I’m a big fan of survival horror, my favorites are the new remake of Resident Evil 2 and Fatal Frame II : Crimson Butterfly, Silent Hill 2, and the Amnesia series. So it’s a huge compliment when I say Dead Space is one of the best. Three years after the release of the original game, here is Dead Space 2. It promises more, more action, but still as scary as the first game, and it’s very successful. It’s been about five years since I played, and now that I’m ten, I have an excuse to go back.
Spoiler Ahead for the Dead Space franchise.
Dead Space 2 is set a few years after the events on the USS Ishimura, and the only survivor of the incident is engineer Isaac Clarke. He could stop the necromorph infection by destroying the red marker on Aegis 7. Isaac was found adrift in space and taken to the Sprawl space station on the remains of Titan, where he was cut off from Earth’s government. The effects of the Red Marker on Isaac allowed them to create a new Red Marker. When Isaac awakens, he is drawn into a new necromorphic invasion that forces him to fight his way back to the nightmare he thought he had escaped.
One of the main criticisms of the first Dead Space was the story. It was hard to make a connection with Isaac’s struggles, even if he was personally motivated. It’s partly because Isaac didn’t play the voice, for some really uncomfortable moments when the characters tried to talk to him. In Dead Space 2, however, it’s much easier to connect with Isaac thanks to his new voice and the interesting development of his character. Over the course of the game, you also meet a number of other interesting characters, such as Nicole, who haunts Isaac through the hallucinations Marker causes. It also provides a much deeper understanding of the history of the dead space universe.
It’s an intriguing story with lots of twists and turns, and looking back at it after playing Dead Space 3, it seems like everything went well and sucked me in. Isaac’s growing dementia adds a layer of psychological terror, while the more basic invasion of the Necromorphs drives action. This introduces Unitology, a cult that worships these marks and is primarily responsible for events aboard the Sprawl. It’s full of predictable twists and turns with betrayal and unique characters, but it’s an entertaining journey.
Even though the story has been expanded, the gameplay still excels. Not really innovative compared to its predecessor, but rather an improvement of what already existed. Same design without unemployment insurance, with everything important visible on or around the character if needed. The health and stasis ammo appears on the holder, and the ammo appears on the weapon itself. If you need to dip into your inventory for any reason, whether it’s to check your supplies, medical kits, etc., it will be displayed in real time in holographic form, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Of course, it’s still a Dead Space game.
The core combat is largely the same, clearly inspired by Resident Evil 4 with an over-the-shoulder camera angle, limited ammo and inventory space. Isaac can still trample as usual, but this is enhanced by a new, more traditional melee combat, and his movements are improved. I found myself reacting a little faster to off-screen enemy attacks, thanks to improvements in the main gameplay. Surprisingly, he’s aged surprisingly well. Looking back today, there is no evidence of this decade-old game.
You always kill necromorphs by removing limbs, and there’s a certain strategy behind that. If you cut off their heads, they panic, so that’s not always the best idea. On the other hand, tearing off the legs slows them down, but it’s easy to lose them in chaotic moments. It’s fun, intense, and always entertaining, especially as the game continues to introduce new enemies, new locations, and new mechanics to make the seven-hour campaign interesting. Nothing compares to the experience of dead space, and frankly, nothing comes close. Every encounter in Dead Space 2 is beautifully designed and varied.
Isaac has a ton of weapons at his disposal, with serious updates to the game’s weapon base. In the original game, the pulse rifle was one of the worst, partly because of its low damage and terrible alternate attack. Here, however, you can use it much more with its ability to easily rip off limbs, as well as a grenade launcher. While the Plasma Cutter is still the star of the show, it’s Isaac’s basic weapon that really highlights the unique mechanics of Dead Space. I never took that gun, and it will always be mine.
Then there’s the greatly improved Kinesis module, which allows Isaac to use the environment as a weapon. They can throw blunt objects and even rip off the limbs of dead Necromorphs and use them as projectiles. It’s fun to play with it occasionally, but I haven’t used it much in combat. Isaac also has a standard mêlée attack to supplement his attack abilities, and he never feels overwhelmed, just a quick way to knock out his enemies. The game’s Zero-G sections have also been improved, allowing Isaac to move freely in these areas. They are always the weakest, but they are useful.
As you might expect from the original, there are some epic characters in this game. The Duel of the Tormented takes the Duel of the Tentacles from the first game and takes it to the next level. Isaac is flung around, chased, caught, flung around again and again before storming straight into space and finally crashing into the Expanse. The whole thing takes place in two exciting minutes. On the other hand, we also have the famous needle-in-the-eye part that Isaac uses to slip into the machine, learning how to stop the red marker. It’s a much slower and closer encounter, but with terrible results.
If Dead Space 2 works brilliantly as an action game, how was it really a horror game? The answer is surprisingly good. Even in the most chaotic and action-packed moments, Dead Space 2 finds moments that scare me. When I played my first start, I was always at my best, sneaking in and looking everywhere. Necromorphs can come from anywhere: air vents, doors, random bodies lying on the ground, even from behind. There’s a lot of debate on the internet about whether Dead Space 2 is scarier or not, but I’m somewhere in the middle today. Both gave a terrifying experience with a slightly different flavor. Dead Space is a slower paced horror, while Dead Space 2 is more relentless but still gives you time to breathe.
Even the rooms you once thought safe are now a sign of caution. Necromorphs can now appear in elevators, which used to be a sign of safety, now is not the time to let go of safety. Shrines, shops and workbenches are not always grouped together and can be anywhere on the U-turn, even in necromorph-infested rooms. Once, in Chapter 8, I left my guard and ran to a place deemed safe, but I was ambushed and slaughtered.
So you have enemies of the stalker. Let me tell you, these bastards still creep me out today, thanks to their unique mechanics that slow the action down to a terrifying encounter. They are fast, they try to take the flank and then attack when you least expect it. I dread hearing him scream every time I enter the room, slowly and quickly exploring every nook and cranny. A nice little link is after the first mechanic where you get the achievement of the smart girl. The Stalkers were not the only novelty, as many more Necromorphs appeared in the game. It ends with a phenomenal encounter with the Regenerator, and with a few enemies that were actually cut from the original.
The visual design has also changed dramatically: from a more industrial looking spacecraft it is now a high-tech space station. Unpacking replaces many of Ishimura’s dull browns with much brighter and more varied colors. Residential areas, shopping malls, the extremely scary kindergarten and Unity Church. There are a lot of interesting things to see, and it seems to fit the show well. The environment is full of detail and really helps with the world building, we rarely see him show his age. Disappearing bodies can cost you experience though, and the lack of anti-aliasing (on consoles) can make the game look really brutal.
I’ve always said that sound design is absolutely crucial to the survival of horror, and this is one area that Dead Space 2 really lives up to. In retrospect, however, he relies a little too much on the sudden loud noises that every horror game is based on these days. Surprisingly, it didn’t really bother me. That makes sense, as necromorphs make their way through the pipes, as does the general chaos of the spread.
A good way to improve your first game experience is to switch from Normal to Survival. I made that mistake the first time, but this time I chose Survivalist to be more true to the experience of the horror of survival. You constantly wonder if you have the resources to handle every important encounter, especially in the second half of the game where you are up against the strongest Necromorph. If you want an even more powerful experience, make your choice on Zealot. But I warn you, it’s hard. At the end of the game, you’ll also unlock the Hardcore game mode, where all checkpoints are disabled and you get three saves for the entire campaign.
Today, there are many platforms on which you can play Dead Space 2. I recently decided to play the Xbox 360 version on the One X thanks to backwards compatibility. This of course means that it will be supported on the X/S series as well. There is also a PC version, but it has some problems. Unfortunately for those who only have a PlayStation system, it can only be played on PlayStation 3, but we hope this will change in the future. There is also a single player expansion that was never released for PC, so the Xbox version is currently the most complete and easily available.
That’s where the show died for a lot of people. Dead Space 3 was released in 2013 to very mixed reactions. Although it’s not a bad game in itself and offers a very enjoyable cooperative action game with incredible ideas. It offers solid answers to Marker’s mysteries, but it is undeveloped and bogged down in a plot full of unlikely motivations of characters and a love triangle. It strays too far from the ways of action-horror and takes an almost exclusively Hollywood approach. Since the release of Dead Space 3, the franchise has been forgotten and with it the death of Visceral Games.
With the Dead Space franchise being in the dark and apparently no other survival horror franchise having this feel, it’s a real shame, but there’s still hope. Glen Schofield (who made the first game) will be back in the genre next year with Calisto Protocol. We haven’t seen a video yet, but I’m going to follow it closely and hope it fills the void left by Dead Space.
Even after ten years, Dead Space 2 is a refreshing experience. This is a near perfect sequel, bigger and more ambitious than the original; perfectly combined with a high octane action-packed and slow, tight gameplay. It’s full of tricks and moments of suspense. There is no such thing, and it is always worth your time and money.
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