Monday, May 9, 2011

Dead Space 2: A gory good time

Dead Space was some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a horror game.  It was thrilling, horrific, and had a good story.  So I was really excited to pick up Dead Space 2, especially since I didn’t know much about it besides the basic plot.  And Visceral delivered on everything that made the first Dead Space great, but moreso.
The plot is that, a few years after the events of the first Dead Space, Isaac Clarke, the game’s protagonist, has ended up in a loony bin on The Sprawl, a space station in orbit around one of Saturn’s moons.  Pretty much immediately, the game kicks off into action as a new outbreak of the zombie-like Necromorphs starts.  It’s a really nice change of pace from the standard action-horror first level of “Oooo, creepy stuff is going on” with a bunch of cat scares, and going right into a field of enemies that you have to run past in a strait jacket.  Pretty soon, Isaac has to kill some Necromorphs and figure out how to destroy the Marker that’s causing them to exist.  It takes a while until you’re able to fight them, but once you do, there’s plenty of the gory dismemberment the series revels in.
And the game really wants you to revel in it.  I found myself using new strategies that I never used in the first game with my weapons loadout.  Although I got into my set of 4 weapons fairly on (Plasma Cutter, Line Gun, Ripper, and the all-new Javelin Gun), for people who really want to experiment, there’s a good mix of weapons, and a good mix of enemies to use it on.  There’s the classic old ones like uh…that dog thing with the tentacles, and that woman with the exploding hand (OK, so I don’t know their names).  They also bring in some new ones to fight.  One of the most interesting (and possibly most offensive) are the babies that explode.  The game has a sick sense of humor in the introduction of them, but they’re also one of the most dangerous and frightening enemies to fight.  Any time you hear their cry will be a moment of panic as you try to find them.
Speaking of their cry, I feel I should take a moment to really commend Visceral on their sound design.  Each enemy has their own sound.  The second you hear it, you know exactly what you’re going to fight.  Not to mention that ever-cool deafened sound that happens when you enter zero gravity.
The game’s change from the Ishimura to the Sprawl is one of the best changes in environment they could’ve made.  The Ishimura was interesting, to be sure, but it was also a ship based solely on work.  The Sprawl adds in some new environments like a shopping mall, a school, and a church.  And yet, there’s still enough of the sci-fi art style that it doesn’t feel like a completely different game.  The change to a full living area could’ve also meant a bunch of civilians around, but the game still goes with a fairly economic main cast, with most of the backstory being told with audio logs.  In other words, it’s a completely different place that captures all the atmosphere you loved of the first place.
The game’s story is good, but it really seems like more of an excuse to go from setpiece to setpiece.  There are some interesting revelations, but in the end, it’s hard to pin down most of the story.  The cast of characters comes more to life, and it must be said here for Dead Space 1 fans: Yes, Isaac is voiced.  It gives him more character, but it’s also unlikely that this will go against any characterization you had in your head.  Then again, I’m sure some people will absolutely despise it, but for most people, it’s just a thing that really doesn’t end up making too much of a difference in the game.
Overall, Dead Space 2 is really the perfect sequel.  It takes what was great about the first game, adds in new enemies, weapons, and environments, gives it an extra shot of adrenaline and a multiplayer mode (which I haven’t been able to play because I have the PS3 version), and sends it out.  It’s unlikely to revolutionize anything, but it is a hell of a good time, and that’s what’s most important.

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