Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)

I am a huge fan of the original Dead Space, it being the first game I bought for the Xbox 360 and the one I have gone back to constantly, and my hopes were suitably high for the sequel. The first game was a chilling at atmospheric game that was part Aliens and part Resident Evil, and Dead Space 2 retains the looks and feel while providing some marked improvements that fans of the original will love.

Set three years after the events of the first Dead Space, the main protagonist Isaac is confined to the mental ward of a hospital, suffering from dementia and haunting visions of his dead girlfriend, who comes to him in creepy flashbacks and cut scenes early in the game. The first acts of the game are rather hazy, as Isaac is suddenly freed from the hospital during an invasion of the Necromorphs from the first game, and from this point he escapes with his life and begins to make his way through the chaos that surrounds him. After being eased into the game through some expository dialogue, you don the space suit, obtain the weapons and then the real fun starts. The first thing that is noticeable from the start is that Isaac is more fleshed out as a character, having full dialogue and an intriguing back story. The secondary characters, some looking to help and others looking to harm him, are equally compelling and add a depth to the story that felt absent in the first game.

The frightening Necromorphs are more aggressive than ever in Dead Space 2, and you will spend a good part of the game fighting them off along with a host of other nightmarish creatures. The key to survival is aiming at their limbs, and this leads to some tense firefights where you are surrounded by enemies and aiming becomes a frantic and sometimes frustrating endeavour. The most frustrating enemies by far are the fast-moving Stalkers and the Crawlers that explode, spreading a toxic sludge that drains half of your health. To combat these creatures, the weapons we know and love form the first game have returned, including the Plasma Cutter, the Pulse Rifle, and my personal favourite, the Line Gun. Welcome additions include a flame thrower (always a pleaser), a javelin gun that impales your enemies and a detonator gun that shoots out proximity mines.

Dead Space 2 is every bit as creepy and atmospheric as the first game, but you will immediately notice that they have increased the gore and the frequency of the "jump" moments. Like any good horror movie, you will find yourself walking into a dark and eerily silent room, knowing that something is going to jump out at you, and this makes for an intense gaming experience. The graphics and sound of the first game set a gold standard for survival horror games and they are equally stellar here. Adding to the atmosphere are more varied locales, including hospital rooms, a concourse and, most creepy of all, children's bedrooms with bloody handprints on the wall. This adds up to an experience that feels fresher than the original Dead Space and you get less bored of travelling through space station areas that all look the same after a while. The gameplay is as tight as the original, with responsive controls and meaty weapons that are a pleasure to eviscerate enemies with. That I have noticed an improvement on are the controls in the Zero-Gravity areas, which were cumbersome in the first game but feel better here. Returning are your abilities with Stasis, which allows you to slow down enemies and grab far away objects, and the “benches” used for upgrading your weapons and abilities are also found scattered throughout the game. Using your variety of skills and weapons, and upgrading them constantly, is the key to survival. The enemies are fast, furious and you will need to be prepared.

The other notable improvement is the online multiplayer, which consists of two teams of four people, one side being the soldiers and the other being the creatures found in the single-player campaign. The levelling up works like most other competitive online games; you earn points by getting as many kills, as few deaths, and assisting your teammates when they are overpowered. The points from levelling up allow you to upgrade equipment, armour and abilities and it works well for the most part. The drawbacks are the high learning curve, especially when playing as a creature, and the lackluster performance of your weapons and stasis in the beginning. It should also be noted that there is only one game mode (4 vs. 4), so this will feel limited and under-developed to those who enjoy the more varied multiplayer options found in other games. Some of my friends have complained about the connection issues with the servers and horrible lag, but I have yet to experience this myself. It's fast, frantic, and yes, a little frustrating. However, I look at the multiplayer as a bonus since I bought this for the campaign.

Overall, Dead Space 2 is a sequel that keeps the strengths of the original game while making some improvements that will please fans who are looking for something new. The single-player campaign is very solid and will keep you busy for 10 hours, possibly more depending on the difficulty chosen, and the multiplayer should satisfy your competitive streak once you get past the learning curve. I purchased the Xbox 360 version of the game, but the Playstation 3 version comes with Dead Space: Extraction, an on-rails shooters previously exclusive to the Wii, but I own this already so it didn't make a difference to me. Whatever version you choose, Dead Space 2 is a winner and is one of the first great games of 2011.

Rating: 9/10

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