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I was late to the game with the original Dead Space; I only played it a month ago in preparation for reviewing its sequel and I feel like an idiot for not jumping onto the Dead Space franchise as soon as it came out. I absolutely loved the first one, and the second installment exceeds the original in many ways.
The games are set in the future when humanity has begun to travel around the solar system for the purpose of mining other planets and moons. A general theme of the setting is that no authority figure can ever be trusted. Government, corporations, and churches are all horribly corrupt. In fact one of the worst organizations is the Church of Unitology, a powerful cult which is behind the swarm of space monsters called Necromorphs who are the game's antagonists.
You play as Isaac Clark, an engineer who gets caught up in Unitologist schemes, and has to shoot, chop and stomp his way to safety. In the first game, Isaac stumbled into trouble, but this time around, Isaac is sought out by the Unitologists, as well as those trying to put an end to the cult. The story begins with Isaac waking up in a hospital; he went stark raving bonkers after the events of the first game, and has just started to come to his senses. He’s still a loon, haunted by hallucinations of his dead wife, along with other disturbing visions. The story and setting are very deep for a zombie shootin’ game, but what really makes Dead Space 2 fun is the action.
It plays almost exactly like the first Dead Space game, but has many refinements that enhance the entertainment value. There are more guns this time around as is always the case with shooter sequels. The new ones are enjoyable, especially the javelin gun which nails your enemies to the walls. You also have some new ways to kill your enemies, like shooting out windows to suck Necromorphs into space! Isaac’s special powers work much better this time around; the designers have made sure that there is plenty of clutter which can be used as projectiles by his telekinesis. His time-stopping Stasis power recharges over time now, so players can use it more freely. Isaac still has the same melee attacks, but now he can smash open enemy corpses to make loot pop out.
It’s like stomping a blood-soaked piñata!
The game also throws in some new enemies to fight. All of your old Necromorph pals from the first game are back, but this time there are a few more who prefer to fight with projectile attacks. My favorite new enemies are these sneaky, fast-moving creepers who travel in packs and like to peek out from behind corners. They’re hard to target, and they use group tactics to distract you while one of them sneaks up from behind. Dismembering the bastards is very satisfying once you get one in your sights.
Killing enemies that look like children is rather taboo in game design, yet Dead Space 2 has not one, but TWO kinds of children to fight. There are swarms of deformed creatures about the size of a ten-year old, and there are also creepy exploding babies too. That’s right… Exploding. Babies. The game’s tag line is true: Your Mom will hate this game.
You’ll get to see all of these bad guys in good detail too. The graphics look great, and the game runs very smoothly. It takes place on a space station which has the obligatory survival horror Hospital Level, but also a school, a shopping mall, and a Unitologist church. These levels are surprisingly creepy; in the wake of the Necromorph outbreak, these cheery places are filled with crazed graffiti, makeshift barricades, and blood stains. They also avoid a lot of the backtracking found in the first game. You still crisscross the same areas, but they’re designed so that you use different sections of large areas that unlock as you progress. There are also tons of scripted events, so you don’t ever “Clear” areas, and enemies can pop out of anywhere at any moment. The game has excellent sound design as well. The bellowing of enemies as they charge is shocking, and the music keeps you unnerved like the soundtrack of a first rate horror flick.
A few features have been removed. The Stationary Turret sequences are gone, as are the other minigames from the first game. This a welcomed edit as the mini-games amounted to time-wasters in what was otherwise a tense experience. However, there’s one thing that was cut which makes me furious; the Zero Gravity magnetic boots sequences. In the first game when players entered a zero gravity situation, Isaac could walk on walls, ceilings, and just about any surface. In Dead Space 2, Isaac has a jetpack. No one will deny that jetpacks are cool, but it isn’t quite as intriguing as the original game which reminded me of the Zero-G Battle School in the book Ender’s Game. I miss it this time around.
I was highly skeptical of the new multiplayer mode when it was announced. I'm happy to say that it’s a good addition to the game. In it, players are divided into two teams, Humans and Necromorphs. The humans have a series of goals to accomplish within a time limit, while the Necromorphs try to prevent them from doing so. It isn’t very extensive, with just the one mode and five maps, although DLC map packs are pretty much a given. What it has now is certainly fun to play, and the fact that players can level up to gain perks and unlockables will keep it going for a while.
The surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer is just icing on the meatcake. Dead Space 2 shines as a single-player experience and fans of the genre should consider this a must-play experience.