Dead Space 2 Review - Great as a Game, Lacking as a Horror - User Reviews - www.GameInformer.com
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Dead Space 2 Review - Great as a Game, Lacking as a Horror

 

As a gamer, I'm not very experienced with horror games. I've only really played Dead Space and Resident Evil 5 (and that one doesn't really count anyway), so the only real knowledge of horror games is what I've read or watched. Therefore, this review with basically be from a 'horror newbie', and will be reviewed on what I think a horror game should be, rather than basing it on what other horror games have done (other than the first Dead Space obviously).

As a game, Dead Space 2 is still great. The gameplay is still fun, the use of music and unsettling sounds is still used incredibly (a distinctive element of the first), and the Dead Space universe is expanded further, but as both a horror game and a sequel, Dead Space 2 is disappointing. By no means is Dead Space 2 a bad or even mediocre game, but as a horror game it's lacking, and as a sequel it feels a bit worthless considering how little the game adds gameplay and story-wise.

As a horror game, Dead Space 2 doesn't live up to the standard set by its predecessor, but I'm not surprised. Wanting Dead Space to become a major AAA franchise, there was little else the developer Visceral could do in the sequel other than adding more action and more set pieces. Unfortunately, this often offsets the gruesome and horrific atmosphere as the scare factor of the necromorphs wears off quickly (especially since most of us already experienced the scare tactics during the first). While the game can definitely be unsettling at times, especially when you return to the Ishimura (though you need to have played the first to feel that eerie return), Dead Space isn't very scary aside from the very few jump scares.

 

Aside from the few jump scares, Dead Space 2 is lacking as a horror game.

 

With the new emphasis on scale, action and spectacle in an attempt to 'outdo' the previous instalment, the player is basically granted more power to go along with the higher enemy count. As any gamer should know, granting the player any sort of real power in a horror-survival game isn't really the right move.

Sure, almost every horror-survival game has some sort of self-defence for the player (though Amnesia was terrifying without any whatsoever), but Dead Space 2 gives the player too much power, often giving them the impression that they're playing a *** (especially with those awesome engineering suits). Dead Space 2 doesn't let the player feel vulnerable enough, like they're actually trying to simply survive rather than just trying to kill everything that attacks you. The first sequence in the game, where you only have a flashlight with no armour, is actually the scariest and most tense part in the game because you're actually afraid of any necromorphs attacking you when you're so vulnerable.

 

The introduction to Dead Space 2 is one of it's best sequences.

 

Like I said earlier, I personally found Dead Space 2 disappointing as a sequel as well, and not only as a horror game. As a sequel, Dead Space 2 doesn't add enough, change enough or even provide a worthwhile-enough narrative to justify itself as such. Of course there were new environments, etc. , but because the game's overall atmosphere is basically the same as the first it feels more like just 'more Dead Space'. And because of this, all the new additions and refinements made in Dead Space 2 simply make it feel like an expanded version of the original.

The narrative is another aspect that, in my opinion, fails to justify its status as a numbered instalment.

While it's generally not bad, the narrative of Dead Space 2 fails to keep the player properly engaged in the story, and often squanders some pretty great plot devices just to keep the action going which, again, really shouldn't have been such a priority in its design. I'll try not to spoil too much, but while the 'insanity' subplot is used much more effectively towards the very end, Dead Space 2 generally wastes the potential of such a unique and interesting plot device.

The concept of Isaac's growing mental instability could have easily been developed much better than it was, especially when they just waste it by blaming the entire ordeal on the Marker, rather than having it represent Isaac's trauma and fears and actually developing Isaac as a much deeper and complex character.

But this is just my opinion and, at least at the moment, I'm a very big fan of the concept of insanity in narratives and was excited to see what a AAA game like Dead Space could achieve with such a subject.

 

As a character, Isaac Clarke's development was disappointing.

 

The vent sequences are almost entirely wasted and are largely useless, aside from the two points where they're actually used differently. Other than those two points in the game (and they're both pretty forgettable), the potential of these occasional moments could have been used much better.

Bodies fade away often, so you can't 'loot' their bodies afterwards. This is either because of the increased number of enemies and the engine's limitations, the Australian rating system (the restriction of body piles) or simply for game balance, but especially towards the end of the game where you can really need some health or ammo, it can grow annoying. Not much of an issue, just another point I noticed.

Sorry about rambling on about wasted potential and otherwise unimportant issues, and that's generally how I critique games (though this time I'm just starting with the bad), but try and stay with me.

Now to what it did right. While obviously I'm disappointed with various aspects of Dead Space 2, this doesn't really make it any worse of a game. Dead Space 2 continues the franchise well and despite its lack of innovation or renovation, not every game needs to practically be remade to be considered a great game (which has been shown with a few franchises actually).

The gameplay, like the first, is still tense and tight, with the still-innovative HUD working just as well as it did last time. There a few new weapons that refresh the palette a little bit, but, aside from being able to stake enemies with even their own limb (which is really fun) and a few other revisions; the combat is generally unchanged from the first.

Action works well in the start (especially on a harder difficulty), where it's in short and fast bursts, forcing you to think and aim fast. Unfortunately, because of the game's focus on action, it quickly boils down to just waiting for the action to happen instead, and generally becomes more predictable as the game progresses and becomes more and more centred on action. Actually, in the final stretch, the game feels like it's just throwing enemies at you from all directions instead of trying to properly pace the finale (which can be very frustrating), and it's completely unnecessary if it's simply for the sake of increasing difficulty.

 

The atmosphere of Dead Space 2 continues as the series' greatest element.

 

The audio is incredible and is one of the major elements of Dead Space's stellar atmosphere. With its audio, Dead Space can freak you out simply from walking, as well as just bumping into objects that fall and echo through the environment. Then there are all the necromorphs (that shouldn't need an explanation) and the eerie and haunting music throughout the game that rounds out the entire game's ensemble, and, along with the lighting, the unique and creepy atmosphere of Dead Space.

The lighting is the other major element that works to create this atmosphere. The player's flashlight, the dim neon lights spread throughout it all and the isolated areas of light that create a sense of safety; it all works together with the countless number of audio and musical cues to craft such an effective atmosphere that can make Dead Space so scary.

Where this masterful atmosphere is the most effective is easily on the abandoned Ishimura, the setting of the first Dead Space that you end up revisiting in the second.

There are a number of reasons the Ishimura is the scariest setting in the second game as well, but they only matter if you've played the first, and this was definitely what Visceral was aiming for when they brought the player back to the 'deserted' ship. A lot of the setting's effectiveness relies on the players own experience of the Ishimura, purposely exploiting some of the conventions and sequences of the first to bring the player back into that state of mind, creating an atmosphere that can be so unsettling.

For example, the decontamination centre from the first returns, where the very loud processes draws a lot of necromorphs in (naturally). Playing off that in the second, the player has to wait in there uncomfortably while necromorphs roar around them, with no combat at all. Sequences like these can be extremely effective, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was used so well.

Another point I want to bring up are the puzzles. While I don't know how many there are compared to the first, I was disappointed with how few puzzles there were in Dead Space 2. Just a minor complaint, but puzzles are always good to break up the action so it would've been nice to see more of them.

Last thing: Personally, I haven't played the multiplayer (I was borrowing the game from a friend), though I've seen my friend play it before. While I don't think it's that great an addition because I don't think the gameplay lends itself well to multiplayer, I don't really have any real complaints about it because I wasn't really expecting much from it in the first place.  Overall, Dead Space 2 is a very good game, despite my personal disappointments with it. The game plays and controls very well, the narrative provides a lot of interesting moments (at least), and audio and lighting is still used incredibly well to create such an unsettling atmosphere. While I don't think it reaches the standards of the first as a horror game, Dead Space 2 is still an amazing game and at least worth a look. 

 

 

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