As I peer into the slightly darkened room with all its hidden corners and unknown sounds, I am sure there are big baddies lurking in there. But I smile a bit because that means more limb slicing, more decapitations and more fun to be had in “Dead Space 2.”
A follow up to the 2008 survival horror hit, “Dead Space 2” (Visceral Games, Electronic Arts) continues the gruesome adventures of engineer Isaac Clark and his battle against necromorphs, humans that have mutated into undead, alien monsters. This time, the monsters are tougher, smarter and more diverse as Isaac is placed on an installation on the moon Titan, called The Sprawl, which houses a terrifying secret.
The story picks up three years (in real-time and in game time) after the conclusions of “Dead Space.” If you didn’t play the first version, Visceral Games provides a movie that recounts the original adventure to provide proper background.
Isaac has been rescued and taken to a military medical facility where he has undergone experiments as others try to find out the secret of the alien Marker responsible for the necromorph virus. As he breaks free with some help, the adventure into mayhem and psychological terror truly begins.
The necromorphs are strikingly realistic and grotesque. They can only be killed when their limbs are cut away from their bodies. They also appear from every nook and cranny of the facility and from every direction.
There are new necromorphs that will swarm Isaac, try to outthink and outflank him, and some that will just attempt to overpower him. The mix forces players to recognize what they face, determine the optimum weapon to use, and work out a plan for success.
The detail by which the creatures were designed is realistic enough that you can still see portions of them that used to be human and figure out in your mind what their twisted parts and limbs have now become. They are as relentless as any zombie, but as deadly as any space alien could possibly be.
The constant tension sticks with you throughout and forces players to think about strategy, weapon strength and tactics before blundering into a new area. Steve Papoutsis, Executive Producer of the Dead Space franchise, said the designers wanted to ratchet up the thrills but also wanted to pace the story so players didn’t get fatigued from being on the edge all the time.
“(The pacing in ‘Dead Space 2’) is much more of a roller coaster,” he said. “People thought in the first game was great in its relentless tension throughout but we did hear from some people that it was overwhelming at times. So we decided we wanted you to go from the white-knuckle terror moments to these ‘oh, my god. I can’t believe I’m making this Halo-type jump’ moments.”
Isaac faces internal struggles within his own mind and external struggles as different factions seek control of the Marker. Papoutsis said the team tried to weaver both elements through the story and the game to give players a greater sense of immersion. He also said both sides would be key as the action winds down to an exciting conclusion.
The horror in the game is not just visceral (pun intended). Designers also ramped up the mind games they play with you by bringing back Isaac’s deceased girlfriend seen in the first game as well as hallucinations that look like they are attacking you.
“Terror is the act leading up to the horrific moment,” Papoutsis said. “There is something neat when you are expecting it and it doesn’t happen. Then it is like, uh oh, something really bad is going to happen.”
Isaac is armed with some familiar weapons to help him dismember his foes. The plasma cutter and the line gun return, but are retrieved in very interesting, and, sometimes, bloody ways. There are a few new and effective weapons, like the detonator that places laser mines as traps for sneaky necromorphs.
Weapons and abilities can be upgraded by using nodes found scattered throughout The Sprawl. Word of advice: always keep one node in your pocket. They are also used to open supply room doors that contain lots of ammo and health.
Kinetics and stasis powers also return and are used more aggressively in this adventure. Objects can be picked up and flung with devastating results while stasis powers hold opponents in place temporarily so Isaac can gain an advantage (or beat a hasty retreat). Both powers slowly regenerate as the game moves forward, a change from “Dead Space,” but a welcome and needed difference in combat.
Players stay immersed in the world thanks to no loading screens. In the previous adventure, trips on the tram or in an elevator usually meant loading time. In “Dead Space 2,” those areas are now just as active as the rest of the complex.
The game is split onto two discs on the Xbox 360 version so there will be a brief load after switching to disc 2. Of course, the game will reload to a save point if you should die. However, the action and flow of the story never takes a break throughout for any other loads.
The storyline is well written, has good pacing, and actually makes sense in the franchise. Events that take place keep the plot moving along and the story is still able to introduce new characters seamlessly.
“’Dead Space 2’ isn’t intended to be a feel good story,” Papoutsis explains. “It is supposed to be a very scary and kind of a believable future.”
While the single player action is very enjoyable, Papoutsis said the number one request from players of the first adventure was multiplayer action.
The multiplayer portion pits humans against necromorphs but gives players the chance to play as one of the undead mutants. The action is still tense, still scary, has a definitely feeling of horror survival to it and remains true to the overall “Dead Space” feel.
On the human side, you are playing as The Sprawl security force. On the necromorph side, players can choose from one of four playable necromorphs. Teams are composed of 4 players and need to work together to succeed across 5 maps.
“We wanted to give people the opportunity to create their own stories in the ‘Dead Space’ world,” Papoutsis said. “That’s what’s really interesting about multiplayer gaming and how it is becoming social behavior for us.”
“Dead Space 2” delivers a truly epic horror experience that raises the levels of psychological thrills in deep space to new levels. Whether it is facing off against new, horrifying necromorphs or dealing with the inner demons in Isaac’s mind, the adventure will keep players on the alert and yet still startle them out of their seats.
This review was based off game play for the Xbox 360 version. “Dead Space 2” is rated M for mature audiences 17 years of age and older. It is currently available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Media Molecule, the same team who developed “Little Big Planet,” takes another crack at opening the imagination of players with new challenges, weapons and rides. The hero, Sackboy or Sackgirl depending on the gender, returns to tackle a single-player story that has a real plot, characters and villains and further the company’s mantra of “Play, Create, Share.”
In LBP, players took their Sack Avatar through different levels based on real world locations. In LBP2, the world has been overrun by the forces of evil and destruction, and Sackboy is recruited by the Alliance, a group who wants to restore goodness and cupcakes to everyone.
The first thing I noticed in the single player actions was a real voice actor. In the past and during gameplay in LBP2, characters just mutter or grunt while speech bubbles spell out what they are saying. Now, real voice acting occurs from the non-player characters to lend atmosphere to the fun cut scenes.
Sackboy still bounds through physics challenges and over damaging barriers. He does get some new tools to help him get through like gloves that help him lift and toss large items and a grappling hook that shoots out to get him over and around larger chasms.
The object is still to collect point bubbles and materials to dress up your Sackboy or the surrounding scenery with stickers. The action is whimsical with a dash of British humor and there are some laugh-out-loud references throughout the levels (if you pay attention).
The additional fun comes from making your own levels. Indeed, Alex Evans, one of the co-founders of Media Molecule and technical director on LBP2 said that players from the first game wanted more options to be able to share their own creations with others.
“It was the number one request of the first game,” Evans said. “It was ‘oh, I spent the weekend making a shrine to my cat. How do I advertise it? How do I reach an audience?”
Evans said they created a feature in the game that creates a URL for each level players make so they can pop it on Facebook or Twitter or in an e-mail. He said this way, really amazing levels get seen by a wider audience and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
“What we were amazed at the first time around was that there was actually really good content,” Evans said. “So we definitely learned a lot and we’ve got a lot more recommendations to guide (players) to those levels that are likely to appeal to you.”
Those who want to create will find new tools and tricks to make their imagination come to life much easier. Evans said whatever they have given players to use in games has been used in ways they never dreamed.
“I’ve always been so pleasantly surprised by not patronizing gamers,” he said. “There is this untapped potential of the community that never ceases to amaze me in a very good way.”
Everything that you can find in the single player game can be used to design your own level. Evans said the Media Molecule level designers used LBP2 to make each level in the game with no outside tools used.
“The majority who pick up LBP2 should be able to enjoy that (single-player) story,” Evans explained. “But I’m hoping, at the end of it, that you know in the back of your head that everything was made using the game and you’re inspired to dabble in the create side.”
Most of the original creations from LBP were what he called “homages” to other games like role-playing games or classic platforming games. With the addition of new tools like the Create-a-nator which lets Sackboy create whatever he needs to solve a puzzle, new community levels are expected to be more expansive and imaginative.
There are also vehicles in the game that have their own abilities and powers. Sackboy can ride a bouncing puppy with a sonic bark or a multi-humped camel that shoots missiles out of his mouth just to name a few.
It is also backward compatible, meaning anything that was created in the first game will play just as nicely in “Little Big Planet 2.” Any Sackboy creation, including all the DLC materials and clothing, will automatically be loaded in LBP2.
Overall, the new single-player story with real voice acting and non-player characters is a welcome change from a simple physics-engine platformer. While the story is as old as time, the action and the humor are fun, exciting and an excellent way to learn all the new tools and tricks to the game.
The community (at this time, it was filled with levels created by beta players) has a wide array of selections from first-person zombie shooters to driving games to traditional platforming games. Media Molecule also has an area that recommends levels they feel are good to play.
The new networking side that uses custom URLs to promote created levels sounds like a good idea, but one that couldn’t be tested well in the preview. However, Evans said his team really concentrated a lot of effort to make this work since this was the most requested feature from LBP.
Media Molecule really hit home with “Play, Create, Share” in “Little Big Planet 2.” The only way you won’t enjoy this game is if you can’t imagine having fun.
“Little Big Planet 2” is a PlayStation 3 exclusive title. It is scheduled for release in the US on January 18, in Europe on January 19, in Australia on January 20 and in the UK on January 21. It is rated E for everyone. A preview copy, not a retail copy, of the game was provided for this review.