Xbox 360 Review: Dead Space 2

Note: This review of Dead Space 2 is based solely on the single player campaign.

I have several favourite genres in the gaming world but none more so then survival horror. If you’re a fan of playing a game in the right environment then as a survival horror lover you’ll know it’s paramount to play at night when everyone else in your home has gone to sleep and preferably in the dark with the game sound ramped up. Oh, and make sure you put your cat outside prior to playing. Or don’t, if you’d like to add to the potential for scares. Either way, Dead Space 2 gives you another chance to have a ‘romantic’ night in.

Resuming your role as Isaac Clarke you wake up to find that three years have passed from the previous encounter onboard the USG Ishimura – a ship used for deep space mining that had it’s crew overrun by an alien infestation, resulting in a mass horde of disfigured killer Necromorphs. Just like being slapped in the face with a live fish, your thrust back into the action as all hell breaks loose, on The Sprawl (a space station orbiting Saturn). Welcome back Isaac.

Blam! Blam! Click, click, click, click...

What I like most about Dead Space 2 is that any preconceived foresight I had on aforementioned ‘scares’ are almost totally tossed aside (at least in the beginning). Any hallway, bathroom or any number of locations that I figured may have an oddity waiting for me would surprise me with no result. I would think to myself, “Okay now that would be the stock standard place to have such a… oh crap, where did my face go?!”. I’ve got to hand it to Visceral Games on the strategic placing of set pieces, and appreciate the effort to maintain the high tension atmosphere of progressing down a dimly lit locale.

Fans of the previous encounter will remember the dismemberment style of gameplay and for newcomers (and I’ll admit that includes me) you may find combat slightly more challenging, as mere bullets won’t vanquish your enemies. Being an engineer you have an array of weapons at your disposal, and probably vital to your employment before all the space nastiness arrived on the scene. Some of the weapons include the javelin gun, plasma cutter, line gun and my favourite, the Ripper (a circular saw spinning in front of you = limbs a gogo). The difference between your standard shooter and Dead Space is that you will be using these tools to remove limbs from your enemies piece by piece. As grotesque as that sounds, it’s actually quite challenging and in the situations you find yourself in, it is necessary.

"Hello Children!"

Take the chop to those arms and sever that leg, did the enemy drop? Yes? Are they still moving? Yes!? Move Isaac in for a swift stomp to finish crawlers off. Or pick them off from a safe distance, just don’t be surprised if they re-animate and come for you when your blissfully inspecting a save point. Unlike other survival horror games you will want to make sure that Necromorph does not get back up. Because chances are it will, and make you pay for your actions (heck you did remove that poor necromorphs leg) while it’s at it.

Now there is another ‘weapon’ at your disposal, and that is through the use of stasis and telekinesis. Telekinesis works in a way similar to how the gravity gun worked in Half Life, in that you can pick up items and toss them at enemies. This is quite handy in those moments when you hear the click-click-click on your favourite weapon only to realize you are out of ammunition and have a bunch of Necromorphs hot on your trail. It can be quite fiddly when you first start out, but once you have the hang of it you may find it an acceptable way of dispatching pesky enemies while conserving ammo. The stasis ability allows you to freeze an enemy for a period of time while you either focus on another enemy, or quite confidently dismember the ‘statue’ before you. Alternatively you could freeze a group and take that chance to get the heck out of there pronto.

Missed the train to Sydney? No problemo!

The game boasts an upgrade station that allows you to improve on aspects of your weaponry and armour. This is done by way of acquiring power nodes – these nodes can be discovered in the game world or purchased at the stores peppered throughout. It’s quite satisfying to invest a stack of nodes into an item of your choice and witness the improvements it makes on your gaming experience. Investing deeply enough into a weapon can reward you with a Special upgrade, typically giving you better damage.

What is also handy, later on in the game, is the Respec ability. It allows you to choose a different specialisation for your weapon, armour (rig) or stasis ability. This is fantastic, as you’d hate to have dumped all those precious power nodes into one item only to find that you’ve now acquired a weapon more deserving of those nodes. This ability will give you that option at a small in-game dollar cost.

Visually speaking I enjoy what they have done with the mis-en-scene. A space station ravaged by Necromorphic destruction – echoes of Aliens and other sci-fi horror films should resonate as you escape hordes of reanimated corpses. Stylistically they have continued what was started in the first game and some highlights for me was seeing Saturn itself as well as a fantastically large display panel outside of the space station amongst the madness in the opening of the game. However, I did find that on my TV some textures would look a little murky. Now I am not sure if this is just because I switch a lot from Xbox 360 to PC gaming and notice these things or that I sit way too close to my TV but it was there and while not too distracting once the game really begins I did put it down to tuning down of effects and textures to maintain a constantly high rate of FPS (which is quite welcome). This balancing act of visuals and FPS must be a constant struggle for gaming companies and makes me wonder what it looks like on the machines they create the game on, but I digress. That aside it still looks great and really helps you submerse into the world Isaac Clarke moves about. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that there is no traditional HUD and Dead Space chooses to display all information necessary on Isaac himself. For example you can tell the amount of health he has remaining by simply looking at the glowing blue ‘spine’ or the amount of ammunition in a weapon by looking at the digital number displayed on or near your weapon. It certainly serves it’s purpose without crowding your screen with numbers and bars. If only the same could be done for my World of Warcraft game screen.

Typical commute

A great horror game relies heavily on what you don’t see. This, to me, is so much more critical then the shambling horror racing towards me. It fills the player with tension and that can be maintained for quite a while and probably to a point where it just isn’t healthy until you realize you are just playing a game. This game checks all the right boxes as you move through abandoned hallways and hear the shrills of ‘something’, and metal being knocked about by ‘something’. It will have you looking back, forward, up, above and to the side scanning for Necromorphic activity. It’s quite cruel now that I think about it, Visceral Games you enjoy toying with us don’t you? Well keep it up because your sound design was fantastically awesome. Personally I chose headphones for my sound output and it’s quite an experience hearing the murmurs and bowel movements of an incoming Necromorph. It’s also quite an experience spilling coffee on your lap as a result.

I’ve chosen not to speak too much on the storyline, as I believe it to be fairly straight forward with some interesting elements. But that should be for the game player to experience. I will say that while the story itself is great as a progression piece, the game oozes excellence in its actual execution, gameplay, visual experience and sound design. It’s one of those games that you are relieved to find a save point, absolutely terrified getting there, but are compelled to continue the adventure rather then switching off your console for the night. When a game can do this for me, it’s a winner and already has me thinking of going back to nab the Wii game, Dead Space Extraction, and tune into the various video and film that make up the Dead Space universe.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

About the Author

Dan co-hosts the Gameolio Podcast and handles the administration of the website. Occasional poster and frequent deleter with a strange love of the colour green.