by Visceral Games and published by EA for the PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360, released on January 25, 2011. Retails for $US49.99 to $US59.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single-player campaign on Normal and tested multiplayer component on PlayStation 3.


Comments

    Out of curiosity, Mr. McWhertor, have you ever played Amnesia: The Dark Descent?

      Haha, I know where you're going with this, and I agree. I've been spoiled by Amnesia, and I dont think any other type of horror would cut it.

    Hey Bilbo, I just played Amnesia for the first time a few days ago. I heard people talking about it on Kotaku and got interested. It's a great game (and scary), I played it through in two days. Gave me something to do while I wait for my steam copy of Dead Space 2 to unlock.... still waiting....

    Horror wasn't what appealed to me in Dead Space since it was a little light on that end. I'm eager to see the new set pieces and level design most of all. It's all so nicely done.

    While the original dead space was a great game which I enjoyed a lot, I didn't find it scary because I didn't feel as involved with the character. I also didn't feel the same tension other people claimed because the encounters felt scripted.
    But the biggest part for me was Issac, like so many horror heroes, is armed. You never feel powerless or out of your depth because there's always a solution, a way to put them down.

    I agree with you Ross, I've just played through Dead Space and it's not scary at all. Imo the best horror is where you're feeling powerless, and throw in a good mind F*%k just for good measure.

    I still cant read the name 'Isaac Clarke' without hearing Yahtzee's "oh ho I see what you did there!". It really is terribly lame. I disagree with your 'ideal player' description. If you have 'given up on the survival horror brand' then its very likely because of games like Dead Space - which are really just action games where the enemies suddenly spawn close to you accompanied by a scary noise :D

    loses*

    :v

    How does it compare to Alan Wake and Clive Barker's: Undying?

    While neither were scary constantly they both had the most scare factor of any game I've played.

      Well its got over two lines of coherent dialogue, so its streets ahead of Alan Wake. :P

      Seriously though, I think its similar to AW in that it had potential to be a truly scary survival horror game and ended up watered down into a jumpy action game. (Except AW wasn't at all scary because it constantly paused and panned the camera over to show you the next wave of enemies - worst design decision everrr)

    I felt that the original Dead Space was a very well made game, with great design and a lot of polish. But I thought it was more creepy than scary. The fact that you have weapons to dispatch enemies with, and a 'bullet time' like effect to help you take them down didnt really make it feel like a survival horror game. But the combat did get hectic, epsecially later in the game on harder difficulty.

    The thing I enjoyed the most were actually the quiet moments between fights - particularly right after a massive fight. During the battle, there would be music and screaming and explosions, then right after the last mob goes down.... silence. Eery, lonely, solitary silence. And I thought that captured the essence of what was happening quite well. That Isaac was alone on the ship with nothing but his own wits against who knows what. That was enjoyable.

      +1 to that brother, +1 to that.

    I started playing Dead Space 1. I was quite bored a bit over 2 chapters in. So, my question to you all is: When does it get as scary as FEAR? FEAR had me hooked on the story by chapter 2, as well starting to ramp up the uneasiness.

    It could just be the 3rd person viewpoint... I dunno.

      I suggest u keep playing. But don't expect Dead Space to be the same scares. Chap 1 & 2 are just introductory, after that it gets deeper.

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