Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Dead Space 2: Limited Edition
Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Visceral Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 4 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
The success story behind the budding Dead Space franchise is one I'd like to see repeated. Sure, the original Dead Space is a top-of-its-class action game, but it's the collective brainchild of an internal development studio at EA -- a company not particularly well-known for ambitious new IPs. No, Dead Space wasn't flawless, and it wasn't cut from an entirely new kind of cloth. But when the execution is spot-on, who cares? That seems to be the design mantra for the Dead Space team, which has spent the last few years crafting a sequel that manages to top its superb predecessor. Put simply, if you enjoyed Dead Space, you should already own Dead Space 2. In fact, by the time this review goes live, you should already be on your second or third playthrough.

Dead Space's production values and presentation still deserve to be counted among the best of the current generation. Fantastic lighting effects and creepy environments help conjure up an atmosphere of pure dread, and everything is topped off with a slick user interface that keeps you properly grounded. It's difficult to tell if Dead Space 2 could have improved on the tech. Even the little things impress; I cheered at each instance when Isaac's helmet assembled over his face or reintegrated into his RIG. The lack of room for improvement on the technical side of things leaves the ball in the artists' side of the court. And, no surprise, Visceral delivers. Titan Station is a bold departure from Dead Space's USG Ishimura. This place isn't exclusive to mining and engineering personnel; entire families live here. That basically gives the art department a license to throw in as many interesting places as possible. As a result, Isaac Clarke's twisted journey takes him through commercial shopping zones, the interior of a runaway train, a nursery school, and much more. There's a great surprise level towards the end, but I won't spoil it -- it's just too cool.

Of course, different kinds of people mean new necromorph types for Isaac to slaughter (or be slaughtered by). Just about all of the necromorphs from the original Dead Space return for the sequel, but the new types are standouts. First, we have the Pack: a group of hideous mutant children who are easy to put down on their own, but relentless in numbers. There are also Pukers, which are self-explanatory. My favorite new necromorph is the Stalker, I'll leave it to you to decide how they work, but it's obvious that someone at Visceral is a huge Jurassic Park fan. All of these monstrosities die in numerous and disgusting ways, but if they ever kill you, you'll be equally impressed and appalled at what the developers did to poor Isaac.

An experience like Dead Space 2 should feature sound design rich enough to make you want to invest in a wicked awesome set of speakers. And hear you me, this game does just that. Jason Graves' score has more range than his taut, moody, and undeniably great contribution to the first game. Of course, there are far more "in your face" moments this time around; unassuming violins and the occasional timpani glissando are great, but they don't sync up well with a high-velocity HALO jump. Turns out, borderline silence is more effective for situations like that.

One of Dead Space 2's more noteworthy departures from its predecessor has to do with the fact that series protagonist Isaac Clarke actually speaks. Gunner Wright makes Isaac believable enough, but I'm not sure anyone but the writers could have made him particularly memorable as a character. Unfortunately, that's one of the few areas in which Dead Space 2 comes up short. Luckily, the rest of the characters give the guy something to do with the role, and as a result, it's not bad.

Poor Isaac Clarke. I'm not talking about the fact that he has a painfully awkward dual homage for a name. I'm talking about the fact that the poor guy escaped almost certain death only to fall into a three-year coma. And then he woke up in the middle of a horrific necromorph outbreak only to find out that he's slowly going insane. Hallucinations wrack his poor mind, and he's constantly haunted by the spectre of his lost love Nicole.

Dead Space 2 literally picks up right where Dead Space Ignition left off, with Franco Delille (an engineer on Titan Station) waking Isaac up from his coma. Things go pear-shaped almost immediately; the necromorphs show up, and for most of the game, Isaac's main objective has everything to do with self preservation. The Sprawl (as Titan Station's inhabitants affectionately refer to as their home) has been all but gutted by this new necromorph scourge, but believe it or not, they aren't the only threat. Lurking behind the scenes are creeps from the Church of Unitology and EarthGov representative Director Hans Tiedemann, who sees Isaac as a failed experiment that must be destroyed.

The story isn't quite as interesting this time around, because by now, we've become acquainted with this new universe. Still, Dead Space 2 has some very potent surprises up its sleeve; these surprises manifest themselves in a number of high-energy thrill moments. These moments are what Dead Space 2 is all about; it is an action game first and a horror game second, and that's really the way it should be. Jump scares and genuine fright are two completely different things, and Visceral seems content to overdose the player on the former. To be fair, though, Dead Space 2 features one moment of gripping psychological terror that is so awesome and unexpected that it almost makes up for the rest of the game not being scary at all. Luckily, Dead Space 2's key strengths are exactly where they need to be: in the gameplay mechanics.

Dead Space 2 is about par for the course when it comes to difficulty, if not a bit harder. Necromorphs attack in greater numbers and with more ferocity than before, and you'll need to use every tool at your disposal to emerge the victor. On the default setting, you will be presented with a healthy challenge -- something most games don't accomplish on the default setting. Just be sure to upgrade the Javelin before the final chapter.

The difficulty slowly ramps up as Isaac encounters new necromorph types and environments that present tactical opportunities, as well as potential disadvantages. For example, you might find yourself in a room full of necromorphs -- a room where a carefully-placed shot can blow out a window, decompressing the room and sucking all the necromorphs into space. Of course, if you choose this course of action, you have a limited amount of time to shoot a control panel that closes the airlock before Isaac himself is killed.

What's really interesting is how Visceral approached the final difficulty level: Hardcore. This mode is similar in difficulty to Zealot mode, but there's a whopper of a catch: you can only save three times. If you die, you're whisked back to your previous save. During my first playthrough, Isaac fell prey to a number of gruesome and random-as-hell accidents. I'm not sure I have the guts to take Hardcore mode on, but I know there are some who salivate at the prospect of such a challenge.

Game Mechanics:
Some developers have to go back to the drawing board to fix things that didn't work. The Dead Space 2 team most certainly did not need to change the franchise's Strategic Dismemberment combat system, and thankfully, they didn't. As a result, Dead Space 2's gameplay is every bit as satisfying and gruesome as that of its predecessor.

A number of subtle refinements make the experience better, if only marginally so. Most of these improvements have to do with the weapons that, for lack of better words, sucked in Dead Space. The Ripper was a cool weapon, but the awesome lighting effects tended to interfere with the player's depth perception. In Dead Space 2, the Ripper's saw blade is bigger, and it floats closer to Isaac himself. The Flamethrower is still weak when stacked up against classics like the Plasma Cutter and Line Gun. The new weapons fit right in with the engineer motif, and they're great fun to wield, as well. The Javelin Gun hurls giant spears at your enemies, impaling them against walls. The alt fire causes an area of effect burst of electricity, which is great for putting down groups. There's a clever mine gun called the Detonator, as well as the Seeker Rifle, which acts as a slow-reloading sniping weapon.

Isaac's other tools have been given a bit of an overhaul, and they now allow you to be more conservative with your ammunition. Severing a necromorph's arm may at first only seem like one step towards another dead enemy, but with the upgraded Kinesis module, Isaac can grab the bladed appendage and fire it directly at another enemy, resulting in a Javelin-esque impalement. The Stasis Module also recharges on its own if you give it enough time. Last but not least, Isaac's RIG is now outfitted with thrusters. That means full body control in zero gravity. No longer are you forced to aim to specific points and make straight jumps.

Just about everything else from the original Dead Space has been retained, and that's all for the best. You can still use acquired power nodes to upgrade your RIG and equipment; the upgrades carry over into each consecutive new game, provided you don't make the jump to Hardcore.

You may be among the gamers who thought the Dead Space franchise absolutely needed a multiplayer offering. I wasn't, and I tore into Dead Space 2 expecting its multiplayer mode to be completely disposable. To be sure, you can purchase Dead Space 2, never touch the multiplayer component, and still get your money's worth. Still, it's a fun (if slightly unoriginal) diversion that may hold your attention for a short while. It's four humans versus four necromorphs in a battle for survival/extermination. Humans cooperate to complete objectives (assembling a shock mine, preparing an escape pod, etc.) while necromorphs do everything in their power to kill them. The necromorph spawning system is interesting; to spawn as a more powerful necromorph, you must wait a set number of seconds, and once you're ready, you must select a vent to emerge from using the camera. The multiplayer takes some getting used to, and you'll hit the cap before you know it, but it's manic, bloody fun.

As of this writing, the standard PlayStation 3 release is the Dead Space 2: Limited Edition. This release includes a full copy of Dead Space: Extraction, previously a Wii-exclusive. Complete with PlayStation Move support, Extraction is very much a worthwhile addition to the franchise and a terrific game in its own right. No Move? No problem; you can use your DualShock 3 if you want; just know that's not the way the game is meant to be played. If you want something more substantive than that, check the link to my full review at the bottom.

In a year full of high-profile releases, Dead Space 2 bursts out of the gate first, swinging its heavy, clawed hands with such ferocity that you'll be rendered breathless in your attempts to tame the beast. Don't miss this one.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.