So, you’re walking down the blood covered hallway of a children’s daycare when suddenly the lights go out and your dead girlfriend starts whispering “twinkle twinkle little star” in your ear. The gun in your hand only has one charge left, and all you want is to make it to the next checkpoint or provisions stash, but then a necromorphed infant crawl from a box next to you and laughs, its explosive stomach ready to burst. You jump back and use your telekinesis to grab whatever you can to throw at the little abomination, a basketball. The baby goes limp after you ping the ball off its head. Almost immediately, a necromorph bursts from the ceiling and charges you, but the stasis blast you shoot freezes the beast in its place. You then fling the baby with your telekinesis at it, the explosions blows one of the beast’s razor sharp limbs off. Finally, you grab the limb with your telekinesis and plunge it into the beast’s chest, pinning it to a wall in the process.
Welcome to the Sprawl.
The game starts three years after what happened on the USG Ishimura, on a large space station called the “Sprawl.” As Isaac Clark, you wake up bound in a strait jacket, a necromorph infestation has taken the hold of the ward, and a woman named Daina is telling you to run.
I want to mention here that this is not a slow-paced physiological thriller. It took me three tries to escape the ward on normal difficulty, mostly because you have no health, no way to fight, and there’s a party of necros waiting around every wrong turn.
When Isaac does find a bit of safety, we’re introduced to his dementia, which Daina explains as being caused by the Marker (a large religious artifact that is the cause of the necromorph infestation). She assures Isaac though, that she can cure him, but first he has to get to her. We are also introduced to a fellow ward escapee named Stross who tells Isaac that he knows how to destroy the marker, but he is very quickly dismissed as being untrustworthy by Daina.
I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that things don’t really work out between Isaac and Daina, and he and Stross team up as a result. Destroying the marker and escaping becomes the overarching plot of the game from here on. Though I was somewhat disappointed that Visceral Games didn’t change the plot up a bit more from the first game, I did enjoy the large addition of subplots that filled out the story and its characters.
As the story progresses, Stross (who suffers from the same mental sickness as Isaac) and Isaac succumb more and more to their dementia. Nicole, Isaac’s girlfriend who died on the Ishimura, becomes the focus of his sickness, and while he is able to battle it internally, Stross slowly loses control. We’re also introduced to a pilot named Ellie Langford.Ellie plays a big role in helping Isaac destroy the marker and bringing some unexpected humor to story. I actually enjoyed her character the most because of her interactions with Isaac and how their banter often bordered on playful. In more than one way she saves Isaac, and I really hope Visceral Games makes her a key character in the series’ third installment.
Graphically the game looks great and has a heavy amount of detail (especially the necromorphs). I also liked that the various suits Isaac gets augment the gameplay in their own way (increased weapon damage for instance).
From a gameplay standpoint, Dead Space 2 is everything a sequel should be. Isaac has a lot more freedom of motion in combat and the controls are just more fluid and precise. Melee is much faster and stronger this time around, and being able to use telekinesis to kill necros is one of the best additions Visceral Games could have done to the combat. Having the option to impale an enemy with a nearby broomstick is just satisfying, especially when ammo is low. The overhauled zero gravity control was another welcomed change.
Probably the best addition though was the “new game+” system, which allows you to start a new game with all the upgrades you acquired in the previous playthrough. This brings a lot of replay value to a game that might otherwise be a rental.
I liked that Dead Space 1 had a very structured chapter system that would end with some kind of major event or boss fight. Sadly, this was mostly done away with in the sequel. Chapters are unnamed and just kind of run together, and while I enjoyed the game’s ending, the final boss fight (the only boss fight) wasn’t nearly as epic as the first game’s (even on the zealot difficulty it was pretty easy).
The overarching story was also poorly told in my opinion; how the data to make the marker got into Isaac’s head, how it was extracted, why Isaac was needed for the “convergence.” Mostly, I just thought that Visceral could have come up with a more grounded approach to the story, and left out all the unexplained science.
Finally, there’s the multiplayer. I played online for about two hours, and while it was fun to play as a necromorph (puking and slapping my way to victory), the game is completely unbalanced. As a human, you can expect a consistent 4 to 1 kill/death ratio and a 1 to 5 ratio if you are a necromorph. Since all the game types are objective based though, k/d doesn’t really matter, but it is a source of aggravation. There is also the fact that this is a pay-to-play game, meaning that used game advocates will have to shell out ten dollars to EA if they want to access the online features.
Visceral Games has done a great job making Isaac feel like a bad-ass in a terrifying and unpredictable world, and they did well in breathing some life into his character. I was disappointed in the lack of boss fights though, and while the multiplayer was an admirable effort, I would have liked to see that work put into the making of a longer campaign or even the addition of a coop mode.