Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dead Space 2 review (with video review)

Sleeper hits like the original Dead Space are proof that the horror genre, inadvisably, is undead. Complete with satisfying shooting, space curb-stomps and legitimate scary moments, Dead Space 2 is more of the same with some augmentations. It isn't a reinvention of the wheel, but the original Dead Space formula was already a sound enough one, which didn't require many tweaks to its already commendable horror/shooter setup. Throw in some new competitive online action, and there's something for just about everyone in Visceral's little monster.

It's been about three years since the game's protagonist, Isaac Clark, last combated the parasitic Necromorphs that riddled the dark corridors of the first game. Having been out of commission for unknown reasons, Isaac awakens on a moon orbiting Saturn, just as the Necromorphs begin their rampage of terror... again. Fortunately, he'll have some new toys and friends to help him along the way.

Admittedly, the story behind Dead Space 2 isn't a strong one. Waking aboard a mysterious space station, only to see the Necromorph threat already in full swing, was a bit disappointing. The first game built up the unveiling of the infection, making the threat feel that much more terrifying, along with some pretty astonishing moments. In its defense, the threat was already identified in the original game, so it'd be hard to control those emotions so fluidly this time around. That's not to say that the narrative behind the game is bad, but it isn't until you get well beyond the halfway mark that you begin to understand the issues behind-the-scenes. Even then, it's a very predictable and contrived string of events that didn't leave me surprised in the least.

Despite the lack of ingenuity in the story, I found the characters this time around to be much more personable. I'd say 'likeable', but who can you like in deep space when you're surrounded by necrotic aliens who want your brains? Exactly. The normally-mute Isaac actually debuts with fully-fledged dialogue and stand-alone personality; this one manoeuvre is mostly responsible for my positive reaction to characters, since Isaac can now interact with the people around him by engaging in actual conversation. Before, Isaac was basically in the backseat as other characters ran the show with their dialogue, commanding you to do what they willed. No longer.

Just as all sequels do, Dead Space 2 spices up the combat with some nifty new gadgets and techniques. If you played the first game, you'd know that the shooting/combat was fun and responsive, but Visceral wanted you to feel at a disadvantage, being an engineer and all. That focus has changed with the sequel, or so they wanted you to think. Saying that, Visceral was touting Dead Space 2 as being more centred around offense and 'badass' weaponry, when really it plays identically to the first game. The only actual military-grade 'weapons' you have is the Pulse Rifle and the brand-new Seeker Rifle, a normal rifle with a zoom feature that I found largely useless. Other than that, all of your previous weapons from the first game make a return here, including my favorite, the Force Gun.

Being able to wield four weapons certainly throws some unnatural variety into your dismembering ways, but don't get stuck using only the old-school guns. If I could give out a recommendation, try some of the new stuff out, such as the Detonator and Javelin. Just as it sounds, the new Javelin gun is actually quite fun to use. Obviously, stapling a crazed creature with several razor-sharp limbs to the wall is great enough, but when it doesn't quite work like that, you can always hit the alt-fire and watch as your target gets crispy from concentrated electrification. The Detonator is also nice because the mines you fire explode on contact, or can be set tactically to prevent those nasty beasts from creeping up on you. I can't tell you how many times I'd be fighting one creature, only to see seemingly random limbs go flying past me, from another trying to be stealthy. It's a pretty awesome feeling.

Visually, Dead Space 2 is excellent; its clean-cut interface returns unscathed from the original, and the space environments are simply breathtaking. Beautiful as some of the scenery is, Visceral never loses sight of the fact that Dead Space 2 requires a mostly solitary and violent atmosphere in order to remain relevant. Rooms are stricken with bodies and excess blood, and the plethora of blinking and fading lights certainly aids in that claustrophobic feeling. Speaking of claustrophobic, Isaac can now enter grates in walls to get to and from certain areas; it isn't the innovation of the century, but it does make sense for a game like this.

One of my favorite parts of the original game centred around the Zero-G space events. Unlike the first game, which required you to jump from place to place, Dead Space 2 gives you full control of how you move. This decision aids in the creative nature of certain puzzles, and navigating them is a fun, but often tense, endeavour. For obvious reasons, combat is also much more fun this way.

Fun as it is, Dead Space 2 is not without its quirks and deficiencies. It didn't happen very often, but sometimes whatever device I was lifting using Kinesis would just up-and-vanish for no reason. There were also a few rooms where one or more of the Necromorphs would be running in place perpetually, even when I blew their limbs off; don't ask me how. But perhaps the worst issue is something Visceral put into the game on purpose. Due to a bug that happened around the time of the game's launch, Visceral unlocked all of the bonus suits and weapons right out of the gate, also making them free to purchase. This provides a problem; you could start the game with some souped-up weapons and armour that would otherwise be inaccessible to you, making currency almost irrelevant and the game infinitely more easy. Unfortunately, there's no possible way to disable this 'feature'.

Once your romp through the Sprawl comes to a close, there's always the 'New Game+' option. Diving into 'New Game+' will let you carry over everything you've built up in the previous campaign into a new playthrough. There's also a new Hardcore game mode, which features the toughest enemies, minimal health pickups and - get ready - it'll only allow you to save three times throughout the whole game. The entire game. If that doesn't do it for you, and playing through the game again doesn't get you excited, then you could always jump into the brand new competitive multiplayer. Except, you actually really shouldn't.

Dead Space 2 is a single player game, and that is a known fact. Implementation of a multiplayer mode was only a selling point to try and get more sales: "you can shoot 'dudes' online now!" Terse as this statement is, Dead Space 2's multiplayer is a welfare version of Left 4 Dead, where you play either the humans or the Necromorphs. Unless you have nothing better to do, I'd suggest staying very far away from this forced component.

Visceral has successfully brought Dead Space into the much-coveted position of solid, noteworthy games of 2011. Whilst its horror atmosphere and premise may not appeal to everyone, its solid shooting mechanics, outstanding visuals and brilliantly-paced design should. Here's to Dead Space, a horror series that the industry should be looking forward to seeing more of. 

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1 comment:

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