While little has changed, Dead Space 2 maintains the franchise's reputation in terrifying immersion and atmosphere

User Rating: 8.5 | Dead Space 2 PS3
With the release of the original Dead Space in 2008 a new breed of survival horror materialised; Isaac Clarke's struggle for survival through the bloodied, claustrophobic hellish hallways of the USG Ishimura breathed much needed life into the survival horror genre with its science fiction setting inspired by the likes of Alien and its emphasis on strategic dismemberment; it remains one of the scariest games of this console generation. Three years later the terrifying franchise continues and while the horror has been down played slightly the franchise remains as intense and atmospheric as ever.

Dead Space 2 picks up three years from the original; after Isaac Clarke, the sole survivor of the USG Ishimura engineering team is discovered drifting in deep space after the destruction of the Aegis VII colony he is transferred to the Sprawl aboard Titan Station, a huge metropolis orbiting Saturn. It's not long before another Necromorph infestation breaks out on the futuristic city transforming a seemingly peaceful urban environment into a living nightmare for not only the thousands of nameless innocent civilians but also the Earth Gov company in charge of the station controlled by Director Tiedemann, who holds a personal interest in Clarke. After escaping from a mental institution the engineer places it upon himself to eradicate the grotesque aliens once more. Unlike the original game, the protagonist now has a full voice and personality portrayed by Gunner Wright and while as a character he comes off as an action cliché on some occasions, his dementia and psychological trauma are brought to the forefront this time as he struggles to deal with the guilt of his long dead girlfriend Nicole, as well as the trauma caused by his contact with the red marker in the original game which contributes to the grim and desolate atmosphere. Much like the original, the context of the Sprawl infestation is explained through audio and text logs that detail events that occurred in each area Isaac visits. Though the plot itself seems fairly predictable towards the beginning with the expected manipulative Unitologists also out to dog Clarke in the early stages of his journey, the psychological horror truly takes on a life of its own further on however, providing a few memorable plot twists that stays true to the horror aspect of the series.

Dead Space 2's fifteen chapter campaign trades out the claustrophobic corridors of the USG Ishimura for the multitude of more diverse settings across the Sprawl; Isaac traverses these areas in an entirely linear fashion, killing necromorphs with tactical dismemberment and solving the occasional puzzle using both stasis and kinesis powers. This linearity has become tiresome in other games but here it serves to remove the often boring mission types that slowed the pace of the original such as the turret sections and frequent backtracking. This constant feeling of moving forwards gives way to more set piece moments; Isaac narrowly escapes both a gunship and a tormentor attack then later on, he hurtles back down to the sprawl after realigning solar arrays to name a few. Stores, node benches and save stations are dotted out across the levels in a strategic manner, meaning you'll never be using them as a crutch to avoid the ammo shortages. Inventory plays a big role just as before with the amount of slots and space depending on the rig the engineer is encased in. Looting corpses and searching around nooks and crannies can unearth several valuable items including ammunition and med kits (But these are fairly rare) credits for purchasing items at the store and occasionally schematics which give access to new items at the stores and power nodes used to upgrade Isaac's suit and weapons. The nodes in particular are dished out at a controlled level, yet not so much that you'll be controlling a super powered, unstoppable Isaac by the end of your first play through; just like the original, a new game + mode is offered, allowing you to carry over all weapons, suits and credits you earned before across five difficulty levels though hard-core, (easily one of the most gruelling challenges you could ever accomplish in gaming!) disallows new game + mode and restricts the number of saves across the entire game to only three.

Multiplayer makes its debut for the series although regretfully it's restricted to a slim, derivative and utterly unbalanced Left 4 Dead in Space mode that pits sprawl security forces against necromorphs. Security forces complete several objectives before arming escape shuttles to escape while the necromorphs must stop them by tearing them all to pieces. It's a unique premise at but's its execution is flawed; the necromorphs may be able to choose where they spawn but very rarely will they ever manage to earn a kill as the opposing force holds the ability to slow you down with stasis regardless of which of the four classes you choose, time after time you'll curse the security forces for gunning you down over and over before you can even get in range to attack. Things aren't much better as the security force either; the ridiculous amount of time spent mashing the buttons to break free of an enemy player's grab as well as the constant stream of ammo completely deviates from the game's horror aesthetic and soon devolves into tedium which is exacerbated by the number of modes and maps being seriously lacking. Some may enjoy Dead Space 2's somewhat innovative take on objective based multiplayer but the hard-core online crowd will quickly turn away from its balancing issues. Despite the multiplayer being a missed opportunity, as a product Dead Space 2 redeems itself by clocking in several hours longer than the original, new game + adds a layer of replayability and DLC suits and weapons are sure to add some experimentation through the campaign.

The core gameplay from the original Dead Space has been translated, mostly unchanged into the sequel with a few minor tweaks and improvements. Combat is still the primary focus with tactical dismemberment now accompanied by the ability to turn the necromorph's razor sharp limbs against them through impaling them with kinesis. This can be helpful in saving ammo but on the downside it ends up being clunky at times with Isaac dropping whatever sharp he's holding with a single hit from a Necromorph. Most times it's much easier to simply blast the enemies with your weapons which now include the javelin gun to impale enemies, contact beams and force guns to blow the disgusting creatures to bits and more militaristic weapons like the seeker rifle with a built in scope and the detonator which deploys mines. A much needed dose of variety has been applied to the necromorphs you'll face this time; a greater emphasis has been placed on enemies that fight at range including the hideous puker who spews acidic globules and can slow Isaac down greatly with its charged attack and the spitter who can attack from a variety of ranges. This combined with close range slashers among many others, increasing in strength throughout the game can make combat a stiff challenge, though this heightens the tension and adrenaline throughout the campaign. Easily the scariest moments in the game will come from the stalkers; taking inspiration from the raptors of Jurassic Park, these terrifying creatures roam the tightly packed areas of the sprawl and will not hesitate to charge Isaac head on or surprise him from behind. The Pack, groups of zombified children also make an impression, swarming you in groups despite being easy to end on their own. Isaac will always be swarmed with the fiendish aliens of all shapes and sizes and you'll have to use every valuable resource at your disposal to overcome them. Melee combat has been improved slightly with stomps and weapon swings feeling less clunky than before though both remain practically useless unless you use stasis on the enemies first.

Two new gameplay features are also introduced in the form of decompression and hacking. Shooting a vulnerable window can suck out attacking necromorphs into space, but doing so forfeits any loot from dead bodies and can also gruesomely kill Isaac if the shutter switch is not hit in time. As for hacking, it's pretty bare bones, merely involving finding weak points to open a door and avoid zapping Isaac for a loss of health. Zero G has been rectified to ensure simple traversal with thrusters built into Isaac's suit with the cost of the disorientation when leaping from one surface to another aboard the wreaked Ishimura. Both boss battles and puzzles have taken a lesser role this time, fewer being present and most often being fairly simple once you've worked out the correct strategy. Fans of Dead Space may complain of the lack of humongous boss creatures but ironically the downplay of these elements can only heighten the intensity as well as keep the game moving at an lightning and even pace. The rest is comprised of set piece moments including the usual quick time events as well as sections where you'll guide Isaac past falling debris; while little has changed about the way Dead Space is played it remains as intense and nail biting as ever. The developers at Visceral explained that they took inspiration from the classic sci-fi movie Aliens for the sequel and it clearly shows in that the pure horror is now paired slightly unevenly with action.

Dead Space 2 doesn't hold the same wow factor that the first game's presentation did, but the series proves once again that it is still the grand champion of immersion and atmosphere. The lack of a HUD (Heads up display), horrifying cries, screeches and moans from the Necromorphs and the few glows shining through the derelict environments remain pivotal to fully engaging you in Isaac's struggle. The biggest addition to the technical presentation is the destruction you'll witness throughout the game; drop ships crash into wide open areas, residential flats burst into flames and helpless civilians are slaughtered mercilessly which paints a disturbing of a sophisticated city devolving into chaos which strikes a large contrast with the ghostly, deadly, empty halls of the original game. Voice acting does its job well across the board, particularly in conveying the insanity and trauma that has inflicted almost every person on the sprawl, even though Isaac isn't as engaging and likeable as you'd like. The animations are also top notch, especially the absolutely sadistic death sequences once again sure to upset those with weak stomachs. Performance wise Dead Space 2 is acceptable, delivering relatively few loading screens while keeping its frame rate as smooth as possible despite the many necromorphs on screen at once.

Dead Space 2 doesn't add too much to the core gameplay and as a result the sense of both innovation and horror has been muted slightly but nonetheless this is still a great and intense third person experience that will continue to send shivers down your spine and deny you of sleep for a while to come.
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