Review: Dead Space 2

Following on from the universally praised Dead Space comes its direct sequel, Dead Space 2, trying to stamp its mark even further on the survival horror genre and give the likes of Resident Evil a firm nudge into the background. And that’s exactly what it does.

Survival horror is one of those game types that I’ve never quite got into, instead just lingered nearby looking in with occasional temptation. The last game like this I tried was Resident Evil 2 – a game I quickly got annoyed with after getting stuck against a boss with no ammo and no way of getting any more. Since then I’ve been (probably wrongly) put off by the prospect of similar things happening, right up until Dead Space 2 came along and tempted me to dive in and give surviving another try.

So I arrive at the start of Dead Space 2, concerned that not playing the original would make things all the more confusing. Luckily, there is a “previously on Dead Space” introduction, outlining the events of the previous game. It’s optional too, so those of you who have battled their way through already don’t need to sit and watch something you already know. Before you know it you’re confined to a straitjacket, running for your life from a bunch of Necromorphs who see you as a pre-dinner snack. No weapons, just running like hell. Straight away you’re on the edge of your seat and from that point onwards only the bravest player will sit back and relax. Before long you manage to kit yourself out with weapons and your fancy new armoured suit and the real fight begins.

Obviously the fight isn’t all that balanced, it’s one of you against God-only-knows how many Necromorphs, but you’ve got a little help from someone who (it would seem) wants to help you out so you’re not totally lonely as you creep your way through the dark corridors and huge open rooms. These environments mix up your tactics considerably; in a tight confined space you might find it better to creep round corners in case something is waiting for you, and if you hear something nearby but can’t see it there’s a fair chance it’s behind you. Not so in one of the huge halls you’ll come across, where the creatures can (and will) come at you from all angles making the rush for survival all the more heart-pounding.

The fright factor has also been turned up to 11, and makes you jump far more than I expected it to. Even small things like TV screens suddenly turning on or balloons popping will give you a jolt, and when you’re creeping through a dimly lit area with the creaking walls the only sound to be heard, a huge Necromorph bursting through the ceiling and screaming at you 4 inches away is enough to send you leaping a foot into the air. In such a situation your gamer’s instinct takes over, and a jab of the fire button is an almost involuntary reaction. Not that a single lucky shot will be enough – even taking their head off won’t always stop them, and the need to dismember each enemy little by little until they’ve got nothing left to fight with makes accurate shooting essential, more so considering the inconvenient lack of ammo scattered around the place. The ability to make you jump like this could have got tiring, but somehow it doesn’t. Even as you approach the final chapters you’ll still get caught out when you least expect it. It’s what the game is meant to do, its raison d’etre. And boy does it deliver.

As explained earlier a lack of ammo has always been my worry with these games, but despite the near-constant struggle for kit in Dead Space 2 you never feel like you’re being treated unfairly. If you’ve got nothing at all left to throw at the enemy, it’s either because you’ve rushed through and not looked for the dropped ammo, or your aim is rubbish. Careful use of your resources will generally get you by… just. You’ll finish a difficult sequence nearly dead, with next to no ammo but delighted to still be up and moving around. At various points you can upgrade your kit or buy new weapons and other equipment with the cash dropped by the Necromorphs (although why they carry cash still confuses me) and in a subtle lean towards an RPG lets you choose how to customise your kit to suit how you want to go about your destruction.

Visually Dead Space 2 is gorgeous, with some fantastic lighting, excellent character animation and suitably gory results from your gunning and slicing efforts. The contrast between dark and light sections works brilliantly to enhance the nervousness, and there’s even a decent story running along as you play. The sound is spot on, making you constantly listen out for even the tiniest scratch or muffled scream. The single player campaign is one of the finest I’ve played, it really is something to behold.

As with many predominantly single player games nowadays, a multiplayer element has been added. However unlike Uncharted 2, which turned out to be a very impressive online experience, Dead Space 2’s online shenanigans do feel like a bit of an afterthought, as if someone realised last minute they should keep up with the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible, but won’t appeal to everyone. The general idea is that one team (of up to 8 players) work as engineers, trying to complete objectives. Meanwhile, the other team of  similar size play as Necromorphs trying to stop them by killing them. That’s about it. If you can get a few friends together to work as a team I reckon it’d be ok, but when we tried it seemed a bit individual with everyone seemingly out for themselves. Multiplayer will be what you and your friends make it really; on your own you possibly won’t find it all that fun.

But that’s a small blip on an otherwise fantastic package. Whether you’re new to the horror genre or a survival veteran you owe it to yourself to get a copy. It’s converted me, that’s for sure.

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