This review is written for the installed Xbox 360 version of Dead Space 2.
Dead Space 2 is my favorite game of all time. No, that’s not hyberbole, and no, contrary to the name of this blog it is not just some quick, gut reaction. I’ve played dozens of games since, including some of my previous favorites, and DS2 still holds its position in my mind as the best of the best. I know that the immediate response to saying any new game is the best ever is immediately met with a million and one screams of anger, but let me clarify. I’m not saying the gameplay is necessarily the best (although it’s great), nor am I saying it is the best looking (but it looks incredible). I’m not saying that it is the most revolutionary game of all time, or that the face of media will be forever changed by its existence. Despite all that, one thing sticks out in my mind: Dead Space 2 is without a doubt the most fun, atmospheric and mind-blowingly awesome thing that I have ever played.
|The shooting is not only intact, but improved|
I don’t want to spend too much time on the gameplay, just because if you played Dead Space 1 you know what to expect here. The third-person shooting still retains that Resident Evil 4 core that has been omnipresent in the genre since 2004, but it is so refined that it’s impossible to level any complaints of it feeling derivative. Raising and lowering your weapon, melee attacking, stomping, running and any other essential activity are all mapped intuitively and they all occur quickly, to the point where I never once felt like I was fumbling against the controls or waiting for an animation to play out. The “strategic dismemberment” of DS1 is at play here as well, with the primary way of slaying Necromorphs still being to sever two or three of their limbs and take them out of the action. The weapons all facilitate this, with the originals Plasma Cutter, Line Gun and others showing up alongside newbies like a sniper-type weapon and the immensely satisfying Javelin Gun. On top of this the Stasis and Kinesis modules return but are much improved, with the Kinesis being used to impale Necros with environmental objects (or their own amputated claws) and the Stasis automatically regenerating, making it actually viable in regular combat. Finally, the shop and workbench system from the first game returns, where you collect credits to buy new guns and armor along with power nodes that are used to upgrade them. Even this is improved over the original due to the special bonuses that certain armor permutations grant and unique upgrades for certain weapons, such as incendiary bullets or the ability to electrify fired javelins to eliminate groups of enemies.
|This looks ten times better in motion|
Vacuum and zero-G sequences also return in Dead Space 2, the latter of which is drastically improved. Your suit(s) now have small thrusters on board, which make a huge difference for how these portions of the game play out. You are given full 360-degree movement around the weightless segments, and the controls are simple enough to let you navigate the huge outdoor environments with ease. The thrusters come into play in a few of the jaw-dropping scripted sequences as well. The game throws these chunks of gameplay out at a pretty regular pace, such as when you need to take out a monster’s weak point while being violently dragged across the floor, or when you are flung into space while grappling with another enemy and need to detonate some nearby barrels before you are ripped in half. The most memorable of these are portions where you need to move very, very rapidly from place to another, and need to pilot your suit to avoid flying rubble and the like. Most games would relegate this to a series of button presses, and while DS2 has its share of button mashing, the fact that most of these sequences are directly controlled by the player is awesome. One in particular involves Isaac being literally catapulted from one district of Titan Station to another, and the combination of the fantastic large-scale graphics and story-motivation to get there fast make this sequence incredible to play.
|This is literally the first event of the game|
Wait a minute. What are all these proper nouns doing here? Well, as it turns out, Dead Space 2’s stories holds up the crazy bombast and polish that the gameplay supplies. You play as Isaac Clarke, clinically insane zombie-killing machine that barely survived the events of the first game. You show up on a mining colony embedded into one of Saturn’s moons with little to no idea of how you got here from three years before. However, whereas most games would give a nice, long period of learning exactly what the circumstances are, the game instead has one of the strongest openings I’ve ever seen, with Isaac immediately thrust into a second Necromorph outbreak. Is the Marker involved? Probably. Is Isaac’s evil, hallucinated girlfriend back? You betcha. But the willingness of Dead Space 2 to let you pick up these facts across the game and make the connections yourself without explicitly spelling everything out from the word “Go” is refreshing and makes you actually care about the struggle Isaac is going through on his quest to literally stomp as many deformed creatures into little tiny pieces as possible. I also want to call out the ending that is, without spoilers, one of the greatest emotional rollercoasters of all time. The game wears you down with a good hour of insanely difficult combat where running is often the best option, then throws you into one a completely mind-bending boss battle, and then manages to hit both the depressing and triumphant notes. It is masterfully done, and it left me sitting there after the fact, completely brain dead in the best possible way.
I feel like I should point out that I beat the game in one sitting, but that is in no way a slight against the length of the game. It took me roughly eight hours to finish, and that’s coming from the perspective of someone who was extremely familiar with the first game going into it. It’s more a testament to just how compelling the gameplay, atmosphere and narrative all are that I neglected food, sleep and schoolwork to pound out chapter after chapter of the DS2’s campaign. I don’t want to disparage the shooting, which is great, but the real drive comes from the things in between, be it one of the high-action scripted sequences or a particular chapter that is completely combat-free. This one portion, while technically a back-tracking sequence, is so dark, eerie and fascinating that I recall it as one of the best things in the game. On top of the incredible focus that Dead Space 2 granted me (a focus that led to the consumption of more than two liters of water despite being completely sedentary), there is an immense amount of replay value here, between carrying over upgrades to higher difficulties, to completing the insane save-limiting hardcore mode to getting every achievement, a task that is actually reasonable due to the lack of multiplayer-centric ones. My grand total as of today is a good eight and a half playthroughs, and while I am indeed a crazy person, there is more than enough game here to keep you busy for a long, long time.
So there you have it. Dead Space 2 is an amazing game, regardless of whether or not you agree with my assessment as the best game. Yes, the gameplay is derivative, and the story may have a few inconsistencies. But the caveats are so miniscule and the praise I can lay on it so great that you really need to own this game.
Images courtesy of Google.com