Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 01/25/2011
In the span of a little over two years, Dead Space has turned from a single multi-platform next-gen survival horror title into a significant franchises, encompassing films, books, comics, and additional games of various sorts. From the original game to the Wii-exclusive Dead Space: Extraction to the recently released graphic novel Dead Space: Salvage and the film Dead Space: Aftermath, we’ve been keeping an eye on the franchise as it all leads to the next major part of the story, Dead Space 2. The original game was like a cross-breeding of Aliens, Event Horizon, The Thing, Resident Evil 4, and Run Like Hell, and while the game essentially borrowed all of the best bits of each piece and combined them into a serviceable product, the game didn’t stand out as much as seemed to want to, and while it was a good first effort, there was some polishing to be done. Well, after the lackluster experience that was Dante’s Inferno, Visceral Games took to Dead Space 2 like they had something to prove and cranked out a game that, at first glance, looks like everything we could have hoped for: new gameplay elements, a more involved storyline, new and interesting weapons, and multiplayer gameplay to boot. Does Dead Space 2 pay off on that first impression? Let’s find out.
The story of Dead Space 2 once again puts us in the role of Isaac Clarke, who has in the past two years developed both a more heroic countenance and a voice. Isaac awakes on Titan Station, built on the remains of a planetcracked moon orbiting Saturn, three years later with no memory of this time having passed. He wakes up in a straitjacket as a female voice helpfully informs him that there’s a necromorph invasion taking place in the station and it would really be in his best interests to run away, and from there, Isaac’s journey begins. The story is rather multi-faceted, as was that of the first game, as Isaac will not only have to deal with the necromorph invasion of the station but also his obvious mental issues stemming from his encounter with the Red Marker, an alien device that is related to the necromorphs, in the first game. The story plays out as one part survival and one part self-discovery as Isaac attempts to resolve both the internal and external problems plaguing him throughout the game, and overall, the narrative is actually pretty solid. Isaac is a likable character, and the various people he meets throughout the game generally are quite multifaceted, meaning that the good guys aren’t pure as the fallen snow and the bad guys are often more tragic or deluded than straight evil. The writing all around manages to shed its influences enough to actually present a somewhat unique story as well, and the story in Dead Space 2 is a good bit more interesting than that of its predecessor. For those who have managed to miss the first game, there’s also a “Previously on Dead Space“Â bit that allows you to catch up on the basics of the universe as well as what’s happened to get Isaac to this point, and while it’s not as in-depth as playing the game itself, it’s good enough to give you a solid idea of what’s going on if you don’t want to go pick up the first game.
Visually, Dead Space 2 is fantastic, as was its predecessor. Isaac and the monsters he encounters are all rendered well and have been cleaned up a bit, and the various animations of the different monsters you face as they flail around and attempt to chase after Isaac even when various limbs have been detached are as gruesome and pleasing as ever. The Titan Space Station features various different environments, from a Unitology Church (think Scientologists, only they want to turn everyone into necromorphs, sort of) to a shopping concourse to a mining station and beyond, and the game makes a great effort to distinguish each locale from the next, giving each section of the game its own personality and life. The game once again makes use of some outstanding special effects, from the excellent fire and lighting effects to the gore sprays from enemies, all of which only add to the immersive nature of the experience and make the game world as terrifying as it is. The same once again goes for the sound design; the in-game music is as atmospheric as ever and switches up neatly from somber, depressing dirges to anticipation-heightening frightening tracks as the situation dictates, as one would expect from a good horror film. The sound effects, be they the screaming of monsters directly in front of you, the sound of your own weapons tearing into a foe, or the distant sounds of people and enemies crying out, are once again well composed and highlight the often tense and frightening moments of the game perfectly. The voice acting is as good as ever, and each actor and actress has once again been cast quite well, as the players here are quite capable of emoting and bringing life to both their characters and the situation they find themselves in. Isaac’s voice actor is a perfect fit for the character as well, as he’s able to bring the character’s self-loathing and anger to life, and he delivers the odd bits of black humor dialogue that pop up in the game in a way that they manage to actually be somewhat amusing despite the situation.
Dead Space 2 basically plays like its predecessor, which is to say, it plays like Resident Evil 5 with a few minor differences here and there. Those who have read my original Dead Space review can skip the next three paragraphs, as it’s basically a recap of the first game’s mechanics. By default, your character follows closely behind Isaac, the left stick moves, and the right stick turns the camera around as needed. Combat is set to the “left trigger aims, right trigger fires”Â style of play, though in this case, the right trigger and bumper act as attacks whether you’re aiming or not; while aiming, they engage your chosen weapon’s primary and secondary attacks, respectively, while when not aiming they allow Isaac to punch and stomp, also respectively. Swinging and stomping not only allow you to melee attack enemies large and small, they also allow you to break open crates and such which may contain items to use, be they ammo, healing packs, credits for purchasing things, and other novelties. Enemies may also drop these things, as well, to make your adventures easier. If all of this sounds a little familiar, well, as mentioned above, a lot of the gameplay elements in this game will seem VERY familiar to Resident Evil 5 fans, as the third-person combat mechanics feel, if not exactly the same, reminiscent of that game. There are also shops to buy goods and weaponry from, which allow you to donate schematics to said shop to allow the shops to make new items. You can also sell items to the shop in case you have a massive amount of stuff and need some quick cash for upgrades, and the shops also offer a storage locker where you can store weapons, armors, ammunition, and other items you don’t need at the moment for later. You’re also able to upgrade your gear in various forms and fashions to make yourself more damage-resistant or your weapons reload faster, deal more damage, and so on, using Power Nodes that you can find throughout the station or purchase from shops once you find the schematic to do so.
If the game was a strict carbon copy, however, there would be little to praise, and indeed, it’s the things that Dead Space 2 adds to the concept that makes the game interesting. For one thing, the game is mostly designed to be played without a visible user interface; that is to say, everything you see on-screen to indicate information is a part of the main character, rather than a menu or a display on the screen. This is meant to make the experience more immersive than having displays and such on-screen would do, and for the most part, it’s as successful as it was in the first game, as well as the numerous games that have cribbed the concept since. Isaac’s health is displayed by a bar on the back of his rig (body suit), and the ammo for whatever weapon he’s equipped with is displayed on the back of the weapon itself, which you will immediately see when he brings it to the ready. Bringing up data logs and inventory screens is done by way of a hologram display that appears in front of Isaac, which, aside from looking really cool, also allows the game to continue playing in real-time as you listen to logs or look through your inventory. In theory, this could certainly heighten tension as you fumble through your inventory for a needed item, but in practice, your weapons (of which you can carry four at a time) are mapped to the D-pad, and reloading your weapons and using health packs can be done at the press of a button outside of the menu, leaving you to only have to go the inventory in battle in the event of an emergency. As such, the game does a very good job of being both user friendly and immersive, and successfully manages to make sure its interface doesn’t ruin the experience for the player.
Combat with the various necromorphs you encounter is also interesting in its implementation, largely because fighting them isn’t simply a matter of shooting whatever you see. In Dead Space 2, the simplest way to kill monsters isn’t to shoot them, but rather to dismember them. Cutting off a few limbs or tendrils from a monster will often kill a monster far quicker than shooting a few rounds into their chests, which often makes battles a lot more interesting than one might expect; combat quickly becomes more about precision and less about blind firing, making most battles far more strategic than one might expect, which also makes the experience a good bit more interesting as a result. There are several different weapons you’ll come across through the game, from the expected (energy machine guns and flamethrowers) to the outlandish (The Ripper, a device that fires hovering circular saws), and all of the weapons are pretty damn awesome and useful across the board. Isaac also has the ability to use a Kinetic device that allows him to pick things up and move them around (which is useful for a number of purposes, many of them puzzle-based) and Stasis shots that can slow down enemies and environmental objects (which, again, sees plenty of use for puzzles and other purposes). Add to this the odd humongous boss monsters you’ll face, and you’ll quickly come to appreciate the fact that Dead Space 2 is largely its own experience and not simply derivative of other games.
Now, Dead Space 2 also changes up a good bit of the gameplay beyond what the first game did, and for the most part, this is for the better. For one thing, space activity has been changed around somewhat. Now, as with the first game, a significant amount of the gameplay takes place in environments that are zero gravity, airless vacuums, or both, and the vacuum elements of the game have largely been left the same: you need to accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished in as short an amount of time as possible, because there is no air in these sections. Isaac DOES have an internal air tank to help keep him alive, and you can upgrade this air tank as needed, but these sections tend to be a bit more tense than other sections simply because there’s one more thing trying to kill you besides the monsters. That said, the more involved sections using this mechanic no longer require you to have air refills on your person; instead, air dispensers will be located in the environment for you to use to fill up as needed, thus chewing up less inventory space and offering a bit more freedom when you’re working with these segments of the game. The zero gravity segments, on the other hand, have been completely overhauled for the better. While Isaac can walk around on the ground as normal by way of his magnetic boots, he need not zip from place to place to move forward. Instead, clicking in the left stick lets him float in space, allowing him to move around on his own as normal with the left stick. You can reorient yourself with the ground at the press of a button to get your bearings, of course, and you can boost with the left bumper if you need to make it through a segment or from place to place quickly, and as a result, the zero gravity sections are a bit more fun than they were in the last game, and generally feel like they’ve benefited immensely in the sequel.
There are a few other additions to the formula that make Dead Space 2 more than just a direct sequel. Isaac can now make use of various breakable glass windows that pop up as weapons; by shooting out the windows, Isaac basically sucks any necromorphs in his vicinity out into space… so long as he can shoot out the panel that closes the security shutter before he gets sucked out too, that is. In another nice touch, whatever suit you equip now automatically raises the armor capacity and inventory space of your overall rig, meaning you can equip whatever suit you like or you find has the best inherent ability without having to take a hit on protection and storage. Enemies no longer specifically drop items when killed; instead, Isaac may well have to stomp on them a bit to make them give up the goods, which is interesting, if nothing else. The game also offers a solid four-on-four online mode, allowing you to play humans vs. necromorphs missions on various maps. The multiplayer isn’t especially robust, as it comes down to the humans having to accomplish various tasks and the necromorphs having to stop them, but you can earn various weapons, suits and special abilities as you play, by way of earning experience as you take on games against others. It would have been nice to have some sort of online co-op mode, like Horde or an actual co-op campaign, but what’s here isn’t bad, and you can actually assemble a team of four people before you go out into the network if you want to actually play alongside your friends against other players, which is a positive feature for those who prefer to stick with their friends online.
The game is separated into fifteen chapters, which occur in different areas in and around the station, as well as in some more… familiar locations, and the core game should take about ten to twelve hours to complete. There are a good amount of items and weapons to collect and upgrade, logs of ship activity (in audio, video and text forms) and various other things to find and use, and multiple difficulties to play through for those who are interested. The game also features the old “New Game Plus”Â option that allows you to start the game from the beginning with all of your inventory intact, in case you want to use your badass upgraded gear to hack through the game a second or third time, and it even adds in EVEN BETTER gear to play with by way of better suits to find and build. There are also plenty of DLC components to play with, and more coming down the road, including an announced expansion pack featuring the main characters from Dead Space: Extraction, those who are looking for variety and depth in the single player campaign will find plenty here. The multiplayer is also in-depth enough to keep itself interesting and you’ll likely have a good amount of fun with it, regardless of which side you’re on, if you enjoy the Dead Space 2 experience. If nothing else, however, the game feels like a vast improvement over its predecessor, to a point where, personally, I barely even wanted to finish the first game by the time I was halfway through it, but I plowed through this game in two sittings and immediately started up a new playthrough once I was done, so there’s that.
Before we move on to the downsides of the game, let’s discuss the Collector’s Edition swag for a minute. For twenty extra dollars, you get a new suit, a new gun, a mock-up of Isaac’s Plasma Cutter, a lithograph featuring human transformation into a necromorph, and a Dead Space 2 soundtrack/making of the score video combination disc. As the contents go, they’re solid enough that fans should likely want to pick up the Collector’s Edition, but for new players and more casual fans, there’s not a lot here that impresses. The replica Plasma Cutter measures 6″Â x 4″Â x 1/2″, and while it does light up when the trigger is pulled, it’s basically a cute novelty at best, which you can put next to your Batarang or Pip-Boy or whatever. The lithograph features some excellent and gruesome artwork of necromorph transformation, to be sure, so if you’re a fan, you’ll likely find it worth putting up somewhere. The soundtrack features eighteen tracks from the game, all of which are very nice, though they lose something when you’re not listening to them in-game, as many are more atmospheric than good on their own, and the feature on the making of the music is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. The only useful content in the pack, the Unitology suit and Force gun, are only useful in two respects: they allow you marginally better armor stats and a gun you wouldn’t see until later early in the game, and they allow you the option of wearing the Unitology suit when playing online. The Unitology suit is also free to buy from the shop, unlike Isaac’s default armor, which costs a thousand credits, so it also saves some cash early in the game if that matters to you, and the armor itself is useful for about half of the game for what that’s worth. The contents of the Collector’s Edition are fine, by all means, but there’s nothing here for those who aren’t big fans of the series to make it worth their while, so it’s really only going to appeal to fans first and foremost.
Dead Space 2 still suffers from the major issue of its predecessor, that being that it’s noticeably derivative of several franchises, and while it’s nowhere near as obvious about this as it was in the prior game, this is still noticeable here and there. You can still see bits and pieces from Event Horizon, Aliens, and The Thing in the plot, and Resident Evil 5, Run Like Hell, and Half-Life 2 in the game mechanics and concepts, and while the game does a FAR better job masking this than its predecessor, these elements are still noticeable. The plot still basically makes Isaac seem like somewhat of an inter-stellar Mister Fix-It than a legit hero, and while he comes off as more heroic, due in large part to his having developed a personality and a voice, he still basically follows everyone else’s orders, be they from random people on the radio, psychopaths he happens to run into, or the voices in his head, and while he manages to come up with his own Crowning Moments of Awesome here and there all on his own, it feels more obvious that you’re working in service of the plot at times in this game than in other games in the genre.
It also bears noting that while the game did excise some of the more arbitrary or annoying mechanics from the first game, like the space basketball section or the horrid turret shooting sequences, these haven’t been replaced with anything of merit. There are a handful of sequences where Isaac needs to rocket towards an obstacle in the distance and dodge incoming obstacles, which were fun enough, but that’s been done in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and WET, off the top of my head, so it’s not too unique. The changes to the antigravity mechanics are great, absolutely, but the game adds very little new to the experience beyond that, and while the fine-tuning in the game that makes it feel better all around is great, some more variety would have been nice. The only other addition of note, the multiplayer, is fun for what it is, but it isn’t great. It’s better than the online component of, say, Bioshock 2, but it doesn’t quite match up to the online components of something like Resident Evil 5, let alone Gears of War 2, for instance. It’s not bad at all, but neither is it as good as the single player campaign, and feels somewhat underdeveloped at times.
Dead Space 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor, featuring a better developed storyline, better pacing and better setpieces all around, and while it’s still not without its flaws, it’s significantly improved to a point that it’s much easier to recommend than the first game. The storyline, though it still treats Isaac like a bit of a follower, is much more developed and fleshed out, and feels more engaging than that of the first game. The visuals and audio are excellent, and feel like an improvement over that of their predecessor, due to both technical improvements and the overall talent of the developers in making dramatic setpiece battles and sequences that play to these strengths. The gameplay is as solid as ever, as Isaac is very responsive, the combat is technically sound and the game has shaved off all of the elements that didn’t work while adding in new elements that work just fine. There’s plenty of depth to the game and plenty of content to find and play with, and between the promised DLC on the horizon and the solid multiplayer component, there’s much more to do with the game, both now and in the future. On the other hand, the game still feels derivative, and while the developers do more to mask this fact, there’s not enough added to the game to make it feel any less derivative, whether it be of other media or of the first game. Further, while the multiplayer is a solid addition, it’s not as well developed as it could be and feels underdeveloped at points, and the game doesn’t add so much as it refines, so the end result is a game that more often than not feels familiar instead of fresh, for good reasons and bad. Dead Space 2 is a fine game, however, and is easily worth a purchase if you’re a fan of the franchise or horror games in general, without question. It’s not dramatically different from the first game, but it refines and cleans up so much of what the first game did wrong that it’s strong enough on its own merits to be worth the purchase.
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Dead Space 2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor, and while it’s really more of a game that refines the elements of the first game than a game that adds new and different elements to the experience, it’s still a great effort that’s worth playing for fans and newcomers alike. The story is a good bit more engaging this time around, and while Isaac still comes off as a bit more of a follower than he should, he’s noticeably more likable this time around and is a stronger main character all around, and the story is improved for it. The graphics and audio are fantastic, both because of some technical improvements here and there and because the developers make better use of them throughout the game than in the first. The gameplay is as solid as ever, between the third person shooting action and the dismemberment mechanics at play, and the elements that didn’t work from the first game have been stripped away or replaced with more functional and fun mechanics that improve the experience noticeably. The pacing of the game has been improved as well, and between that, the added content that pops up to encourage replays and the online multiplayer for up to eight players, the game offers a good bit more play and replay value to make it a worthwhile acquisition. On the other hand, the game still feels derivative, both of the media franchises it borrows from and its own predecessor, and while these moments pop up less frequently than in Dead Space, they still come up enough to be noticeable. Further, while the refinements to the core experience are nice, there’s not a lot of new content added to the game, and the multiplayer component, while nice, isn’t as fleshed out as it could be, and isn’t likely to keep you coming back the same way said component in something like Gears of War 2 or Call of Duty: Black Ops might. Dead Space 2 is still a fantastic improvement despite its flaws, however, and is easy to recommend to fans of the series or the genre as a result, as it’s an in-depth and well paced experience that’s well designed and enjoyable all the way through and beyond.