There are only a handful of video games I have ever played that have actually managed to scare me.
Dead Space 2 gave me nightmares.
For those who haven’t played the first Dead Space, a quick recap: Dead Space is a horror shooter, with an emphasis on survival — making ammo pickups worth their weight in gold, and so on. In the first Dead Space, you were put aboard a ship with a planetary artifact known as “The Marker” on it, that caused an outbreak of “necromorphs” — dead people infected by a moth-like monster that reanimates them as monsters.
Well, if you thought you were done with The Marker in the first Dead Space, you’re “dead” wrong. Dead Space 2 follows an outbreak of the necromorph virus in an area on the moon Titan called “the Sprawl”. It’s different than the confined spaces in the first Dead Space, but not different enough to lose that claustrophobic, edgy feeling the first installment had.
You begin the game locked in a cell, restrained by a straitjacket, until a mysterious stranger comes and cuts you out of your prison. From that moment on, you’re running and gunning with necromorphs hot on your tail.
One of the biggest changes in Dead Space 2 is the quality of the AI. Necromorphs now play tricks on you — one will draw your attention in front of you while several move to flank you and kill you in seconds. You’re gonna die in this game, I promise you. But, on the bright side, the game is very good at keeping track of your progress, so after dying, you won’t have far to go to get back on track. Save stations are also more plentiful than in the original, which is a welcome development.
Another big change — your “powers” have been upgraded. I’m referring to kinesis and stasis here. Stasis slows down enemies and environment objects, and kinesis allows you to grab hold of an item and move it through the air — or shoot it at an enemy. You can now conserve ammo by picking up the sharp bits of dead necromorphs and launching them back at them, impaling them on them. Of course, you’ll still have to shoot off their limbs to get them to officially die.
Stasis also plays a bigger part. In that example of how the AI is improved that I just gave, one solution is to stasis-freeze the enemy in front of you while you back up as fast as you can so you’re able to take down the rest of the group. Also, stasis now recharges by itself over a slow period of time. You’ll still need stasis packs to use during intense battle, but in the interim, you’ll be able to save up a couple of blasts of stasis without resorting to a stasis pack or generator station. And, speaking of the stasis stations, they once again make a return, mostly found around a spatial-reasoning puzzle. These puzzles also make use of kinesis and are as clever as always — difficult without being impossible.
Another carryover from Dead Space 1 to Dead Space 2 — schematics, the store, credits, and power nodes. The latter allows you tu upgrade your equipment at various workbenches scattered around the Sprawl. Power nodes can also be used to open locked doors, usually leading to an armory — essential if you’re short on firepower and about to face a boss. Schematics allow you to buy new items from the store; make sure you explore all areas thoroughly to find them (the same goes with power nodes).
The visuals of Dead Space 2, combined with the soundtrack, deliver an experience that is genuinely scary. I highly recommend playing this game in the dark with the volume cranked as high as you can take it.
One truly great addition to Dead Space 2 is a “smart locator”. In the original Dead Space, you would hold down R3 to see the route to your objective. In Dead Space 2, you can still do that — but you can also use the d-pad to affect the locator so that it shows you the route to a Save Station, a store, or a workbench. This is extremely useful.
Zero-g action has also been slightly modified; you now have boosters on your suit that can propel you in any direction, along with a “turbo” button. The overall effect is to make Zero-g play more interesting and dynamic.
Some fans of the original Dead Space were a little wary of the fact that Visceral was talking to other first-person shooter developers to come up with a better experience. Fans were scared this would mean more mindless shooting replacing the unique puzzle-solving and survival horror aspects of the game. I am happy to report that these fears were unwarranted. The shooting mechanics are indeed more smooth, but absolutely NOT at the cost of any other aspect of the game.
Another quick note for PS3 players — I don’t *think* Dead Space 2 is in true 1080p, but you don’t have to force upscaling on it if you want to play in 1080p. Dead Space 2, at least for me (and my 42″ 1080p Panasonic Viera), runs with 1080p as the default setting. With all resolutions enabled, Dead Space 2 ran in 1080p for me. The only other game to do this for me so far is Gran Turismo 5.
Enough blathering, time to sum up: I absolutely love Dead Space 2. If it had been released in 2010, I could easily have seen it picking up Game of the Year Awards from the industry. The story is great, the thrills and chills are numerous and effective, the boss battles are extremely satisfying, and the graphics are absolutely top-notch. Buy this game. If you’ve never played the original Dead Space, *rent* Dead Space 2 and see if you like it, which you will, and *then* buy it.
Dead Space 2 is a masterpiece; I applaud EA and Visceral and everyone who developed it. I’m giving it a solid 9.5 out of 10.