Dead Space 2: Limited Edition User Review
Dead Space was hardly a typical survival-horror game. Yes, it had the ghastly monsters representative of the genre, as well as the puzzles and limited health and ammunition supplies, but it had a solid focus on the action. Rarely did the player feel the inclination to run from adversity, but even more rarely were you asked to. In this respect, it shares similarities with third-person shooters. You had little chance to get away from the Necromorphs. Upon the announcement of this sequel, my anticipation immediately began to build. From the beginning, I assumed that it wouldn’t scare me, as the original failed to do so. I assumed that the enemies would be just as fast, just as strong. I assumed that it would be a shooting gallery and easy to take out the enemies.
These assumptions, I am very happy to say, were wrong. Now, I’m not denying the overwhelming feeling of being in a shooting gallery that I got from the game. That was unavoidable as the action was widely regarded as one of the best parts of the original. In many respects, Dead Space disappointed me, but Dead Space 2 remedies many of my initial reservations, and further makes me want to continue to support the franchise. This can ultimately be led back to a single thing: the focus on the horror; and this time, it isn’t just the visual, visceral element. This time, there is a clear, psychological element to it.
And this, when combined with the increased speed and ferocity of the enemies, makes Dead Space 2 much more engaging than the original ever was. Another factor to consider is the scarcity of ammunition and health packs. This occasionally played a part in the original, but that was nothing compared to how it is here. Now, you are forced to conserve ammunition, and to use the Stasis and Kinesis (which is actually useful in battles this time around) modules much more frequently. The Necromorphs are simply too fast and numerous to be taken out efficiently without them. Add in the larger environments, and the way that the aliens will run along the walls as well as the floor, and you find yourself often whirling about trying to get a lock on one. In this respect, it can get a bit overwhelming, so much so that I had to turn the difficulty down at one point just to progress (I’m willing to blame it on me simply being a terrible gamer, but what have you).
One great addition, and a consequent massive improvement, in my eyes, is to be found in the Zero Gravity sections. There seem to be fewer of them this time, but the new mechanic for moving within them is far more fun than the jumping found in the original. Instead, Isaac’s RIG is equipped with an in-built jetpack that allows him to glide around, a bit like Iron Man. Trying to manoeuvre about in three-dimensional space, while initially somewhat confusing, feels natural. What this does is also open up a great deal of options for new Zero-G puzzles. It means that the spaces and set pieces can be far larger. The developers have used this to great effect, with some truly epic puzzles. None of them are particularly difficult to work out, but they can be cumbersome to execute. A final note: there are also a couple of segments that use the jetpacks to fly in a straight line, and asking you to dodge obstacles, reminiscent of a similar mechanic based on the Icarus Wings in God of War III. I enjoyed and found it to be an excellent change of pace there, and those feelings are echoed here.
While I’m making comparisons to games outside of the same genre, it occurs to me that Dead Space 2 shares similar changes to story structure as was found from Resistance: Fall of Man to its sequel. In both of the original titles, the protagonist was silent, being sent on mission after mission without questioning. In the sequels, both Nathan Hale and Isaac Clarke were given a voice, and an attitude. Similarly, the cut scenes are more dynamic here, with Isaac actively participating in them, rather than simply observing them from behind glass. This helps to give the game a sense of urgency and immersion. Better yet, these cut scenes merge seamlessly with the gameplay, and usually continue to be shown from the same third-person viewpoint. Not only this, but the action, emotion and exposition shown within them helps to make the universe created by Visceral Games much more believable.
This is thanks, in part, to the massively improved character models. They were no slouch before, but they, along with every other aspect of the visual presentation, have been upgraded. The lighting must be noted. There are moments when the authenticity of the cast shadows might be questioned, but to put it simply, I’ve rarely seen such a strong use of lighting, combining both harsh, low-key tones to heighten the tension, to brightly lit zones where you feel you can relax. Add into this the sparking of electrical components, and you get an incredible atmosphere. One thing that I would like to comment on is the design on the RIG. It has been changed from simply being a single suit with minor modifications between levels. There are now four entirely different RIGs, with each new one having more armour and inventory slots. The best part about this is that the others are retroactively fitted with the maximum kit, which makes it a purely aesthetic choice. In spite of this new variety, they each contain a huge amount of detail.
When it comes to the environment, it is primarily a corridor crawler and a very linear game as a result. This isn’t a bad thing, as it helps to keep a forward focus. At the same time, it does feel very restrictive, but that’s hardly what I want to talk about. The new setting is on the space station known as The Sprawl, which is essentially made from the remnants of Saturn’s moon Titan. Housing many, many people, it is truly a space city. This is reflected by the architecture on show. As you progress through the story, you will find rural residences, shopping malls, churches and other areas, not all of them metropolitan. You might think that these external areas are the only ones that allow the SF setting to shine, but that would be a foolish assumption. Everywhere you go and everything that you see enforces the concept of the far-flung future. No, the design ethics do nothing unique, but what is in place works perfectly.
It all helps to immerse and engage the player in the story on show. Our friend, Isaac Clarke, having survived the horrors aboard the USG Ishimura awakes sometime later to find himself being freed from some sort of prison. This opening sequence is terrifying as you are trapped in a straitjacket, without any means to fight back against the Necromorphs that swarm around. Instead, you must run. If you don’t… you’re dead. It’s an exhilarating beginning to a thoroughly creepy and, at times, disconcerting experience.
As mentioned above, Isaac discovers that he is aboard The Sprawl. The source of the Necromorph incursion is made clear, and once again, he sets out to stop it. Along the way, he will meet up with new allies and make new enemies. However, perhaps the greatest adversary is his own mind. The Marker that he encountered on Aegis VII had a strange effect on him. Similar to the ill-fated colonists of that planet, Isaac finds himself going insane. It puts a great twist on the story, allowing for some mind-bending moments, but perhaps the best result from this is, as mentioned in the beginning of this review, the psychological element of terror that it brings with it.
In addition to these changes, Dead Space 2 is far more direct than its predecessor is. Whereas before the first half of the game was strictly reserved for fetch quests, here you are never left feeling that you are simply doing the bidding of another character. With this being said, the story isn’t nearly as mysterious as it was in the original, and there are many moments that seem quite clichéd.
This certainly isn’t helped by the dialogue. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but it could have used some more work, as some of the characters lack depth, and there are a few that you are left wondering why they were included. There are better ways to get the protagonist from place to place than by utilising an otherwise useless character. The voice work of the game on the other hand is superb. Each of the characters has a shining point of emotion, and all of them are captured perfectly. The discourse between the characters feels natural, given the circumstances. In short, it’s near perfect.
This same eminence is displayed in the rest of the sound as well. From the oppressive silence of the corridors to the blasting sound of jets and the muted nature of the outdoor segments, it is pulled off beautifully. Balance of ambience with importance is rarely captured in games, the former often being overlooked, but here it is foremost. The developers clearly know how important it is for building tension, and have once again used it to great effect. Similarly, many audio cues have been recycled from Dead Space. This isn’t a bad thing, as they worked well there and again here, although you are this time accompanied quite often by soft string music that is enough to unnerve the player.
In fact, the only point of the audio that I would say is lacking is the sounds of Necromorphs. They bang about in the air vents, and hiss and groan, but there still seems to be something missing from them.
Speaking of which, the original Dead Space had quite a few different breeds of Necromorphs and this helped to keep the game fresh with new tactics required long after the novelty would have worn off. This sentiment is repeated here, with an increased amount of variation. This comes as something of a trade-off though as by halfway through the game you have come across every enemy type. Still, each type does employ different attack stratagems, from the bulk with the blades who will stop at nothing in a frontal assault, to the ones that use projectile vomit as a weapon. My favourite type was the ones that poked their heads around the corners, before running at you to deliver a brutal melee attack. They are annoying, and can be tricky to anticipate, but taking out a room full of them is so satisfying. They are also a paragon of the improved AI on show here. The only negative points are the lack of bosses, and the way that the enemy swarms simply grow larger with each confrontation. By the end of the game, the amount of Necromorphs that you have to face at any given time can become overwhelming, however the way that each enemy type is used sparingly helps to keep the game feeling fresh.
This is aided no end by the gameplay variation mentioned earlier. You are never left feeling as though you’re doing the same thing for too long. This is thanks, in part, to the refined controls. Battling the Necromorph incursion is similar to as it was the last time, movement and camera is still dictated with the typical analogue stick set-up, while the shoulder buttons control the combat. R1 swings your weapon as a melee attack, while R2 is a curb stomp (actually forming a semi-effective way to fight this time). L1 engages your weapon and R1 is the primary fire, while R2 is the alternate firing mode. This varies depending on the selected weapon, and speaking of weapons: three new ones have been included for use over the original. Each of them has advantages in tactics, and is a great addition to Isaac’s arsenal. In conjunction with this, the alternate fire of some of the earlier weapons has been changed. As before, each weapon can be upgraded at the Benches using Power Nodes. At any given time you can have four weapons in your inventory (you are able to switch your loadouts at the Store), and changing between them is as simple as using the D-Pad.
You use the R2 button to run, which is much more useful here, as the pacing of the game and the strength of the enemies makes you want to run away in some instances, although you are often unable to due to blocked passageways. Holding your equipped weapon at the ready and pressing various face buttons has various effects. Circle activates the Kinesis module, dragging whatever is in front of you towards you, whether it’s a crate, a broom, a body, or any of the other myriad things lying around The Sprawl, which you can then either let drop by pressing the button again, or fire across the room (or at an enemy) with R1 (It’s too much fun nailing a Necromorph to a wall with its own blade). Triangle casts Stasis, which temporarily slows enemies and objects caught within its radius or, if the bar is empty, refills it (provided you have a Stasis Pack in your Inventory). Square is a manual reload of your weapon. This last one has the same function when not aiming. In the same vein, when not aiming Triangle will refill your Stasis bar, regardless of how full it is (unless it is complete). On the other hand, Circle uses one of the medpacks in your Inventory in a quick heal. X, as is common, is a context button, used for opening doors, activating menus and other such menial activities.
Pressing Select brings up the RIG menu, featuring your inventory, quest information and database. Gone is the map. I found it overly complex, and so am thankful for its non-inclusion. In its place, the Locator feature (activated by pressing and holding down R3) has been expanded to point the way not only your objective, but also to the closest store, bench and save point. Switching between the options is as simple as using up and down on the D-Pad. It is a much more intuitive interface, and one that I found very useful. Finally, L3 is used to take off and land in Zero-G. Movement and combat controls remain unchanged when in this state.
I was extremely satisfied with the control layout, and the improvements made to the Zero-G sections, which really is the largest change in the game. That small feature alone makes a huge difference in the scheme of things, as it completely changes the puzzle portions of the gameplay, making them feel more ambitious. Aside from that, the new ability to refill your Stasis bar on the fly and the improvements made to the Kinesis system are brilliant refinements to an already solid gameplay system, and serve to bring it up a few notches.
My first play through of the game on Normal difficulty clocked in at nine and a half hours, so the campaign is slightly shorter than Dead Space, though this is forgivable due to the inclusion of a multiplayer segment. This will add longevity for most players. However solo players, such as myself, will find other reasons to come back. Completion unlocks New Game +, where the first store supplies you with all of your belongings from the end of your previous play through. Aside from this, there are five difficulty settings that you can test your mettle against, and the last of these, Hardcore mode, is included for the masochists. In this mode, health and ammunition are at a bare minimum, enemies are plentiful and massively overpowered. There are no checkpoints and only three save stations. I pity the fool who takes that challenge on.
From the enormous set pieces and gorgeous backdrops to the variety of enemies on offer, as well as the expanded weapon selection and engaging story, Dead Space 2 trumps its predecessor, and many other games, in almost every way. It’s a tense ride from start to beginning, barely letting up for an instant. In this respect, it feels like a standard third person shooter, but when you factor in the environmental selection and psychological elements of the story, it becomes clear that it has a very strong focus on horror. To put it simply, Dead Space 2 is nothing less than an elite title. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of this generation. If you are a gamer, unless you have are easily scared or made squeamish, you owe it to yourself to try this out.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
Mini Review - Dead Space: Extraction
Overall Score - 7.1
Graphics - 5.6
Gameplay - 7.9
Sound - 7.4
Control - 6.8
Replay - 8.0
DISCLAIMER: The control segment of this review pertains to the use of the Sixaxis controller, rather than the Move.
Graphics: In general, unimpressive.
Character models: Poor texture definition, though detail is decent. Skin appears plastic-like. Facial features seem exaggerated. Lip-synching is abysmal. No good indicator of emotion. Enemy models close to their HD brethren, though a hefty drop in intricate detail.
Animation: Character animation is quite good, though can be jerky. Enemy animation is appalling. Very little variation in movement patterns.
Environment: General lack of detail, though the creepiness is retained in many areas. Many areas recycled from original Dead Space. Lighting effects are nothing to write home about. Aegis VII environments are beautiful, though gone too soon. Particle effects are pathetic.
Sound: Decent, though not up to par with the rest of the series.
Effects: Weapons sound flat. Vacuum sections are suitably creepy with silence. Ambience is nicely done, though perhaps too understated.
Score: Musical cues remain. Tense strings play at regular intervals to help ramp up the adrenaline.
Voices: Seem overdone. Many different accents make characters easier to differentiate, though some seem pathetic. Dialogue is quite good. Delivery is, in most cases, bland.
Gameplay: Quite fun, though not without flaws.
On-rails shooter. First-person perspective. Heavy combat focus. Automatic movement when swarms of enemies are defeated. Many different weapons to choose from. Stasis and Kinesis remain intact. Few puzzle elements. Free camera movement sections are taken away too quickly. Character seems to move too quickly, which makes picking up items laying around more difficult than it should be.
Controls: Playing with Sixaxis feels wrong. Perhaps Move would remedy this.
R1 to fire. R2 switches between primary- and alt-fire. L2 is a melee swing. Camera centres on closest enemy in firefights. Left stick moves the reticule around the screen. D-Pad to switch between your weapons. Square is a reload. Pressing again at the right time is a perfect reload, which reduces the time taken. Stasis mapped to Triangle. Three bars before use. Refills over time. X is for Kinesis, used almost exclusively to pick up crates, and other items. No longer an offensive element. Reticule can be too sensitive, which makes careful aiming difficult.
Able to replay chapters at any point. At the end of each you are awarded a number of stars. These upgrade your weapons, and give you something to strive for. Roughly five hour campaign. Two-player mode included. Four different difficulty settings. Challenge mode, where you have to fend off waves of enemies. More scenarios for this unlocked as you progress through the game. High scores for each one to beat.
Good setup for Dead Space. New characters are interesting. Seeing the insanity working on characters is a nice touch. Story is strong in its own right, and could be a completely stand-alone game.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.