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.