Dead Space 2, developed by Visceral and published by EA, comes off the success of the first game. Introducing new enemy types, a more action-oriented experience and supposedly improved gameplay, the question needs to asked. Does Dead Space 2 still manage to retain that scare factor essential to a survival horror title or has it become just another third person shooter with really ugly enemies to shoot at.
Set three years after the horrific events that took place on the USG Ishimura, Isaac Clarke finds himself strapped in a straight jacket on a mining planet and lucky for him, his best friends are back and they haven't grown any prettier since their last meeting. The Necromorphs are everywhere, but we don't know why and it's up to Isaac to figure that out and decide how to stop them.
The story is quite hit and miss. The Sprawl has become infested with Necromorphs, that much is obvious. But on a deeper level, the story is really about a man who has been scarred so severely by a terrifying event that he's in constant conflict with himself. Isaac is suffering from a severe case of dementia, no thanks to the Marker, and constantly sees apparitions of his dead girlfriend. Unfortunately, while this sets the premise of the game up rather nicely, we never actually learn a lot about Isaac or see him mature as a character.
Basically, the story progresses from point A to point B. Something goes wrong and Necromorphs get in the way, Isaac fixes it, something else goes wrong, then rinse and repeat. There's also a really cheesy plot point further in the game. Nevertheless, it doesn't really detract all that much from the experience; in fact, there are some really great moments where you get to see Isaac struggle with his guilt. Not to mention, what really shines about the game is how incredibly well-paced it is regardless of the mundane plot.
Dead Space 2 is so well paced that you'll be guaranteed to be on the edge of your seat throughout the whole ordeal. Isaac starts out with nothing but a flashlight, progressively getting equipments and weapons to use against the unsightly Necromorphs. The controls remain largely the same as the first game and for those unfamiliar with it, Dead Space 2 is essentially an over-the-shoulder third person shooter. Each weapon has a unique alternate firing mode ranging from grenade launches, proximity mines and even electrified spikes - my personal favourite.
The mechanics have been greatly improved since Isaac's first outing. Aiming is faster and the camera is zoomed out just a tad more without losing its claustrophobic feel. Visceral has also added a couple of new functions to Isaac's suit, including thrusters for use in zero gravity environments, giving you full control of where to go as opposed to simply zipping towards a point in a straight line. Moreover, Isaac's objective line can now be flipped between your next objective, store, bench and even save point.
In order to efficiently take out oncoming Necromorphs, Isaac has to dismember their limbs. There are a myriad of tools at Isaac's disposal for this sole purpose alone and nothing feels better than hacking off a claw, grabbing it with Kinesis, then promptly giving it back to the bumbling creatures or, even better, nail one against a decompression window and watch as it gets sucked into the void of space - and yes, there's a Trophy/Achievement for that. Ammo and med-packs are scarce, especially on the harder difficulty settings, so using the environment to your advantage becomes key to survival.
Compared to the first game, Isaac doesn't exactly have anything to lose in Dead Space 2 and this sets up the action-oriented aspect of the game perfectly. He'll do just about anything to get rid of whatever is standing in his way, including blowing out an airlock just to get rid of multiple Necromorphs or even take a needle to the eye. The fact that he's willing to crawl through dimly lit ventilation shafts is a testament to either his bravery or insanity. It's these intense set pieces that really make the game all that better than the first.
There are a lot more characters in Dead Space 2. However, if you're worried that it might make the game feel any less of a proper survival horror experience, then you couldn't be more wrong. Even with more characters, Dead Space 2 manages to retain the atmosphere of being alone. The only real help these additional characters provide is pointing Isaac in the right direction. What truly makes you appreciate the new faces is their behaviour and actions in such a dire situation. Communications cut in and out, building suspense and thoughts of "what if?"
As mentioned earlier, Dead Space 2 enjoys some really good pacing. There's never a dull moment and even when there are momentary lulls, the ambience and suspense feels incredibly tense. You never really know what's going to happen next. Both the visuals and sound design have been kicked up a notch, enriching the fear factor.
Right from the outset, the improved visuals make the experience all the more visceral - pun fully intended - as you witness a man get impaled and his head bored right through by an infector before brutally transforming into a necromorph. Did I mention that this is all seen up close? Skin tearing, blood vessels bursting and bones breaking, Dead Space 2 isn't holding anything back. The facial animations are also noticeably impressive and even though there's a lot more talking in this game, the performances from the voice actors are really well done and serves only to better the experience. The sound design is certainly a leg up from the first. Sounds from Necromorphs have clear direction and the ambience is occasionally muffled by echoes of the surrounding environment.
The best part of the single player campaign is that once you've completed it, you can carry everything, from weapons, stats and whatnot, over into a new game thanks to the New Game + mode. All you Trophy and Achievement whores out there can rejoice as this really makes getting the trickier ones relatively easier. Completing the game also unlocks the Hardcore Mode, where everything is impossibly tough and you only have three saves. Good luck if you're going to attempt that because you're really going to need it.
Unlike the single player campaign where the tension and suspense is so thick you could choke on it, Dead Space 2's online multiplayer offers a much more frantic experience as the human team attempts to complete various objectives within a preset time limit while a never-ending spawn of Necromorphs do everything to stop them. Humans have the advantage of being tougher, having more health and firepower; however, it balances out quite well as the Necromorphs can choose their spawn points, giving them the opportunity to ambush the humans. Unfortunately, unless your team knows what they're doing, the experience can be quite frustrating. It's not fun when your teammates simply run off by themselves, that's a sure-fire way to die in a objective-driven and team-based match. Not to mention, the guy that runs off in a horror film is always the first to die.
Dead Space 2 is an awesome game with a great story-driven single player campaign and a relatively fun online multiplayer mode. The story can be dragged down at times and it's disappointing that we only learn the bare minimum about Isaac Clarke. Regardless, the game is still one of the best experiences this generation and certainly the best of its genre. Visceral Games have improved upon the mechanics introduced in the first game, the presentation and definitely the pacing. No longer is it a slow and tense journey through hell, but a flipping fast-paced, scary-as-shit roller coaster ride through hell instead - and certainly not an experience for the faint-hearted.