Dead Space 2
Picking up three years after the events of the first game, Dead Space 2 begins with protagonist and engineer extraordinaire, Isaac Clarke, undergoing psychological treatment within The Sprawl, a densely populated space metropolis that’s practically begging to be converted into a corpse-filled monument to viscera. As the often touted saying goes, ‘you can’t keep a good necromorphic infestation down’, and it isn’t long before the claret starts spraying and you’re thrust into one of the most gruesome and memorable opening sequences of recent note. From then on it’s a mettle-testing ride into a shroud of sci-fi horror and quality third-person survival action that delivers on the game’s hype and fevered previews.
Dead Space 2 features the same innovation that made the first title such a stand out amongst its peers. There’s the in-game HUD (health and stasis data are displayed on Isaac’s suit), on-weapon ammo readouts and projected text-logs, which all serve to plunge you deeper into the game’s immersive mire. This time around there’s a range of different suits that bestow slightly different attributes to Isaac and all the equipment can be upgraded as before via collectable power nodes. The choice this time, however, is whether you save every power node for the upgrade-trees or instead spend them opening special power-locked rooms that contain a random assortment of items that may equally improve Isaac’s predicament.
From the offset, the player’s relationship to Isaac is shifted greatly from Dead Space as developer Visceral has given Isaac an easily viewable visage and audible voice. This decision is a significant one. As a result of this, you’re given insight into Isaac’s character and personality, empathy occurs and the relationship between player and protagonist is strengthened deeply. Without a face and a voice, Isaac was merely an anonymous avatar, an unfeeling mute robot who permitted little emotional investment. He’s now humanised and feels much more vulnerable, an important factor in horror-survival games.
One of the primary ways the game utilises this concept is through Isaac’s dementia, incurred due to his contact with the red marker from the first game. The embattled engineer is persistently haunted by visions of his deceased girlfriend, Nicole, that become more severe and telling as the game progresses. Whilst these can be somewhat disturbing at first, they’re presented as unreal from the offset via warped audio and lighting, so lose some of the impact that could’ve been achieved had they been presented as ambivalent. Still, these visions help to move the, fairly uninspired, narrative along, which revolves around both the sinister Unitologists and The Sprawl’s crazed head of security lusting after power and also how Isaac fits into the whole shit-storm.
As well as the classic undead ensemble cast of slashers, lurkers, leapers and the like, there are also various new additions to strategically dismember (enemies’ limbs must be taken-off rather than their heads). Influenced explicitly by the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, the stalkers are pack-hunting, flanking adversaries that gradually close in behind cover before rapidly charging at you with a nerve-jangling cry. It’s a disturbing pleasure to encounter therm. Pukers are particularly troublesome, spitting corrosive balls of bile from afar and barfing gallons of the stuff onto you when up close which causes you Isaac to dangerously slow down – usually in the midst of a mass-attack. Anyone who’s not creeped out the first time they face off against the pack is either emotionally numb or just plain lying. Consisting of a pale horde of bulb-headed reanimated juveniles, the pack members are individually weak but can soon surround Isaac – leaping all over him whilst you flail about trying to reload or melee-attack their heads in. Aside from some expectedly hulking and rare necromorphs (no spoilers, but they’re sick) Visceral has also throw in some explosive babies (crawlers) and organic proximity mines (cysts) just for pus-bomb exploding displeasure.
To dispatch these putrid horrors, the first game’s engineering tool arsenal returns and has been bolstered with the javelin gun and detonator (mine-layer). The javelin gun was much touted in the game’s previews and it doesn’t fail to deliver on the hyper-violence front – it can harpoon necromorphs to walls and the alternate fire electrocutes them for good measure. Two new and innovative ways to slay foes come in the form of either using kinesis to fire severed necromorph claws back into them or by shooting out a window, causing a blowout where everything not bolted down is sucked into space. The claw-firing kinesis makes sense from a logical point of view and is also a lifesaver when you’re running low on ammo. The window blowouts provide a quick method of clearing out an infested room but you also risk being pulled out into space if you don’t shoot a failsafe button in time.
One area in which the game advances effectively on the first is in the zero-gravity sections. Whereas Isaac was previously forced to select a single, distant point and then jump towards it, he now has free reign to hover around the vacuums at will due to the addition of tiny boosters (hover modules) fitted to his suit. This allows for a much smoother zero-gravity experience and one in which you can also fire weapons mid-flight – making for some disorientating action.
Aside from pop-out scares and splattered viscera, a greater depth to the game’s horror is linked to the player’s own imagination. If you rip through the game as fast as possible, lopping off limbs without a second thought, then you’re missing out on the overbearing atmosphere and tragic narrative. The necromorphs are hideous monsters, but they used to be people with families and children. This fact is driven home especially in the colony’s nursery level. Whilst this is ostensibly used by the developer to invoke an inverted funhouse-like disturbing edge to the environment, it’s actually also quite horrible to think of the sudden infestation surging through this nursery and turning children into abhorrent animals.
The game provides a number of action-packed set-pieces which are often almost cinematic in their delivery but there’s also a lack of proper boss battles which is slightly disappointing as the first game fully embraced this classic gaming element. There are many moments when you’re taken by surprise and forced to act quickly, but they don’t seem as memorable as some of those experienced in Dead Space and often require only frantic button-mashing to escape. The game’s progression is streamlined but seems to flash by in its approximate eight-hour length. It certainly offers a wide scope for further run-throughs with its tough advanced difficulty settings and multiplayer options. Dead Space 2 provides an innovative and haunting gaming experience; it competently continues on the foundations laid by its innovative predecessor and serves to massively expand what is already a popular cross-media franchise.