Dead Space 2: review

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  • Format: Xbox 360 (version reviewed), PS3, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: EA
  • Developer: Visceral Games
  • Players: 1 (offline), 2-8 (online)
  • Site: deadspace.ea.com

With Dead Space 2, you could make a case that there’s something off about the way videogames are evolving. Here we have a game about a guy in a space suit that fights monsters for hours on end, and yet it is one of the most emotional rollercoaster rides the medium has seen. Sure, those emotions are often fear, tension, anger and despair, but they’re still uncharacteristic of an art form that rarely goes beyond simple fun.

Dead Space 2 is often an unpleasant game to play – it’s so relentless with its atmosphere that it’s difficult to play for long stretches of time without taking a break. This isn’t necessarily anything new for the series, as the original Dead Space was often just as tense; but the sequel makes so many clever tweaks that its formula for tension is much more potent.

The most substantial change is in the pacing. Dead Space 2 is much more dynamic than its predecessor, with as much creepy downtime as intense action. The developers show restraint in all the right places, with sections where nothing happens that are almost more terrifying than the rooms full of enemies. Countering the moments of quiet suspense are some fantastic action scenes that provide some unhinged action hero bravado courtesy of protagonist Isaac Clarke.

PhotobucketSpeaking of our hero, Isaac has gone from a silent vessel for your own adventure to a talkative, three-dimensional character. Developer Visceral has done some amazing work keeping Isaac simple and down-to-earth while telling a much more personal tale. There are moments where he’ll say so much with nothing but a simple desperate exhale or some strained dialogue. Isaac has been through hell, and there are few games that have made a hero more convincing.

You’ll go through that hell with him, and it will be more hellish if you dare to tackle the game’s higher difficulties. Dead Space 2 handles its difficulty options less strictly than the first game, allowing players to change difficulty mid-game if they want. Because of that, we suggest bumping up the difficulty as high as you can handle. Even at the highest difficulty level, the game isn’t overly punishing – rather, it almost perfectly leaves you in a constant state of despair, with less than a clip in each gun and a single med kit to keep you going.

Much like the first game, in the right conditions – namely, surround sound at night – Dead Space 2 is a transcendental experience. There’s so much care put into each atmosphere-drenched environment, and the soundscape is so rich and dynamic that playing the game starts to feel like submitting yourself to sensory torture. Once again Visceral proves they are the masters of the audio mix with violent, bold range that makes the combat booming and powerful.

PhotobucketPulling all of these elements together, the game is an exhausting journey that pushes the boundaries of the typical, triple-A, mainstream videogame. There’s no doubt the production values are through the roof, or that the game is ridiculously polished, but it’s also willing to throw encounters at you that intentionally push you to your limits. The final chapter of the game is a masterstroke of ammo scarcity and enemy tenacity that’s sure to leave you frazzled.

There’s very little to complain about with Dead Space 2, especially by the end when you look back at the journey as a whole. We can think of few games that take you on such an incredible rollercoaster ride – only Half-Life 2 comes to mind, and that’s some great company to be in. Yes, there’s a weak area here and there, and the storytelling can be a bit uneven at times, leaving much of the real plot for the end; and we kind of wish some of the dialogue was easier to understand without subtitles on, but these are niggles at the end of the day.

What puts Dead Space 2 over the edge is that its shoe-horned, afterthought multiplayer isn’t an afterthought at all. Sure, it’s not too different from versus mode in Left 4 Dead, and the handful of maps means it might only entertain for a couple of weeks – but it’s also incredibly polished and fun. Unlike Bioshock 2, which felt too much like it was betraying itself with its multiplayer mode, Dead Space 2’s multiplayer couldn’t be more faithful to the main game.

PhotobucketThe multiplayer pits four humans against four Necromorphs. The humans must complete objectives while the Necromorphs impede their progress. If you enjoy the combat in Dead Space, you’ll be right at home here because it’s identical. There’s almost nothing you do in the single player combat that you can’t do in multiplayer, so you can stomp away to your heart’s content. Necromorphs are the unique ones, with fun abilities like crawling on walls and ceilings or performing violent executions.

From the powerful ups and downs of the single-player, to the consistent fun of the multiplayer, Dead Space 2 starts off 2011 with an unforgettable journey that’s sure to be remembered when game of the year discussions roll around in this crowded year. It pushes the medium forward in unexpected ways, transcending fun and becoming the kind of challenging entertainment that makes it more than just playing a game.

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Written by Joe D

Inspired by a love for obscure Sega Saturn games in the 90s, Joe is pretty much open to anything gaming has to offer. What he looks for in a game: creativity and strong design, or sometimes just an overwhelming sense of style.

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