The last time we saw protagonist Isaac Clarke was at the end of “Dead Space” when he was being attacked by his alien-infested girlfriend. Needless to say, the outcome looked quite grim. As the beginning of the video game’s sequel, “Dead Space 2,” can attest, it turns out that he is still alive.
Dead Space 2
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC
But the protagonist’s luck hasn’t changed much, and it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for Mr. Clarke. The game’s opening moments feature a hospital attendant who tries to help Isaac out of his straight jacket, only to have his own head split open by an alien and his body mutated into a deadly blade-ridden doppelganger.
As Isaac runs down the hall past all the “Necromorphs” — human-alien hybrids — with his arms in his straight jacket, an immense feeling of helplessness takes over. Even after he compiles an arsenal of weapons, that feeling manages to pervade for the rest of the game.
At times, “Dead Space 2” is hard to play because it is so terrifying. Even with high-powered weaponry, Isaac never seems equipped enough to safely take down the ever-imminent wave of Necromorphs. Limited ammo and the constant fear of large swarms of enemies make entering new areas a daunting task.
All the old enemies from “Dead Space” return, but a few new ones greatly improve the dynamic of the gameplay. The Stalkers are Necromorphs who are extremely fast and hunt in packs. They appear in labyrinth-like rooms and are very adept at hiding from view — they will quickly jump over boxes in the far corners of the room, and occasionally utter guttural sounds as an unsettling reminder that they are waiting for Isaac in the dark. Fighting them is like fighting a pack of velociraptors, and this intensity and strategy does wonders to enhance the experience.
Isaac has a new and improved telekinetic attachment to his suit, which greatly increases the potential for launching sharp poles or the severed blade-like appendages of felled Necromorphs as weapons. When ammo is low, it’s great to be able to rip off a dead Necromorph’s arm to fire it at a living one. This improved feature, which was essentially useless in the original “Dead Space,” is invaluable in the sequel, making combat strategic and dynamic while still maintaining a very exciting pace. In this respect, Visceral Games has achieved quite an accomplishment — even though the combat has a lot of similarities to the first game, the nuance and tactical variation of each fight is something totally new to the sequel and makes each mêlée extremely rewarding.
There are a lot of ways in which the gameplay has been expanded, but there are also instances where new features fall flat. For instance, the zero-gravity system has been changed, but not for the better. The first “Dead Space” used gravity boots and allowed Isaac to jump from wall to wall, inverting the world with each leap. In the sequel, Isaac has jet-powered boots and slowly scoots around in the zero gravity environments. There isn’t much combat in this mode — rightly so because it’s so awkward — but as a result, this slows down the pace of the game and all the tasks in this floaty setting become pretty tedious.
Unfortunately, the storyline is not nearly as exciting as the gameplay because “Dead Space 2” reduces itself to every single sci-fi and horror stereotype imaginable. Radio messages and Isaac’s hallucinations get old fast, and they become a distraction from the visceral gameplay. The villain is hardly fleshed out — in fact, the term “villain” might not even be worth using, because there are multiple antagonists who hardly have any screen time. These “enemies” basically serve as devices to extend gameplay by forcing Isaac to “reroute the power” that was just shut off, or something equally tedious. The final moments of the game are an attempted plot twist and a poor boss fight, which leave an unfortunate aftertaste for a game that generally pleases.
The mutiplayer is more enjoyable than not, but as exciting as being a Necromorph slicing up humans might seem, it doesn’t feel like the mechanics were fully figured out. Whether it is from lag or a poor graphical portrayal, the Necromorphs seem to die for no reason and the physical interaction between the two teams looks clunky.
Despite this, the sound and graphics in “Dead Space 2” are even better than in the first game and do everything to embellish the persistent feeling of terror throughout the story. And though the plot is a little weak, the exciting gameplay more than makes up for the rough areas. But it’s easy to ignore the hiccups, because it’s undeniable that Visceral Games has delivered a thrilling chapter in the “Dead Space” series.