Shocking and certainly not for children, Dead Space 2 is unrelenting but massively fun to play.
The eagerly-awaited sequel to one of 2008’s scariest games, Dead Space 2 puts players back in control of engineer Isaac Clarke, one of the unluckiest men of the 26th century. After barely escaping from the mutant-infested Ishimura mining ship in the first game he is now trapped in the Sprawl, a vast city on one of Saturn’s moons, amidst a second outbreak of monsters.
Necromorphs, hideous creatures that closely resemble the terrifying monster in John Carpenter’s The Thing, crawl out of the walls, floors and ceilings. They are incredibly resistant to damage, and can continue an assault even after being decapitated. Instead, aiming for individual limbs is the only way to slow them down.
This incredibly gory game definitely isn’t for younger players. The subtle scares from the first game have been replaced with more outright shocks, so the violence is more graphic and at times disturbing. Isaac is vulnerable to the faster Necromorphs that can quickly overwhelm him in melee combat, but ammunition is limited and save points are few and far between.
Locations are much more varied than the first game, taking inspiration from a number of classic science fiction films; crawling through claustrophobic maintenance shafts has echoes of Alien and the Sprawl itself closely resembles the city from Blade Runner, with massive skyscraper-sized screens showing evacuation procedures between an unending horizon of buildings. There are still plenty of tight corridors, but levels such as the ominous Unitology church add some much-needed variety to the game.
Players now get to see Isaac’s face and hear him talk, so he has much more of a personality than in the first game. His suit has been upgraded too; moving in zero-gravity is made much easier by the addition of jet boosters that allow for free movement. There’s a lot more gameplay variety thanks to these new abilities, including several freefalling sections where you fly through open space avoiding debris, and a short hacking mini-game to open some doors. You can buy different suits, as well as better weapons, at stores throughout the game, to add more inventory space or extra armour.
Graphically, Dead Space 2 is a whole level above the original game. Lighting effects are truly breath-taking, particularly the way Isaac’s visor illuminates dark corridors. Although it can be difficult to make out the detail in darker levels, each location looks stunning. The sound effects are fantastic, unnerving the player with a series of shuffles and bangs from behind each wall. Sometimes a lack of sound is just as effective, with Isaac’s heavy breathing the only noise you can hear when floating through open space.
The single player game can be finished in around ten hours but the multiplayer mode, new for the sequel, adds extra value. Teams of humans must complete a series of objectives, while the necromorph side tries to stop them. Matches are fun, but still inferior to Left4Dead, which is an obvious influence.
Ultimately, Dead Space 2 is a definite improvement on the first game, with many genuine scares and a gripping storyline. It benefits greatly from a wider variety of locations and gameplay elements, but retains what made the original such a success. Visually stunning and best played in the dark, you’ll definitely want to sleep with the light on afterwards.