Reviews - Multi Platform
Written by Jayce Diaz Thursday, February 03 2011 11:44
The survival horror genre has been in a bit of a decline as of late. Classic franchises like Resident Evil have all but abandoned the scary, dimly-lit ways of its roots, adopting instead a more watered down for-everybody experience. Enter Dead Space 2, the long-awaited follow up to the original game from 2008. During development, gamers and critics alike wondered if DS2 would retain the horror elements or the original, or opt to go the path of so many others and convert into a mindless shooter/action game. Things were made even less clear when the only promotional videos released were intense action and gunplay scenes.
Let's make this clear right now. Dead Space 2 is a horror game. A scary, scary horror game.
Dead Space 2
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox 360 / PS3 (Reviewed) / PC
Players again take control of engineer Isaac Clarke, who survived the original game only to wake up in the middle of another Necromorph infestation. This time it all goes down in the Sprawl, a city built on the remnants of Saturn's moon Titan. Isaac has no idea where he is or how he got there, and more importantly, how the mutated dead have spread across the city.
The game does a great job emphasizing the survival in Survival Horror; you are thrown into the game dazed and confused, and must literally run for your life while people around you are being ripped to shreds. It's an amazing way to start the player off, and I applaud them for striking the perfect balance of urgency and difficulty. At no moment did I ever feel safe, yet I didn't die in the game until I was able to defend myself. I'm sure things would have been different if I stopped to look around, but with all the chaos around me and monsters coming my way, I was just too scared not to run. It's that effective.
The game almost never lets up in the scare factor. As I said, you never really feel safe in this game. Familiar genre staples like desolate save rooms now contain enemies to combat. You have to be on your toes at all times. This is where you'd expect action to take center stage, but it doesn't. You don't go in guns blazing. There is no cover. You don't ever feel like a badass while killing monsters. You only feel relief and a grim realization that you barely survived. That is exactly how a survival horror game should make you feel.
The controls remain largely intact since the original game. You'll aim, shoot, and run just like you remember. Navigation has been improved, adding in alternate routes you can choose to get to save points and equipment stores. However, the biggest change comes from the zero-G navigation. No longer are you jumping from wall to wall to get to your destination. Isaac now has the ability to move about freely in space, offering 360 degree movement. Oddly, the game uses this mechanic almost exclusively for puzzle solving and navigation, with only a few instances where enemies would appear. While I wouldn't go as far as to call it a missed opportunity, I could imagine that being in a zero-G room filled with Necromorphs would be scary, fun, and hard as all hell.
It goes without saying that Dead Space 2 is one of the most visually stunning, awe-inspiring games of this generation. Beyond the standard high poly counts and hi-res textures, Dead Space 2 does an awesome job immersing the player with well-lit environments, believable atmosphere, incredible soundtrack, and the ability to make even a bright shopping plaza seem scary. The amount of detail that went into each area is simply staggering. Everywhere you look, there are signs that life once dwelled in this area; cups are left half filled, newspapers and documents are scattered on tables, and blood is in great abundance on floors, walls, ceilings, and beds. Automated announcements blare through speakers in the walls, layering on top of uneasy, suspenseful ambient music that reminds you of just how recently this place was considered safe to its citizens. Walk past an apartment door, and you can hear its occupant screaming in vain for help from within. More than a few times, this was enough to put me on high alert. I actually felt sad while traveling through the civilian quarters. Sobbing victims were heard and seen numerous times, and it's hard not to care about these poor souls.
The game is surprisingly long, and maintains its enjoyable factor throughout its 8-10 hour campaign. However, it would be a crime not to warn anyone of how horrendously bad the end boss was designed. Without going into spoilers, you have to shoot a certain object while avoiding attacks from swarms of undead children who constantly respawn. This object only appears after you've shot a specific enemy multiple times. Then, the object hides again, the main enemy (and swarms) reappear, and you do it all over again about four or five times. This wouldn't be so bad if the camera didn't have this filter applied to it that makes the game seem like it got caught in the middle of a sandstorm. This makes it nigh-impossible to see what you're doing, and moreover makes it hard to see the enemies onscreen. To make matters worse, the main enemy only has one attack (a one-hit-and-you're-dead attack at that), and can also teleport right next to you. Neat-o. There are no inventory shops of any kind prior to this encounter, so there's literally no way to prepare for it. This all comes after being chased through infested corridors for about 20 minutes by an invincible monster, so by the time you even get to this fight, most of your ammo and health is gone. The only way I was able to defeat the enemy in my condition (without resorting to much earlier saves I had) was to lower the difficulty right before the fight, which can disable trophies/achievements if you don't put it back right after the killshot. It was a tremendous oversight by the developer, and seemed like they were more interested in punishing the player rather than challenging them. It's a delicate design mantra that they completely failed. Fortunately, the end boss is the only moment that had this issue.
The online mode is entertaining, if a bit short-lived. Players are split into two teams, one being a group of engineers, the other a group of different Necromorphs. The engineer team has to recover a series of beacons from various locations on the map, return it to the base, and defend it while explosives are set and charged. The necromorphs must do everything they can to stop them. Once the round is over, the teams switch sides and do it all again. While it was fun, the repetition was enough to get me to stop playing after just a few hours. Days later, I don't have the urge to pick it up again. The teams were almost never balanced or evenly numbered, so I typically played with one or two less teammates than my opposing team did.
Dead Space 2 is a game that can single-handedly revive the Survival Horror genre. Capcom needs to either take note, or just fire the entire Resident Evil team and use Visceral Games for their next project. This game is proof that not only is the genre alive and kicking, but that it can also mix with other sub-genres and still come out as an amazing, scary-good experience. This landmark title will hopefully inspire the former kings (Silent Hill and Resident Evil) to get off their asses and make something that works. Here's to the future.
90 out of 100