This is a bit later than I’d have liked, but I didn’t want to review the game until I’d beaten it and that took a bit because the last sections of the game are a load of crispy-fried bullshit. But we’ll get to that in a second. Dead Space is the wildly well-received sequel to the moderately well-received horror/shooter game Dead Space, in which you go to a creepy space ship to fix a problem and get attacked by zombies. Dead Space 2 fixes many of the problems that plagued its predecessor (while adding in a few new ones) and, for the most part, remains an excellent third-person shooter with a thick atmosphere and a steep challenge.
The story picks up 3 years after the first game. Our hero, Isaac Clark, has been in a psych ward for 3 years, a period of time he completely doesn’t remember. He gets woken up to discover that Necromorphs have infested Titan Station, otherwise known as the Sprawl, an impressive-looking space station/city in orbit of Saturn, and has to stomp their skulls into paste. Right off the bat, the absolute best sequence in the game is the very first section. You get woken up and immediately swarmed by monsters. You can’t fight back, you can only run and they are everywhere. There’s a pitched chase sequence and you manage to escape to relative safety. Then the game continues to keep guns away from you and forces you to learn-as-you-go how to properly use the Kinesis and other similar power-ups. It gets a big grating on multiple playthroughs, but it’s easily one of the scariest parts of the game and a great way to introduce you to the adventure.
That said, the story is complete shit. You have characters whose motivations are nonsensical or unexplained, Isaac himself now has a personality, that of a block of wood, and while the voice acting is actually pretty good, none of the characters really have any dimensions or depth–not even shallow depth. They’re just…there. The story itself isn’t much better, being hard to follow and mind-numbing when you do. All of the best stuff in it is packed into the first half of the game and once you reach the second disc (on the 360 at least) the story just simply stops for long periods of time, and much of the “twists” are either silly or nonsensical.
But no one plays Dead Space for the story, even if it is god awful. We play it to shoot alien zombies and that part of the game is just as good as before. Enemies are a bit tougher now, they come in greater numbers and attack more aggressively. There’s a gaggle of new enemy types, like the Puker, and new weapon types to match. All the previous game’s weapons are back, though some have been tweaked and adjusted. The Force Gun is a lot less powerful now, though it is still a god-like extension of your power. Flamethrower has been improved too, so now it’s actually one of the more powerful weapons in the game if you ever can bother to use it. The new guns include the Javelin Gun, which is a lot of fun once you get used to how it works (think a spear gun but you can charge up the spears with electricity and later on they will explode) and the Seeker Rifle,a sniper rifle which is kind of limited in its use. All in all, the new weapons are fun and the changes to the old ones make them seem new as well. I would like to have seen a few more of both weapons and enemy types, but both feel varied enough to last the whole game.
Though here’s the kicker–make sure you have a wide-spread weapon by the end of the game. I found myself incapable of winning until I went back to an earlier save and picked up the Force Gun because the final boss–which is part of the laziest section of the game, a lengthy gauntlet that you cannot survive without fleeing–is a tacked on wave of tiny fast enemies and a walking instant-death trap. It’s pretty terrible and not at all fun to play through.
All in all, I enjoyed Dead Space 2 a lot. It does lack something however, something the first one also lacked. We have a talented studio with talented developers who are clearly passionate about the project–the level of detail packed into the game is staggering and it’s clear that they wanted to make the best game they could. But here’s the problem: the scares are cheap, the atmosphere only holds intact on the harder difficulties (if you are at all good at video games, start your game on Survivalist. Normal and Casual are way, way too easy.), the enemies start to get annoying, especially when their corpses just magically disappear, taking all their items with them (and leaving you with three shots and a horny Brute sniffing at your ass) and there’s also tacked on multiplayer which is supposed to be alright but nothing great and I don’t know why the hell they included it in the first place. The game IS fun to play, and if you loved the original Dead Space, pick this up and enjoy. If you are easily scared and like a good horror game, you can’t go too wrong with this one either. More jaded gamers might have better luck elsewhere, because for all the things Dead Space changes, it is ultimately just more of the same.