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Dead Space 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Game Review: Dead Space 2
Release: January 25, 2011
Genre: Survival horror; third-person shooter
Developer: Visceral Games
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Players: 1 (8 Players Online)
MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: Mature
Website: Dead Space 2 Official Site

So The Sprawl is a tad bit bigger than the Ishimura, I guess.

The last time we saw Isaac Clarke, he seemed seconds from having his entrails yanked out from his mouth and worn as a decorative necklace by his Necromorphed girlfriend. Such was the ending of Dead Space, 2008’s most kick-ass survival horror terror-thon. Turns out Isaac is just losing his marbles, and that old Marker business may have corrupted his brain. So it’s three years later, Isaac is out of his coma, and he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of another Necromorph invasion. Seriously, unluckiest Space Engineer ever.

Not much has changed in those three years. Isaac is now on The Sprawl, a metropolis built on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Of course, things go the way of the Ishimura the minute Isaac plops down on it, and now he’s the only one who can save the day… again. Tons of new enemy types are added (my favorite being these little velociraptor guys that hide when you shine your flashlight on them, but then come running kamikaze-style at you the minute your back is turned) and new weapons to blow them all to smithereens.

But don’t worry, your trusty Plasma Cutter is still here. Along with many small variations on old standards that help make combat a bit less overwhelming and a slew of new gadgets. My favorite is the Javelin Gun, which shoots a sharp spear into an enemy, propelling it backward and sticking it to any nearby wall (or, like one of the more lighthearted moments in my game, any ceiling). It also gives a little spark of electricity as secondary fire. On the gameplay side, fans of the original will snuggle right into the controls and feel of Isaac. There are little changes (you can reload without having to hold the left trigger, one subtle detail I quite liked) and a lot of polish on what was already a visceral combat system.

A member of The Pack (or "Evil Dead Babies" as I've penned them) prepares to attack Isaac.

Speaking of combat, this is where Dead Space rockets ahead of the pack. It has a silent brutality to it, along with constant feedback of limbs falling off exactly where you intended them to, that makes it one of the most rewarding combat systems in a third person shooter I’ve ever played. I mean, we’ve been conditioned our whole lives as gamers to aim for the head. Necromorphs could care less if you shoot their noggins off. It’s a brilliant idea for a system, and still holds strong in the sequel, and I imagine, will for the entire series. Dismembering a stalker until it’s nothing but a stump and proceeding to curb stomp it until it rains credits like some demented pinata will never, ever get old.

There’s also a funny amount of banter, between Isaac and Ellie mostly. Cracks about Isaac being a nerd because he’s an Engineer, or Isaac letting Ellie believe she started a huge bulldozer when in fact he did. It’s funny stuff, surprisingly so, being juxtaposed next to the fact that killer aliens are lurking in the shadows. But I welcomed it. You don’t get much time to breathe in these games, much less smirk at snarky dialogue.

The story, unfortunately, feels much less put-together. The main non-Necromporph antagonist is never even seen sans-Vid Screens (well, neither is most of the NPCs), so when he yells that he will stop you at nothing, it all falls flat. You know Isaac will overcome him, or he’ll end up dying some horrifyingly gruesome death. It’s all just a tad bit predictable (I mean, seriously, ANOTHER overbearing crazy lady that ends up turning on me?) and, well, familiar. I still love the backstory and mythology of this series (I have the novelization which delves into Michael Altman, the founder of the original marker, waiting on my bookshelf), but I just didn’t feel as invested in part two’s plot as I did with part one.

Dead Space 2 completely re-imagines its Zero-G segments, planting Isaac in the middle of some truly jaw-dropping space vistas.

Mitchel’s Final Say

I didn’t get to touch much on the multiplayer, but I’ll just say it’s serviceable, with a very Left 4 Dead aura around it. There’s a leveling system, the combat is fun, and controlling a lurker is pretty hilarious, but after my first try, I’ve yet to find myself wanting to go back to it. But really, single player is always what people will come to this franchise for. There’s no real convincing when it comes to this game. If you liked Dead Space, and you want to see where the story goes (or just dismember more space zombies, like any red-blooded American would), you’re probably already on your second or third playthrough. If you weren’t a fan of part one (and seriously, what the hell?), this is no game-changer. I, for one, just want to finish writing this so I can get back to it already.

+Full 360 movement Zero-G areas are a breathtaking blast.

+Due to sparsely scattered power nodes and suit schematics, replaybility is high and just as addicting to upgrade weaponry as ever.

+A trek through very recognizable territory towards the middle of the game is a terrifying treat for veterans of the series.

-Reemergence of Isaac’s old flame gets a bit heavy-handed by the hundredth time she pops up.

-Still embarrassingly easy to tell when Necromorphs are “playing dead.”

-An off-putting spike in difficulty towards the end of the game may (read: will) cause frustration.

Final Score: 9/10

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