Game: Dead Space 2

Genre: Third-Person Shooter

Developer: Visceral

Publisher: EA

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Score: RE4 > Dead Space 2 > RE5

The faceless hero can be really cool.  He can be especially cool when his face is hidden behind a steam-powered locomotive helmet.  Enter the protagonist of the original Dead Space, Isaac Clarke.  He didn’t have much to say but he kicked some space zombie ass and did it with spaceship power tools.  This is a man; a Space Man.  The awesome of this man is entirely reliant on the gravity of the circumstances he must endure.  Speaking of, a recap option exists in the main menu of Dead Space 2 just in case you forgot.  In that spirit, you may click here for a mini review of the first game.

One thing to note in the transition from 1 to 2 is Clarke’s standing as Faceless Hero. His emotions and reactions must necessarily be implied – he wore a mask for the vast majority of Dead Space 1 (only broken by a little peek at the end) and his spoken lines were few and far between. In Dead Space 2, the mask comes off for most dialogue scenes; he talks more and with more people. This greater opportunity for personalization ends up falling short for me compared to the first game. His lines are dry and typical; they can’t compare to the feelings we projected onto him in the first game based on each horrible situation.

Dead Space 2 begins by answering the question, “Is Isaac crazy?” with a resounding, “Yes – and here’s your straight jacket.”  Not too crazy, though, not to worry; it’s just Plot Crazy.  It’ll be used as a scare tactic and story device for the rest of the game.  Enjoy.  After a brief scene involving a psychologist, a straight jacket, and the startling visage of Nicole, Dead Space 2 gets underway. This is the closest to survival horror Dead Space 2 gets. You stumble through space hospital hallways in your straight jacket evading monsters as they crawl out from under beds, jump out of vents, and, of course, people. This section was fun and it ended too soon. It very quickly gave in to the urge to replace the straight jacket with a gun. The necessity to run from any enemy ceases at this moment. The experiment with being a survival/horror game comes to a close and Isaac Clarke’s space zombie dismemberment spree begins.

I was impressed with Dead Space 1’s ability to get a fair share of map variance on one spaceship.  The medical bay, plant bay, monster goo bay, engineering bay, etc. all had at least a little different design.  The length in the hallways, layout, level of debris, and enemy spawn points were more varied than I would’ve expected.  Exterior or zero gravity segments helped to break-up the monotony of being on a spaceship.  Conversely, the sequel, has an entire space station to play with but ends up recycling rooms and corridors to an almost offensive extent.  There’s the conveyor belt room, L-shaped corridor, other L-shaped corridor, rectangle room, rectangle catwalk room, and lab.  Even the distances and spawn points for each layout of room are the same, despite a different skin. All the map variance occurs at the very beginning or very end of Dead Space 2 when you’re allowed a break from L-shaped corridors to explore residential areas, a school, an excavation site, and a couple more interesting maps.  The exterior and zero gravity moments, with the addition of a jetpack, are among the most noteworthy. There are even moments in which Isaac is falling through space or rocketing through a tunnel while dodging shrapnel.  I found these moments enjoyable.  It’s easy for a game to abuse such moments.  Dead Space 2 was careful not to.  They ended differently, involved different settings, and lasted just long enough as to not wear out their welcome.

Dead Space 2 does get creepy from time to time, but never truly horrifies. I will say that exploding infants and nuclear eyesocket women come the closest to the latter.  When you see them one thousand times in the same way, however, they lose their effect. Here we get to Dead Space 2’s lack of baddie variance.  The Marker is an awesome alien artifact, or something, that bends reality to its dark will.  It grants immortality and can twist and distort the human form into any possible grotesque thing.  This equates to about a dozen different monsters.  There’s tentacle boss, charge boss, and jump boss.  Each is reused multiple times throughout the game.  As for the standard monster fare you have ‘sploding baby, jumpy claw kid, clever girrrl, hobbling ‘splosion guy, spit goo dude, fast slasher, slow slasher, bat thing, and crawly tail baddy.  Last and least there’s the annoying shoot missiles from three tentacle pods baddie. They each only ever attack in the same ways and the same ‘back up and shoot’ strategy beats them all.

The lack of map variance mixed with the lack of baddy variance makes for very boring combat.  Rectangle Room? You’ll be attacked from all four sides.  Corridors come in two flavors: attacked from both sides and thing jumps out from the vent you’re running toward.  The clever girrrl baddies have their own map design for when you fight them.  When you walk into a room with a bunch of pillars or crates, [SPOILER].  An average combat scenario in Dead Space 2 involves backing up and shooting stuff far away. Sometimes there’s other stuff that pops out or whatever. You shoot that. It’s really a shame because the weapons you get are completely awesome. They are advanced spaceship buzzsaw power tool razor wire psychic ice explode guns that you have to conserve ammo with. This should be illegal.

This is where another critique comes in.  Dead Space 2 tries to distinguish itself early on as a survival horror game.  It opens with the straight jacket run from scary dudes and has difficulties that are separated by the amount of health and ammo you get.  This is one of the most classic survival horror tropes – conservation of ammo paired with great clutch aim.  Dead Space 2 even tries to mix it up by having you hit wiggly appendages as opposed to heads. Straying from the formulaic headshot is commendable especially since it takes a bit more skill to hit the limbs of a rampaging space zombie than it does to hit its mostly stationary head.  The conservation of ammo I mentioned earlier is mostly an illusion since it can be bought from stores throughout the space station, but stacks of ammo take up valuable inventory space and backtracking to stores quickly becomes a pain. The whole process seems a needless runaround that does nothing but add time and take away from play. You get money from monsters to run to a store to buy cumbersome stacks of surprisingly little ammo to put in your inventory. This is about the only thing you ever use your inventory for. So either conserve ammo and waste time or don’t and waste more time.

The addition of psychic powers like stasis (slow motion) and telekinesis make the survival aspect even more trivial.  Dead Space 2 would be more enjoyable if it would embrace the fact that it wants to be full on action horror game.  The guns and psychic powers are fun.  Let the player use them in as many situations as possible without the unnecessarily constrictive inventory space and need for ammo pit stops.  Between fits of Space Madness and zombies smashing through the walls, I’m forced to stop and smash open corpses like piñatas filled with guns. Their limbs fly off and there’s loud crunching noises. It’s just silly. It ruins the atmosphere. Why would they make me do this?  This is actually not fun – why don’t they just drop items when they die instead of ruining the pace and feeling of the game with mandatory curb stomps for loot. Similarly, when you telekinesis a corpse in the air to throw it, the ragdoll physics wiggle the body around to a comedic degree. Nothing takes you out of the moment faster than a tap-dancing corpse in mid air.

In fairness, Chapter 10 really stands out.  The map design is good.  White tarps are used as a literal canvas to help set the scene.  Corridors are long and varied.  The Space Madness scenes switch between startling, sad, and awesome.  Enemies attack at a great pace.  There is literally a space zombie gauntlet that you end up running.  You’re even forced to fight a recycled boss in a way that is new and fun.  The placement of this boss, the build up to it, and the falling action for it all work together to make for a great segment.  I want to say more but that would involve spoilers.  When you make it through chapter 10 you’ll know what I was talking about.

I really enjoyed the final boss too.  It was simple but good.  The contact beam’s alt fire made the fight itself a walk in a park. A bleak, Edvard Munch drawn park.  In many ways the final boss was a punctuation mark.  An exclamation point was added to the end of the sound Isaac’s brain made when he heard the plot of the second game.  It may be safe to say that without Chapter 10 and the final segment I’d have been completely disappointed in Dead Space 2.  A lot of my criticism of Dead Space 2 sounds negative.  Indeed most of it is but that doesn’t make Dead Space 2 a bad game.  I don’t regret the full retail price paid to get Dead Space 2.  I enjoyed playing through it, but did so with a longing for something more.  The guns were good.  The maps were all rendered well.  The concept is even solid as far as sci-fi horror plots go.  Evil thing makes things evil.  Go kill evil with space guns.  The atmosphere of the game is adequately cold and desolate.  It cares not for your existence, the way a space plot shouldn’t.  The real problem comes with the inability Dead Space 2 has to lock into either action horror or survival horror.  It tries to do both and this causes both to not be as good as they could be.  Had Dead Space 2 committed to one it could’ve been great, as it stands it settles for being almost good.

This game was reviewed on the PS3.