The world of Dead Space spans video games, graphic novels, animation features, motion comics, a sci-horror novel, and an interactive web site. If you have yet to brave immersion into this nightmarish world, perhaps the recent release of Dead Space 2 from E.A. and Visceral Games will provide the uninitiated with a good jumping in point.
Like the preceding games, Dead Space 2 is science fiction flavored survival horror. In a market saturated with space shoot-em-ups, Dead Space 2 separates itself from the pack by putting emphasis on the horror aspect – with thrilling results. This third person shooter will suck you in and make your trigger finger twitchy. A masterful blend of superb sound effects, fast and often cunning enemies, tense lighting, and limited ammunition are expertly used to great effect. The “M” mature rating assures that this white knuckle ride will not be watered down. This game offers up a large helping of good, old-fashioned, ultra violence. The developers deserve high praise for not compromising their game to go after a lower ESRB rating in the hope of boosting sales.
Dead Space 2 has an optional cinematic summary that can be viewed to refresh your memory about events from previous games, or be used to get players new to the franchise up to speed. The first game took place in 2508. You play as a crew engineer named Isaac Clark aboard the spacecraft USG Kellion. The Kellion is responding to a distress call from the USG Ishimura, the flagship in a fleet of “planet-cracking” vessels that mine other planets in order to resupply a resource exhausted Earth. As an added incentive, this mission provides a chance for Isaac to reunite with his girlfriend Nicole Brennan, who serves on the Ishimura’s medical staff. After a controlled crash landing mishap, things go from bad to worse. The Ishimura is a gore-strewn ghost ship inhabited by vicious necromorphs and few survivors. Isaac pieces together what horrors have occurred through various text and audio logs that he finds scattered throughout the ship. A cult conspiracy to recover an obelisk-like relic known as the “Red Marker” that was found during the Ishimura’s mining operation seems to account for the chaotic state of affairs. The Marker has the mysterious power to cause hallucinations, mass hysteria, and other nefarious unpleasantries. It is up to Isaac to find Nicole, repair the ship, and try to escape with his life.
Three years later, we catch up with Isaac in Dead Space 2. He awakes in the metropolitan space outpost known as “The Sprawl”, built on the planet-cracked remains of Saturn’s moon Titan. Though wearing a straightjacket and in a mental ward, our protagonist is still alive. We finally get a good look at his face that was obscured throughout the first game. Isaac’s physical and chemical restraint induced quiet time is short lived. A doctor attending to Isaac is soon ambushed and brutally murdered by a necromorph as a new outbreak begins. You take control of Isaac as he attempts a terrifying and defenseless escape bound in a straightjacket. It quickly becomes clear our hero is still suffering from the Marker’s effects and not of sound mind. Violent hallucinations and memory gaps plague him and abstract his reality. He soon discovers that he has been an unwitting participant in experimentation, and he is not the only one. It is once again up to Isaac to stay alive by fighting off the necromorphic hordes and unravel what is happening here in the Sprawl.
Dead Space 2 succeeds brilliantly on the horror front. Enemy necromorphs must have their limbs shot or cut off if you hope to kill them. Shoot off their legs (or even just the head) and they will scramble at you using their arms. Take off an arm and they may go down, only to pop up and attack as you move in to loot their bodies. They also hide among other corpses and wait for you to get close before springing to life. Thankfully you can stomp on fallen necromorphs to ensure that they stay down. This method yields a very satisfying splatter of gore and conserves ammunition. You can also throw objects with telekinesis and use melee when ammunition is scarce, or just to change things up a bit. The hostiles can move surprisingly fast. Miss a shot and they can be on you in a heartbeat. At times they can overwhelm you with sheer numbers. Enemy A.I. is done well for the most part. They can quietly sneak up behind unaware players and rip them in half, work as teams, or take alternate routes to avoid your mines and line of fire. They also love to pop out ceiling and wall vents. You must remain vigilant if you hope to survive.
Ambient sound effects play a huge role in this title. I am going to go out on a limb here and say it is possibly the best sound work I have ever experienced in a game. Creatures emit hair-raising, other-worldly screams and shrieks. You hear scratches in the floor, unseen things move through vents above, a metal canister drops to the floor just up ahead and out of sight, followed by retreating footsteps. The sound is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. More than once I paused the game to see what my cat had knocked over or was into, only to belatedly realize I had been fooled by the amazing sound effects. The voice-over work and the musical score are solid as well.
Game graphics are more varied and polished – as would be expected from a recently released sequel. Lighting and darkness are used very well. Entering a pitch black room with only the light on your gun to illuminate the way adds mood and suspense. The health indication lights on Isaac’s suit, advertisements and video walls help to break up the futuristic, but at times a bit sterile color palette. I love the clean design aesthetic of having your H.U.D. (heads up display) integrated onto Isaac’s suit and ammo counts displayed on your currently selected weapon. I wish more games would emulate this approach. Having no H.U.D. in the corner or edges of the screen keeps the focus of the game firmly on the characters and action.
Dead Space 2 does have a few new tricks up its sleeve. Aside from the polished graphics and all new story and world, the pacing of the game has improved. The plot does a good job of exploring Isaac’s inner demons and adds depth to his character. Players can now hack certain doors and devices to access new areas and help them along the way. Slowing objects and enemies down with stasis now has a more prominent role thanks to a new system that allows stasis to recharge over time in addition to the recharge packs and stations found in the previous games. A new weapon worthy of mention is a javelin gun that can alt fire an electric current through the last projectile you launched. New protective suits will not only open up more inventory slots and protect Isaac, but help him change up his look as well. Isaac’s suit now has little propulsion jets that allow for much better maneuverability in zero-gravity. New enemies that hunt in packs and work together will make you grateful for the new weapons and armor. There is also a new Dead Space 2 Online mode that allows users to play as humans or necromorphs in online matches against other players. The PS3 version includes a copy of Dead Space: Extraction, an on the rails shooter that was previously a Wii exclusive, but can now be played using Sony’s Move controller.
A small but common complaint about the first game was that players often felt like errand boys for in game N.P.C.s with questionable motives. You run around risking your life repairing things, while they sit safely sealed in a room and give orders. In this sequel that feeling is somewhat diminished. Other characters are out and about working for the common good. You will still spend lots of time trying to repair parts of the Sprawl and solving dilemmas with seemingly little plot advancement. At least this time there is not all the backtracking and new areas are not recycled like in the first game. There is still plenty of tense action along the way.
I would highly recommend this game to other people who enjoy science fiction and/or horror. It can be a bit creepy and nerve wracking at first, but will become less so as you acclimate to the game and upgrade your weapons and armor. After that, roll up your sleeves, turn out the lights, crank up the volume and enjoy one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. Dead Space 2 is scarily good!
Can’t get enough Dead Space or want to explore even more?
NoKnownSurvivors.com is an experiential, interactive web site that allows visitors to explore the narrative world of Dead Space.
Comics and Graphic Novels:
Dead Space: An Image comic book prequel to the video game of the same name. Written by: Antony Johnson Art by: Ben Templesmith
Dead Space: Extraction: An Image comic book based on the video game of the same name. Written by: Antony Johnson Art by: Ben Templesmith
Dead Space: Salvage: Is a new 2010 graphic novel in the Dead Space series. Written by: Antony Johnson Art by:Christopher Shy
Dead Space: Martyr: Is a prequel novel written by: B.K. Evenson
Dead Space: Downfall: Is the animated film prequel to Dead Space. It was developed by Film Roman and released on Blu-Ray and DVD. It highlights the events leading up to the Dead Space game and shows how the necromorph infections spread to the USG Ishimura from the mining colony on Aegis 7.
Dead Space: Aftermath: Is a new full length animated feature released on January 24, 2011. Both CG and traditional animation are used to explore events directly after the first game leading up to Dead Space 2.