Dead Space 2 Review
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Dead Space 2's thrilling campaign and intense multiplayer make it an excellent game and a worthy follow-up to its superb predecessor.
You might think that with no mission captain issuing orders to Isaac, this time your objectives might be more diverse and engaging than the go-here, fix-this tasks Isaac was saddled with in Dead Space. Alas, that's not the case. Isaac must still play galactic repairman; you need to fix elevators, deactivate AIs, align solar arrays, repair drills, and so on, none of which is terribly exciting. The occasional simple puzzles you encounter and a basic hacking minigame you must frequently complete provide nice little breaks from all the dismembering, though. Solving those puzzles sometimes involves moving through zero-G environments, and the way you do this has changed, for better and for worse. Whereas before, you looked around for a suitable surface to land on and then automatically jumped across the zero-G space, you can now hover in place and move freely in all directions. This added freedom allows for some fun moments in which you must soar around large open spaces to interact with objects. But you can always orient yourself to the ground with the push of a button, so these changes come at the expense of the delightfully disorienting sensation that went with seeing the Ishimura from dizzying new perspectives as you stood on the wall or ceiling of a chamber.
In addition to playing a lot like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 looks a great deal like the visually impressive original. Dead Space cleverly incorporated your health meter and stasis meter into the back of Isaac's suit, and that's still the case; there's no distracting HUD, which lets you feel all the more immersed in the atmospheric environments. But the size and diversity of the Sprawl give Dead Space 2 a very different atmosphere from the original game. Your journey takes you through hospitals, shopping districts, residential quarters, schools, and other locales, all of which are positively packed with details that create a haunting sense that this is a place with history, a place where, up until very recently, people lived normal lives. This variety also means that the Sprawl is not as consistently oppressive a location as was the Ishimura, and at times you may miss all that time spent in the claustrophobic industrial corridors of the planet-cracker. But Dead Space 2's bigger, more sprawling and action-oriented campaign gives the game its own identity; this is the equivalent of the blockbuster movie sequel Aliens to the first game's more moody and intimate Alien. The sound design is an absolutely essential part of the immersive spell the game casts. Recorded announcements echo eerily through the empty corridors; each blast of your weapons rings with the convincing pound of a powerful industrial tool; and the terrifying shrieks, screams, and wails of the necromorphs send shivers up your spine and adrenaline coursing through your veins.
The single-player campaign clocks in at around 12 hours and offers some solid replay value because you can start new games and carry over all your purchased, upgraded equipment, or even try tackling the "hard core" mode, which restarts you from your last save each time you die and permits you to save only three times over the course of the entire campaign. But the real draw to returning to Dead Space 2 time and again is its terrific team-based competitive multiplayer. Divided into humans and necromorphs with up to four players on each side, the multiplayer gives the human team a series of objectives they need to complete within a time limit--interacting with consoles, carrying items, destroying objects, and so on--while the necromorphs' only goal is to stop the humans. The humans all play exactly like Isaac in the single-player, and the opposing players get to choose one of four necromorph types each time they spawn: the elusive pack; the long-range, wall-crawling lurker; the resilient puker; and the hard-hitting spitter.
The setup will feel immediately familiar to those who have played Left 4 Dead 2's competitive multiplayer, but the Dead Space trappings make it a wholly different experience, and an exhilarating one at that. While the mood of the single-player campaign is one of sustained tension and dread, broken frequently by necromorph attacks, multiplayer games create the frantic sense of a constant, desperate fight for survival against an unending onslaught. Humans are individually tougher than the necromorphs, and they have the advantage of spawning with a health pack in their inventories. But unlike the humans, necromorphs can choose where to spawn, making it possible for them to split the humans up and overpower them. Teams alternate once on each map so all players play both sides, and regardless of which side you're playing on, the mode strongly encourages coordinating with team members; taking down humans as part of an organized necromorph assault is immensely rewarding, as is completing an objective as a human player in the final few seconds of a hard-fought match. You earn experience points and level up as you play, gaining access to new weapons, more stasis power, and other benefits as a human and more powerful attacks as a necromorph, which, while nothing new, makes this multiplayer even more addictive.
Dead Space 2 doesn't bring with it the same sense of experiencing something utterly new and innovative that its predecessor did. But it's nonetheless a terrific game, with a campaign that simultaneously leaves you satisfied and eager for more, and intense multiplayer that gives you a great reason to keep coming back to this terrifying universe. Unless you're just plain chicken, this is a sci-fi horror adventure you definitely want to suit up for.