Dead Space 2 has been out about a month now. Since it’s release, I’ve had plenty of time to play through and ruminate on the effect the title had on me. After playing through several chapters again on Zealot difficulty, it is clear to me why this game has me so enamored. It is the way Visceral Games uses subtlety in its narrative that makes Dead Space 2 the best January release since Bayonetta.
It’s been three years since the necromorphic shit hit the fan and Isaac Clarke had to fight through a ship full of Scientol-er-Unitologist fanatics, space zombies, and miners gone insane to escape the USG Ishimura. The previously silent protagonist awakes with no memory of the last three years he had apparently spent in an insane asylum, his last memory of destroying the first marker on Aegis VII and watching his girlfriend kill herself lingers at the forefront of his mind. To my relief, Isaac reacts to the situation in an incredibly fantastic verbal shit fit. The game then sends you running from moment one, as you are still swaddled in a straight jacket without a weapon to defend yourself against the rapid assault of necromorphs.
Audio and Text logs make a big comeback in Dead Space 2, and with Isaac’s new voice, the radio communications have an added level of depth this time around. Gone are the days when Engineer Clarke would simply act as a silent tool, running off to risk his life at a moment’s notice on the whim of anyone with access to his holographic chest phone. While some may be put off by having bits of plot content locked away in hidden logs, I find that the quality and content of these completely optional audio and text snippets serve as a potent spice which keep you exploring the absolutely succulent level design.
Isaac’s foul mouth isn’t the only new addition. A slew of new necromorph enemies further adds to the variety of the gameplay. From the surface-mounted explosive-shooting Cysts to the hordes of screaming kindergartner necromorphs, each new addition forces you to adapt your play accordingly. The most memorable of these new additions for me are the predatory Stalkers. These raptor-like pack hunters tend to populate wide open areas with lots of cover, where in the previous title you may have just backed into a corner and shot anything that moved until you’re clear. Now the Stalkers will hide behind cover until you maneuver into an ambush position, whooping and calling to each other to coordinate flanking maneuvers in groups of 2 or 3. The whole experience forces you to develop your own predatory tactics, setting traps at chokepoints to keep yourself from being surrounded. Things can quickly turn foul, but these “clever girl” moments are just so exhilarating that it is hard to get frustrated when you’re surrounded and ripped apart for the umpteenth time on the same encounter.
All around, there are subtle cues to keep you exploring and trying new things. It may be tempting to run straight through a crowded area and enter the next room, leaving the necromorphs trapped and saving yourself some ammo. However, clear the room out and pop open some footlockers, and you’ll be rewarded with additional ammo and credits. Some rooms even spawn additional enemies who will drop better items if you stick around long enough. The game is simple enough that you can get through it fairly easy. However, as with most survival horror games, if you take the time to learn how to conserve your ammo and kill smarter, you’ll be heavily rewarded for your troubles.
If you have never played the first title, fret not. For the uninitiated, there is a pretty nice “last time on Dead Space” video for you to watch which explains what events transpired in the first game. Even if you played the first game, and maybe it’s been a while, this video serves as a good refresher course if you can’t remember who founded that religion which created what marker.
Between the “previously” video, exploration cues, amazing level design, and exceptional sound design, Dead Space 2 establishes that Visceral can not only create an incredibly competent third person survival horror game, they can also wrap it in finely crafted narrative and atmosphere. And, with the fully independent DLC Severed, there is plenty more game to be had.
Final Verdict: 5 disturbed mothers out of 5.