Dead Space 2 - A Retrospective Review
How do you go about creating a sequel to what was a well-received, and good commercial success for a fresh new IP? Considering this was EA, there were plenty of things that could have gone wrong. Make no mistake, when Dead Space 2 was announced there were plenty of grumblings and anxious murmurs amongst fans of the original game. First off, Isaac could now talk, wouldn't that destroy the way he'd been established in Dead Space? More importantly, however, was the fear that the game would attempt to outdo the original, smothering the game's sense of atmosphere and horror in the name of spectacle.
Fortunately, things turned out surprisingly well; Dead Space 2 was a well-crafted, almost perfect sequel, if a tad conservative in its approach. The core of the gameplay was identical with only the occasional element receiving a brush-up. Note that I say perfect sequel, not a perfect game; if for some reason you never took to the original Dead Space then this game wasn't going to change your mind.
What did need to change though was the game's setting. Where would Isaac be after he'd escaped from the Ishimura? Sticking him on another ship would have been too repetitive, so instead the horrors of a Necromorph outbreak were moved to a space station orbiting one of the Saturn's moons. It was a smart decision, we'd already seen what the infection was like in close-quarters, now we'd get a chance to see how horrible things could get on an even bigger scale.
This translated to the enemy encounters too, one of the original game's weaker aspects. After playing for several hours the enemy designs became rather repetitive and you could settle into a few optimum combat strategies. New enemies included acid-spitting necromorphs that were capable of attacking your at long range. Once hit, your movement would be slowed to a crawl, making you easy pickings for the other aliens. However, it was the raptor-morphs that really showed off Dead Space 2's wider combat spaces. Hiding behind cover, these dinosaur-like aliens would come screaming towards before scurrying back to cover after taking a chunk of your health. The first time you encounter them, in the church of Unitology, is a tense encounter and one of the game's best set pieces.
While the new enemy variants were welcome, some of the weapon additions were less than stellar. A sniper rifle and a javelin gun just seemed to me to be rather ineffective at dealing with an threat that is mainly susceptible to having its limbs cut off. Funnily enough, the new weapons were actually pretty powerful but they seemed to be rather counter-intuitive weapons and it would have been better to have seen Isaac make use of some more industrial equipment.
Speaking of the church of Unitology, Visceral Studios did a terrific job of conveying story through the environment. Whilst Unitology had been touched on in the original game, the sequel expands on it and reveals just how much of an influence this religion has in Dead Space's universe. We typically associate science fiction with moving towards an increasingly secular and generally more atheist society, by having religion play such an important role in the game's world unsettles our genre expectations.
Taking place three years after the events of the original game, Dead Space 2 sees Isaac awaken to find things falling about around him once again. It's telling of the tone the game wants to set when your first moments in control of the main character are running away from a mass of aliens whilst strapped in a straitjacket. Given that three years had gone by, there were a lot of questions to be answered in Dead Space 2 and in-house developer Visceral Games did a good job of building up a sense of mystery.
The game's plot is split between the necromorph outbreak aboard the space station and Isaac's personal battle with the Markers, which is slowly driving him insane. By having both these elements, Dead Space 2 was able to nab anything it wanted to from both graphic horror as well as more psychological scares. There's still the problem though that the game isn't very scary. I mean, I got caught out by the odd jump scare, but it's not the same as cultivating a sense of uneasiness and disturbing the player. Of course, the first game wasn't that creepy either, but with Isaac losing his mind now it would have been interesting had the developers explored this aspect a little further in order to disturb the player. Still, the plot is enjoyable and reasonably well written, and the ability to take in more of the scope of the world that Isaac lives in was a nice touch.
Dead Space 2 - Severed
Dead Space 2 also saw the arrival of the first piece of story-based DLC for the franchise, focusing on some of the survivors of Dead Space: Extraction no less. Given Extraction's abysmal sales, it was unlikely we were ever going to see a full-fledged sequel so at least we got the next best thing.
The problem is...there's not much substance here. The plot is very simplistic: a pregnant Lexine is trapped at one end of the space station and Gabe is at the other, all hell is breaking loose and he's got to reach her before the surviving security forces do. It all alludes to Lexine's strange ability to nullify the Markers' influence but the episode is so short (consisting of just two chapters) that very little is revealed that we didn't already know.
The gameplay doesn't really add anything new either. There is the return of the "Twitchers", those Necromorphs from the first game that had fused with the stasis modules in the soldier's suits, but they're hardly a radical new addition, and it simply makes you wonder why they weren't included in the main game. What's more, the entire DLC recycles areas used in Isaac's story, giving the impression that this was mostly a way to grab some extra cash from Dead Space fans, rather than continue Gabe and Lexine's story in earnest.
Overall, Dead Space 2 did what a sequel should: polished the best bits while tweaking the parts that didn't quite work. It may be stubborn to any radical new changes but with heaps of atmosphere and an engaging plot, that didn't matter too much.
Dead Space 2 was released in January 2011 for 360, PS3 and PC.
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