Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Should Isaac Clarke have known of the horrors in store for him onboard the USG Ishimura during the first game, would he still have joined the emergency response team in hope of rescuing his girlfriend Nicole? Committed and as in love as a man can be, if he had known of the horrors Dead Space 2 holds, he’d have signed up to engineers looking for love and walked away.
Dead Space 2 picks up some three years after the first game and wastes no time in setting the scene. Isaac is suffering from an alien-induced dementia, manifesting itself through horrific scenes of guilt created by the loss he suffered in the previous game. That and the Necromorphs are loose, systematically ripping apart the crew of his new surroundings and converting the corpses into fresh plasma cutter fodder. As opening chapters go this is exhilarating stuff and sets the tone perfectly for the remainder of the game.
It’s not long before we’re properly introduced to Isaac’s new surroundings, The Sprawl. A vast space station once home to thousands of families, now the launch pad for numerous adrenalin-fuelled set pieces, an inescapable nightmare and setting of one of the best survival horrors on any platform. The actual game mechanics have changed little from the first Dead Space. Minor improvements aside, central to the gameplay remains the ability to sever limbs from the Necromorphs, essentially gaining vital seconds to continue the attack. That said, this is in no way a bad thing, and I defy any horror fan to tire of the mechanic throughout the 8 – 12 hr single player campaign (depending on difficulty).
Graphically Dead Space 2 excels in its entirety, which is quite the achievement as the player is afforded little time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. The corridors in between each set piece are suitably grim, foreboding and claustrophobic, leading you to believe that terror awaits round every corner, or behind every vent. Whilst on the Sprawl, however, it truly does. To compliment the tension already in place, as with the original game ammunition is in short supply, encouraging you to use practically anything you can get your hands on in a vain attempt to delay the inevitable. Speaking of untimely death, a special mention has to be made for the game's gloriously overexaggerated and gruesomely bloody death scenes. It’s clear from the first time your head is left hanging by your spinal cord while the body walks on reanimated – the chaps at Visceral have delighted in creating them. Always excellent and a joy to watch.
The game brings a few original and refreshing touches in its grim arsenal, such as zero g puzzle solving/combat and, for the first time, Left4Dead-inspired multiplayer. The single player never sees you without a sense of urgency, pushing you forward to the game's satisfying conclusion. Another refreshing change can be found in the writing and character development. Isaac now has a voice and rather than alienate us it brings us closer into his world. We feel his fear, and also his anger and thirst for revenge. There’s an emotive ongoing narrative between Isaac and Nicole and, once it's played out, while there’s no surprises you are left with a genuine feeling of closure. Quite an achievement for a fast-paced survival horror these days.
It’s hard to find criticism with a game that takes the original and improves on almost all aspects, giving us essentially more of what we want but with added extras. Some have highlighted the game's repetitive structure, suggesting it devolves into a generic corridor shooter toward the end. When the shooting is perfectly executed, brutal, comical, bloody and this satisfying, it can only be a good thing in my book.
With the Dead Space IP, EA have another AAA title in their portfolio. While there are some who will begrudge this, I for one am grateful for the faith (and money) invested in the franchise. With EA’s CEO John Riccitiello recently confirming Dead Space 3, it looks like Space is showing no sign of recovery anytime soon.