Monday, October 5, 2015

VGR Dead Space 2

In Space, turns out people actually do hear you scream if you scream long enough!

Here's a decent sequel that does all you expect from a sequel, and nothing more. And I'm okay with that.

VGR: Dead Space 2
From Visceral Games/Electronic Arts
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 and PC

Type Scifi survival horror/psychological horror game
Year 2011

It's back...

Isaac is back, and death came along!

Dead Space 2 is the direct sequel to the 2008 game Dead Space. You might find it hard to believe but in between both games there was quite a lot of material released to turn this one-off standalone game into a full-fledged franchise.

Several comics were published by Image Comics and IDW Publishing. There also was a novel by well known scifi authors. Not one, but two animated films. And let's not forget the rail shooter spinoff Dead Space: Extraction on the Wii! All that in between the release of Dead Space 1 and 2! So, yes, that's quite a lot for a game series only comprised of one game at the time.

Dead Space 2 was developed once more by Visceral Games, formerly known as EA Redwood Shores. Internally owned by Electronic Arts, but due to the success of Dead Space the studio wanted to distance itself from EA and start working on its own brand.

Once more the game is a science-fiction survival horror game, with some emphasis on Silent Hill-esque psychological horror. The game was once more released for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

Where the first game (and the spinoff on rails) was a collaborative effort between some of the best current comic book writers working together on a coherent story, this time EA enlisted the help of screenwriter and game designer Jeremy Bernstein, who worked on properties such as House MD, Pretty In Pink and Ben-10.

Dead Space 2 takes place some time after the events of the first episode. The story follows once more our protagonist Isaac Clarke's fighting against a new Necromorph outbreak.

After escaping the nightmare aboard the ship USG Ishimura, Isaac's escape pod was found by the Government... but his saviors are maybe worse than the creatures themselves.

Dead Space 2 takes entirely place aboard the Sprawl, a city-wide space station on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. After being found derelict in space, Isaac was brought aboard the station to be studied. Still traumatized by the events in which he lost his fiancée Nicole Brennan, Isaac has no memories of the past events and they studied him to understand what the Necromorphs are. These shape-changing alien parasites that turn dead corpses into monsters. Apparently from a few survivors like Isaac, they were able to get a lot more than they bargained for. From dead tissues the scientists were able to regrew new Necromorphs! But soon the entire station is infested with this disease.

Forced to escape without any tools at first, Isaac is able to make a run for it and retrieve a new suit. Apparently there's another Marker on the station, the cause behind all this. He escapes from the asylum part of the Sprawl and reach the living quarters. There he mets a woman, Daina Le Guin. She tells him she can cure his condition. Isaac meets another patient, Nolan Stross (one of the main character from Dead Space: Aftermath!), who was under the same treatments. They escape only to find the entire city now under invasion!

Isaac keeps having all kinds of hallucinations of Nicole, guiding him through most of the game. Daina betrays them. Isaac finds out how they used his knowledge to build new Markers and spread the infection for their cult, the church of Unitology, across the universe!!

Isaac comes across Ellie Langford, a pilot. The trio fight through the Sprawl, Isaac finally finds the original Ishimura intact, docked there for decontamination (and to retrieve as much data from the events of the first game!). Stross's condition gets worse and he attacks both of them.

In the end Isaac force Ellie to escape by herself, and stays behind at the heart of the city. Using Nicole's ghost Isaac reaches the Markers, faces Stross once and for all and finally gets rid of his memories of Nicole in one final mental fight.

Ellie comes crashing to save the day!

Gameplay-wise, Dead Space 2 offers more of the same. The game looks and plays almost identical to its predecessor, but it's a good thing since the gameplay was actually quite well tuned the first time around.

After a fantastic opener like you see so rarely these days, Isaac gets his trusty "Resource Integration Gear" (or RIG) suit back. This game does not feature a traditional HUD display or in-game menu for inventory and stats. Instead it's all real time-based, a system of holograms show all the info, weaponry or messages you need in-game. Which hads to the tension, since you need to be sure it's safe enough to do that.

Visually it's also pretty close to the first game.

The game is played through the same 3rd person perspective. Aside from the lack of a traditional pop up HUD system, it's all based on your typicial survival horror games. There's limited inventory space, you need to be careful with the limited amount or ammo or the weapons you decide to carry around. You can fire and walk at the same time though. There's a dozen really fun and unique scifi weapons, most make a comeback from the previous episode (and you get to carry a bonus weapon if you upload your previous save from DS1). All weapons have a very useful alternate fire.

All the "powers" are back, as an engineer Isaac can make use of a "stasis" ability to slow things down like doors or enemies and a telekinesis to grab or throw stuff. All this is often used to solve environmental puzzles, unlike classic Japanese survival horror games which puzzles often broke your suspension of disbelief.

The Necromorphs can be pretty though. Most enemies are in fact pretty resilient to your common attacks and you must adapt your strategies to them and find out the faster and easier way to dispose of them (through strategic dismemberment like in the first game for example). Certain Necromorphs can kill Isaac instantaneously if he gets to close to them, they will dismember you if you fail a quick QTE event).

There's all kinds of new variants of Necromorphs as well as some returning familiar forms. From the common Slasher monsters made up of twisted victims bodies to a lot creepier Stalkers that prey on you and are super quiet in order to ambush you, disturbing pack of deformed reanimated children Lurkers or the terrifying Ubermorph, which acts as a sort of NEMESIS-like opponent through the game.

Dead Space 2 is about 15-chapter long. Which is actually almost the double of Dead Space 1. And they're pretty darn' long episodes this time. The game ditches some of the open world-like approach of DS1 for a more straightforward linear adventure this time.

Like in DS1 Isaac can upgrade most of his equipment and abilities. And your armor can go through several upgrades in the game, including some DLC armors and bonus secret ones.

One of the most annoying form of puzzles prevents you from moving forward from time to time: in the form of Hacking mini-games! Super annoying this time, they're not necessary too easy or difficult enough, they just get in your way.

The zero-G environments are actually a lot more fun now! You can now maneuver in 3D space in all directions thanks to Isaac's thrusters on his suit! A great improvement on that front!

Dead Space 2 is all about playing the most efficient way possible. You need to be careful and conserve your precious ammo and go for the fast kills. It's not as difficult as old Resident Evil games, but it gets there if you don't equip yourself with the correct weapons. There's still some exploration as well despite the game being fairly linear. If you allow yourself to stray outside the main path you can find some hidden stash of ammo and items in most areas.

They didn't exactly revamp much of the visuals, although there's some great use of daylight levels and great lighting to make the game look slightly better than the first episode. It's always a feat to propose horror in broad daylight.

Isaac himself is a lot more vocal this time, he's given somewhat of a personality and he has a lot of screentime without his helmet in the story. He has a lot more presence in the story, since EA didn't want him to be a mute character anymore. He's more proactive in the events of the plot.

Dead Space 2 is one of these sequels that got it right. Sure, it doesn't bring anything new to the table. The first title was such a surprise and an original innovative entry in the genre, it proved to be so much more than just "Resident Evil 4 in space".

It's a game series that doesn't shy away from its direct inspirations.

It draws plenty of inspiration from the likes of Event Horizon and the Doom series (particularly Doom 3's atmosphere and gameplay), as well some Cronenberg-ian body horror and a bit of HP Lovecraft thrown in there for good measure. Taking the brutal dismemberment of John Carpenter's The Thing and the visceral atmosphere of the Silent Hill series. It added some great clever ideas.

Dead Space 2 takes everything that made the first DS original and only slightly updates it. Revamping the controls for the better, less tank-like. The scope of the story is much bigger, more ambitious. There are a lot more horrific Necromorph transformations waiting for you aboard the Sprawl.

It was the correct direction to take the franchise. There are some genuinely great unique creepy moments like getting to explore a daycare gone wrong. But then the game forces you to revisit the original USG Ishimura and it kind of feels like a chore... that doesn't know when to end.

Dead Space 2 also had a multiplayer mode, called Outbreak. Pitting two 4-player teams, human characters against Necromorphs! There are some mission objectives. Playing as the Necro is fun and all, they have a few abilities. But I personally never bothered with it really. But the idea seemed nice enough.

The game offers 5 difficulty levels, and an hardcore mode can be unlocked once you've beaten the story once. It allows you to play the game like a more classic survival horror, with limited saves (only 3 for the entire campaign!!), and it makes items harder to find and enemies a lot more though to kill. Plus there's no more checkpoints!!

I really liked how the incidental surviving character from the second Dead Space animated movie turned out to have such a big role in the story (almost making him the main villain of the game).

It's not a particularly difficult game, ammo and money is really easy to come by this time, but it was a particularly long game. At some point it just seems to necessary stretch on forever, it's one of those games that never seem to want to end. Specially the last few chapters seemed to drag on from one pointless survival to endless fight areas, facing infinite waves and waves of incoming enemies.

Overall, Dead Space 2 is a pretty good follow-up, as far as sequels go. It doesn't want to offer anything new really, just much more of the same.

My only really issue with it is that the game seems to stretch for a bit too long past its overdue welcome. At least the fantastic final act more than makes up for it, and made the story all the more captivating and intriguing in the end.

I still Recommend this game for any fans of the genre, or scifi horror. It's gory, flashy and more cinematic than ever. It tries to sell us a bit more on our protagonist this time around.

At the time Dead Space 2 also received a 2-chapter DLC campaign in the form of Dead Space 2: Severed. Set three years before the events of Dead Space: Extraction, it sort of tied the whole series together, but I just passed over this, so I won't comment much on this. It was a 2-player campaign served as a test run for ideas we would see in the actual sequel.

On the PS3 the game came with a Limited Edition which included a PS3 port of the Wii game Extraction, using the PlayStation Move. That port was pretty decent and offered updated high definition graphics for the rail shooter.

No surprise here, Dead Space 2 would be followed by a final entry in the trilogy, Dead Space 3! Released in February 2013, it sort of closed the saga (for now) with a much more ambitious plot and setting and actually new gameplay mechanics.

I give it:
2 / 3 Quacks!

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