PC Dead Space 2

Scott Tortorice

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Back in early 2008, I had the pleasure of going up to the Electronic Arts campus in Redwood Shores for an early play test of a new IP that was to be released later that same year. I had not heard of this game prior to the play test, but it was a third person action game with survival horror elements in a sci-fi setting which turned out to be Dead Space. I had all but written off Dead Space after my very negative play test experience that day. As fate would have it I gave Dead Space a second chance, and I don’t regret it one bit. Dead Space had the perfect blend of survival horror and action with strong characters and a decent story to tie everything together. So naturally when the sequel was announced, I couldn’t wait to see where Visceral Games was next taking the series, and to see if Dead Space 2 could once again scare the pants off someone.

The short answer to that question is: yes...yes it can.

Remember the Ishimura

Before I expand on that, we should recap some of the events that have transpired in the previous game. To be clear, one does not need to play the first Dead Space in order to enjoy the sequel; Visceral Games has included a feature in Dead Space 2 that will explain the events and story from the first game. However, I highly recommend playing through Dead Space first as you will have a greater appreciation of how good a sequel Dead Space 2 is, and will have a better understanding of the story and events that lead up to this point in the series.

In Dead Space, players take on the roll of CEC Engineer Isaac Clarke, the silent protagonist who is part of a repair team sent to investigate a distress signal from the USG Ishimura. The game starts with Isaac watching a recorded message from his girlfriend Nicole Brennan, who was aboard the Ishimura, establishing from the beginning the reason why Clarke has volunteered for the rescue mission. What Isaac finds aboard the Ishimura is the stuff of nightmares, all of it having to do with something called the Marker.

There are two main entities at work in the Dead Space universe; the EarthGov and the Church of Unitology. The EarthGov, as the name implies, is the government of Earth, and they believe the Marker possesses some type of power and have been spending countless man hours trying to harness that power. The Church of Unitology believes the Marker is a holy religious symbol indicating there is life after death. No one knows the true origin of the Marker or its power, but it does tend to bend the mind of those around it and is the cause for the necromorph outbreak on the Ishimura.

Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the original Dead Space. Players once again assume the role of Isaac Clarke, this time not so silent. Isaac finds himself in a hospital on the space station known as the Sprawl located near Titan, the moon of Saturn. Clarke is a broken down shell of a man who struggles with the guilt of losing his girlfriend Nicole on the Ishimura and suffers from demented visions brought on by the Marker. Unfortunately for Isaac that’s the least of his worries; the Sprawl is hit by a necromorph outbreak and Clarke learns there is a Marker located on the space station, one much larger than he encountered on the Ishimura.

The story in Dead Space 2 unfolds in almost the same exact manor as the first game except for one thing: Isaac Clarke now has a voice. The story in Dead Space was good, but Isaac was more of a mindless automaton who did what he was told, forcing the player to only assume what Clarke must be thinking. Giving Isaac a voice in the sequel has a greater impact and makes the story much more personal. Isaac now responds to certain situations; he will interact with key characters and players will get a better feel for how Clarke is dealing with losing his girlfriend and the horror of what’s happening around him.

There is one downside to the story in both games, and that is it can be downright confusing at times. Where players may have the most trouble is with what exactly is the Marker and the effects it has on people, specifically Isaac himself. Isaac is constantly tormented by visions of Nicole, which leads to one of the more memorable moments late in the game. Fortunately, besides a few cut scenes, Clarke will find audio logs and text logs throughout the Sprawl that will help fill in the blank spots and further develop the story.

Something Old, Something New

Gameplay wise there is little difference between the two games and that is not a bad thing. The camera is till the over the shoulder third person view with the player’s health and stasis levels located on the back of the RIG; players still carry only four types of weapons; inventory is based on the suite that players are currently wearing; limb dismemberment is still the ultimate way to deal with necromorphs, and Clarke will be collecting random loot from their carcasses. Those familiar with Dead Space will find little trouble when jumping into Dead Space 2.

So what is new and different? First and foremost the venue has changed. The Ishimura was a huge ship with tiny, claustrophobic corridors and rooms. The Sprawl is a giant space station with areas that a bit more open. The change from a ship to a space station adds a bit of humanity to the story. As Isaac makes his way through the Sprawl he will visit a hospital, a children’s school and nursery, a mall area and even a Church of Unitology recruitment center. Each area is unique and will show players that there were people living on this space station before being massacred by the necromorph outbreak.

All the weapons from the original Dead Space have returned with some tweaked to include special damage when upgraded. There are also new weapons at Isaac’s disposal in Dead Space 2. These include the Rivet Gun; the Javelin Gun which can impale enemies; the Seeker Rifle, a high powered semi-auto sniper rifle; the Detonator, which allows players to lay mines and probably the most overpowered weapon in the game; and the Force Gun. Also, Stasis and Kinesis have a much bigger role in combat this time around. Players will find that a fully upgraded Stasis module to be an invaluable tool, especially on the harder difficulty levels. Players can also pick up certain items and use Kinesis to slow down and impale enemies, including the broken-off limbs of dead necromorphs.

The biggest change players notice will be the zero-g portions of the game. In Dead Space players would navigate a zero-g environment by looking at where they wanted to go, then pushing the appropriate key to launch themselves to that location. It was disorientating and frustrating at times but it added to the tense, on-edge mood that the game was aiming for. In Dead Space 2 Isaac has small boosters attached on the back and bottom of his boots. Press a key and Isaac now hovers in the air giving the player greater mobility in the zero-g environment. It’s a nice change that doesn’t feel gimmicky.

Vets of Dead Space will notice right away the lack of an in game map, however the locator has returned. What the locator does is draw a brightly colored line from Isaac’s hand to the floor and in the direction the player must precede. In Dead Space 2, the locator not only directs a player to the next objective, but also to the nearest save point, store and workbench. Personally I found the map to be clunky and difficult to use at times so this is a much welcome change.

The Sights and Sounds of Dimentia

Dead Space was an excellent game, but it was not a great looking game. Dead Space 2 however is much more pleasing to the eye. There are quite a few different locations that Isaac will visit throughout the Sprawl so there is a nicely varied color palette as opposed to the constant brown and grey of the Ishimura in the first game. Also, there is some nice attention to detail within the level design itself, enough to make someone believe that the Sprawl was actually being inhabited. Some cleaver use of lighting helps add tension and much sharper textures also contribute to making Dead Space 2 a great looking game.

Where Dead Space 2 really shines from a technical aspect is in the sound design. You have the expected explosions, gun fire, necromorphs and voiced dialogue, but the beauty of the audio goes beyond that. It’s the reaction created when walking through and having a vision filled with the terrifying sound of people screaming…which ends just as suddenly as it began. There’s also the ambient noise, such as people calling for help or crying as Isaac makes his way through one of the many living quarters in the Sprawl, or the all too quiet journey through the hospital…that is, until the sprinkler system goes off and makes the player jump out of their seat. And then there’s the heart racing moments when the music kicks in as necromorphs start popping out of vents. The audio in Dead Space 2 does a masterful job at creating a tense and horrifying atmosphere throughout the entire game.

The great thing about games being released on console and PC is that many of them allow players to use either a mouse and keyboard use or a controller. I cannot comment on how good or bad the default mouse and keyboard setup is because I used a wired Xbox controller. I can however tell everyone that I never once felt hindered by my choice. The controls were tight, the camera was smooth and the aiming was perfect.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

For the PC gamer there are quite possibly only two downsides with Dead Space 2. First is the DRM. An EA online account is required to register the game and Dead Space 2 can only be installed on up to five computers at the same time, and players can control which computers are authorized or de-authorized. Honestly, though, the DRM seems very reasonable.

The second issue might be the cost vs. length of the game. Dead Space 2 walks that fine line between being too short and just right. Players can expect to clock anywhere from 10-15 hrs with Dead Space 2, but a sixty dollar price tag could potentially be a turn off to some. The good thing is Dead Space 2 has some replability that makes it a better value: there’s an online multiplayer option; a new “hardcore” mode where players have only three saves total with no check points; and lastly the ability to start a new game with the items a player has accumulated in a previous play through.

Speaking of the multiplayer, most everyone will describe it as Left 4 Dead in space, and rightfully so. Multiplayer is limited to four on four, humans vs necromorphs. Each map features an objective that the humans must complete within a certain time whilst the necromorphs try to stop them. There is a level up system similar to what is found in every online shooter these days - as players gain more experience they will unlock new items and weapons. The multiplayer isn’t bad and certainly doesn’t feel tacked on like some games have done, there just isn’t much that is exciting enough to keep a players interest.

Closing Comments:

Dead Space 2 is one the most physically and mentally draining games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It is hard to describe with any sort of detail just how intense the game is, but Dead Space 2 starts by punching you in the mouth and doesn’t let up till the credits roll. The atmosphere is superb, the action great, and the story is good; it’s easily the best game of the year thus far. In short, Visceral Games has taken an already great game and by tweaking or changing a few things, made Dead Space 2 the definition of what a sequel should be.

9.5 out of 10
 
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