In the desolate and dark future reserved for the most unfortunate blokes in Dead Space, Isaac Clarke opens up the insurance catalogue in order to compensate his family in case he suffers a workplace mutilation. Isaac is an engineer. He enjoys hunting and contact sports. His medical certificate reflects an excellent health condition. He eats healthily, exercises regularly both in gravitation-free environments as well as imponderability.
The catalogue has a customized package for Clark’s kind. Its items contain descriptions such as: „in case of depressurization, the beneficiaries will get 10.000 credits. In case of sideways torso sectioning, the beneficiaries will get 5.000 credits plus an oxygen tank. Should casualty occur as a direct result of a lost melee with a corpse reanimated by the effect pulsed through an alien artifact, the beneficiaries get 25.000 credits".
That’s not much. Isaac Clarke shrugs, disappointed by the modest sums his life quantifies into. That’s just standard when your life expectancy stretches from the 5 minute mark to a maximum of a few hours.
Dead Space melded the most famous SciFi concepts together with great success: the terror of a religious nightmare, manifested through contagious dementia (Even Horizon), nightmarish fiends determined to rip you apart, morphing dead bodies through the reanimation of dead tissue (the Thing) morbid anatomical deviations ripped from a Geiger album (Alien), while a global corporation that doesn’t shy away from killing anyone to save the seed of evil (take your pick).
This entire salad tied together pretty convincingly, backed by a comic-book ignited universe and a feature animation, both prequels to the game itself. The immersion was further ensured by a minimalistic interface, integrated on LEDs and holograms on the engineer suit. The only negative aspect of the game, if you ask me, is that it ends.
Which technically should be solved by the freshly-launched sequel. Much like Ellen Ripley in the temporal space between Alien and Aliens, Isaac seems to have slept, floating in space for about three years. But the psychological scars he attained, complemented by an ever-growing dementia, seem to populate every moment in which he doesn’t have to mow through the Necromorphs which are spreading like a plague around him, while the action moves the location to the Sprawl space station.
The weapons are mostly the ones we’ve seen in the predecessor, with varying modifications, such as the kinesis’ increase in speed and efficiency or the greande launcher for the pulse rifle. Much like until now, nailing an enemy to a wall will save you precious ammo, and the stasis tool – freezing monsters in place – must be used more often, as fights are considerably more intense than before. Other than that – we have the same ol’ Saw Ripper, spinning a blade in a frenzy, the Plasma Cutter we’ve grown accustomed to, with Dead Space 2 bringing in proximity mines in addition to a “nail gun” and a less rigid melee.
Furthermore, fights in areas without gravity gain a new dimension due to jet propellers that the suit was upgraded with, allowing you to traverse a room way more fluidly when a gravity generator breaks down. The other important gameplay elements make a comeback in basically the same form: the shop, blueprints, successive costume upgrades and workshop work pretty much the same. Weapon upgrades are identical, investing Power Nodes in a map-shaped circuit of attributes. You’ve got fairly few Nodes and are forced to save more and focus more conservatively on one lane, in lieu of costly experiments. But for a modest sum, you can respec lost power nodes.
Story wise, it might sound pretty absurd, but Dead Space 2 is more or less the first game’s clone: even the simple puzzles, under which Clarke had to make additional stops to fix ship systems in the first game, now mark a series of checkpoints on the station. And audio logs spread through the game restart their mission of playing you the last thoughts and hopes of the massacred crew. What’s new is a mini game in which you match a password made out of three digits, all against the clock and enclosing necros. An addition which gets boring really quick, as it turns into routine. Giant, spot-vulnerable bosses also make a comeback, and the non-interactive sequences are filled with adrenaline and explosions – an encouraging progress.
If you look at it like a movie, Dead Space 2 unveils quite fluidly – breaks between chapters aren’t as predictable anymore and not half as sterile as in the predecessor (when they were etched out by the tram journeys) and revisiting familiar territory breathes a lot of atmosphere into the game. Still, the scriptwriters’ tendency to recycle story segments (blueprints hidden at every turn, Clarke’s guilt trips) will disappoint whoever was expecting narrative innovation. Also, probably because of his dementia, Clarke now speaks and is shown a lot more, gaining personality points and integrating naturally into the web of events. The atmosphere swerves towards pumping action to tension’s misfortune, accelerated by free fall moments and visceral animations.
The campaign stretches across 15 chapters as opposed to Dead Space’s 12, and still manages to seem shorter. But the „new game plus” mode eases out the job for anyone meaning to traverse the single-player script more than one time. And from the very beginning, you are thrown in the beasts’ midst, limited by a strait jacket and danger lurking at every turn.
Fights are more straightforward, diversified and brightened. The architecture itself is way more diverse, both in detail and concept. The graphics have evolved slightly, but are considerably more dynamic, the lights are well conceived and always seem to have a psychedelic effect on your perpetual sprinting. The flames look terrific and the various incidents happening on the screen enjoy photorealistic particle effects – be it a stasis bolt or an EMP.
There’s also a multiplayer component that on paper sounds like this: a team of humans has a series of objectives to win the battles, while the Necromorphs set out to stop them. And just like in Left 4 Dead, the zombie team has to organize ambushes and coordinate attacks to massacre the better-armed colonists efficiently.
In practice, however, at least when it comes to the PC version, the lobby is cloggy, fairly unpopulated, buggy and suffers from a serious affliction – you don’t get the experience you earned unless you finish a match (and premature disconnects are no foreign concepts in Dead Space 2).
The main attraction is still the single-player experience, which uses the same approach as James Cameron's Aliens: more action, puns in the dialogues and a touch of military presence in the backdrop. It’s too bad though that the flaws dragging it down are there to stay: the multiplayer is underwhelming and problematic, and there are far too few additions when it comes to gameplay and narrative.