The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
When Isaac Clarke boarded the derelict mining vessel USG Ishimura,
his actions were fueled by hope. His girlfriend Nicole was stranded on
this ship. He did everything in his power to reach her. His search only
led to death. The Ishimura was contaminated by a biological
threat. Everyone aboard it, including his love, was lost to the disease.
Although Isaac survived, he couldn’t outrun the contagion. He was
In Dead Space 2, Isaac isn’t a stalwart hero spitting
out one-liners. He’s a flawed character. His deteriorating state of mind
adds tension to an already unnerving atmosphere. He sees ghosts, and
his consciousness periodically shifts from reality to a horrifying
Not being able to trust a game’s protagonist puts the
player in a precarious position. I found myself second-guessing Isaac’s
actions. Is he battling people infected with the virus? Is his mind
creating apparitions? Or, worse yet, is it tricking him into
harming uninfected people? The race to find a cure becomes Isaac’s
The feeling of helplessness is established early on, and
the sequences that follow are drenched in suspense and ambiguity.
Compared to Isaac’s time aboard the Ishimura, Dead Space 2’s
scares are bigger, the tension is greater, and the threat created by the
virus makes every shot you fire count. This is one of the most
emotionally and physically draining games I’ve played.
2’s new setting, the Sprawl, a heavily populated space station built on
one of Saturn’s moons, contributes greatly to the heightened unease. The
Ishimura housed only its workforce, whereas the Sprawl is a home
for families. This means that the infection strikes children and even
newborns. Battling a seven-foot beast that vomits acidic bile and tries
to impale Isaac with razor-sharp appendages is one thing, but watching a
mother cradle a necromorph baby will haunt my nightmares until I die.
The Sprawl’s architecture is quite different than the Ishimura’s.
Well-lit shopping districts, personalized housing, and a rainbow-filled
nursery all provide a false sense of security and normalcy to scenarios
that are anything but. A room void of danger is often accompanied by a
claw scratching a door, rattling footsteps overhead, or muffled screams
coming from a distant area. The sound design is pitch-perfect, and the
accompanying score makes the scares seem bigger than they really are.
Isaac still uses many of the same tools from his previous entanglement,
the setting – and new threats that lurk within it – give Dead Space 2 a
decidedly different feel.
The team at Visceral Games has gone out
of its way to ensure that the player never feels comfortable during the
game. Not only does Isaac hallucinate, but creatures burst through
walls when you least expect them to.
At no point in this game did I
feel that Isaac had the upper hand. Enemies are not only greater in
number this time around, they are stronger and better protected.
De-limbing specific necromorph types takes an entire clip of ammo. I
often found myself using kinesis to hurl every object in a room at a
monster, praying that one shot impales the beast or at least knocks it
back long enough for me to reload.
While I appreciate the
challenge the team has created, I have to call them out on the design of
many of the combat scenarios. As Isaac is engaging a threat directly in
front of him, foes will drop from vents behind him. If Isaac had a
rearview mirror on his helmet, I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but
too many of my deaths came from an unregistered foe attacking me from
Tack these unfair spawns onto a game that is brutally
difficult to begin with, and many of your screams will come not from
horror, but frustration. The balance is perfect through the first half
of the game, allowing for fluid progression while still making you
thankful for every ammo clip an enemy drops. As the plot unravels, the
difficulty increases with each new encounter. Unbeatable foes are thrown
into both puzzle and standard combat operations, and elevator rides are
packed with necromorphs. I found that the normal difficulty setting
felt more like hard or expert in similar games.
As drained of
energy as I was at the end of battle, Dead Space 2 often rewarded my
effort with action-packed cinematics. Some of these moments blend
seamlessly with unique gameplay sequences, much like Uncharted 2 does. I
won’t spoil anything for you, but I will say that a sequence taking
place aboard a train and another involving a needle are front-runners
for Game Informer’s Moments of the Year for 2011.
zero-gravity sequences (of which there are many), and a handful of
clever “how do I open that door?” puzzles are peppered into the action
at just the right times.
The excitement also stretches to Dead
Space 2’s multiplayer component, where players get the chance to hunt
mankind as the necromorph legion.
In a similar vein to Valve’s
Left 4 Dead, all of the matches pit a human team against necromorphs. As
the human team feverishly attempts to complete objectives, the
necromorphs are tasked with slowing their progress, usually by ripping
off their heads or chopping off their legs. I enjoyed my time playing as
both sides. Controlling the necromorphs leads to cringe-worthy
highlight reels, but these murderous thrills are matched by the feeling
of accomplishment that comes with a well-oiled human team that
The matches are quickly paced thanks to spawn
points that allow necromorphs to crawl out of a vent just feet away
from a human opponent. The action is relentless, and post-match kill
counts are usually through the roof. Each kill earns you experience
points that unlock higher ranks (60 in total) and new armor as well as
weapon upgrades. In two hours of match time, I reached level four.
Another two hours got me to six. It will take days to reach the cap.
Space 2 is a monster of a sequel, offering bigger scares and more
excitement than I expected. I enjoyed Isaac as a silent protagonist in
the original game, and I find I like him even more now that he’s found
his voice. I’m still confused by the scientific explanations for the
contagion and how it is linked to the obelisk-like Marker, but I like
where Isaac’s story is going. The tease for Dead Space 3 has my head
spinning with questions.
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.