Friday, 4 February 2011

Game Review - Dead Space 2

Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC.

2008 saw the release of my favourite game of this generation, Dead Space. Shocking the masses, the survival horror masterpiece exploded into the spotlight with its terrific gameplay, innovative and terrifying enemies, coupled with a haunting story and narrative. It was truly a joy to play through and left me hungry for the inevitable sequel. Well here we are, January 2011 and already we have what I consider to be a candidate for the game of the year. Dead Space 2 is the best survival horror and third person shooter on the market; there is no disputing this fact. Development has enhanced the experience in every way shape and form, giving fans what they want but intertwined with new and exciting twists and turns, primarily by introducing us ever closer to the games’ protagonist Isaac Clark. Disemboweling Necromorphs and hunting down the Marker has never been more fun.

The game is set three years after the events on board the USG Ishimura, which has given Isaac plenty of time to go progressively more insane and out of tune with reality. Now set aboard the space station Sprawl, from the word go you are plunged head first into a spiraling fight for your sanity and survival. The story’s progression naturally resembles its predecessor, with linear direction from objective to objective, but this is absolutely fine in this case because the large and diverse environments in the Sprawl don’t make you feel secluded and simply wondering through narrow corridor after narrow corridor. Unfortunately the other characters in Dead Space 2 aren’t quite as likable as your partners in the original, but they matter little anyway so its easy to overlook.

Isaac faces a new and thrilling set of Necromorphs including stalkers, spitters and hordes of ghoulish infants. It feel as if these enemies were stripped straight out of Left 4 Dead’s original concepts but thankfully they fit in very well here. It is Isaac’s inner demons that are your worst enemy however, and what perhaps sets this game aside from others in the same genre. As Dead Space 2 progresses, reality and Isaac’s imagination converge into one entity and seeing how this affects our hero is truly an ever-exciting scenario. A big addition to Dead Space 2 is the inclusion of Isaac’s voice. I was slightly disappointed with the idea as I liked the mystery surrounding our protagonist and my assumptions held true as what he says isn’t particularly breathtaking, but his continuous struggles and conversations with illusions and imaginary people are very well narrated and help envelop you in the psychological thrill surrounding Isaac.

Visceral studios took the next logical step and decided to bring the action and gameplay to new heights in their sequel. Dead Space 2 feels a lot smoother and lighter than the original. Isaac is no where near as sluggish as he felt in Dead Space, he moves with real intent and boy is he required to do so after you check out some of the enemies you will face. Dead Space 2 shocks and terrifies you around every corner and the boss battles in particular, while few and far between, are some of the best moments the game has to offer. Your time spent mutilating Necromorphs couldn’t really be any more fun with Isaac’s entire returning arsenal available once again including the ever-famous Plasma Cutter. New additions are of course made available later including strategic trip mines that allow you to put some thought into your fight for survival.

Dead Space 2 makes much better use of the environment this time. Most particularly, the kinesis ability now allows you to pick up and utilize any sharp objects as weapons, including necromorph limbs. Those who have played the original will find it relatively easy to avoid wasting ammunition, but those of you who want to go a little gun-ho could find this particular ability rather useful when caught in a tricky situation. Other noticeable environmental elements include being able to shoot out windows and glass screens and force Necromorphs out into the darkest parts of space, but to save yourself you must shoot out an emergency switch that plugs the hole with a shutter, providing a thrilling, intense and memorable gaming segment.

Isaac’s movements and the clever use of the environment are coupled hand in hand with beautiful presentation and audio, making Dead Space 2’s technical presentation simply phenomenal. It truly is a beautiful game, the dim yet diverse environments helps to pull you into the lonely world Isaac finds himself in, while the amazing audio keeps you on the edge of your seat, jumping and skipping heartbeats at every little sound. It truly is a joy to experience.

One of Dead Space’s most impressive elements was the clever incorporation of in-game information and your HUD straight onto the back of Isaac’s suit to provide no distractions from the immersive gameplay. These clever ideas all transfer over once again as you travel from location to location in the role of the Sprawl’s handyman service. These menial tasks can be quite monotonous, the occasional puzzle does however serve as a welcome break from the carnage that is the majority of the game.

Diversity is one of Dead Space 2’s defining features over the original. Although the Ishimura had various different levels such as the medical bay, the crew quarters and so forth, Dead Space 2 reminds me of Bioshock and how terrifying the thought of abandoned society can be. You will visit shopping centers, residential quarters, schools and other memorable areas that are completely desolate apart from the occasional speaker announcement of how great life is on the Sprawl. This really helps add to the isolation that Isaac goes through and keeps you ready for a sudden change of pace at any moment the game chooses. Unfortunately, it is very easy to tell when these switches of pace are going to occur. Visceral studios didn’t really stray too far off what made the original so successful and as a result, it is very obvious when an ambush is going to occur or when something shocking is going to happen. Saying that, there are still some very unique and well thought out twists, turns and jumps, but it is difficult to shock the masses who have already experienced some of the genre’s best tricks in the original.

Another interest change to Dead Space 2’s mechanics involves the Zero G areas of the game. In the original Isaac spent a considerable amount of time without gravity, floating from one platform to the next. Well in Dead Space 2 you are now given a lot more freedom with the addition of jet boosters that let you float around and explore vast areas with no gravity. Once again the physics is brilliant and really helps to create a different experience. Some of the games most thrilling moments including the Halo jumps are involve the use of these jet boosters.

The campaign mode should last you around 14 hours through the first time round, but there is plenty of reason to come back to it. One of my biggest issues with the original game was the lack of further upgrades to the suits, there were four levels and that was it, so aside from the weapon enhancements, there was little reason to return for a second play-through. Dead Space 2 however, offers plenty of upgrades for both weapons and armour to keep you coming back to try and unlock it all. The addition of hardcore mode that only allows three saves throughout the entire mode is also worth trying, if you’re brave enough.

The other reason of course, is the brand new multiplayer mode incorporated here. The game sets up various team based objectives where a group of engineers set off to complete in a time limit while the other team plays as the Necromorphs, doing everything in their power to rip you apart. Very similar to Left 4 Dead style gameplay, both teams get to play as each team on the map, earning experience points, weapon unlocks and enhancements as you play more and level up. Dead Space 2’s multiplayer does an excellent job allowing you the experience of consistent and frantic gameplay as opposed to the campaigns in and out style of gameplay. Ultimately, it is a terrific game mode that is highly recommended and allows you to experience Dead Space like never before.

To conclude I believe that ultimately it is very difficult to change a game formula dramatically without removing what made the original so great. As a result, Dead Space 2 shines with its enhancements as opposed to innovations. It truly is a fantastic game on every level from technical design, to presentation, to gameplay and story. Everything about Dead Space 2 is exciting and thrilling. Perhaps more concentration on the story could have helped, but Isaac’s internal struggle takes the limelight regardless, so even that would hold little significance. I really believe that 11 months from now we will be saying that Dead Space 2 was one of the best games of 2011 and it will certainly be a candidate for game of the year. The predecessor was overshadowed in 2008 by the award winning Metal Gear Solid 4, which I felt was incredibly unlucky. Let’s hope that this could very well be the year of Dead Space 2, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you blast through waves of terrifying Necromorphs.

Technical presentation – 9.0

Graphics – 9.0

Game-play – 9.0

Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 9 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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