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'Dead Space 2' screams silently

Feb 23, 2011

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Dead Space 2At first glance, Dead Space 2 has everything a horror game needs to be considered great - one of the most harrowing opening sequences ever made for a game, terrifying creatures, amazing lighting and sound effects that will have your pulse racing, and a handful of spectacular setpieces.

Problem is, all of this stuff works well in the first three or four hours of the campaign, but after that it just becomes predictable and, worst of all in a game with the words 'Dead' and 'Space' in its title, not very scary.

In this sequel to the Visceral Games-developed 2008 title, protagonist Isaac Clarke wakes up after being in a coma for three years. He's on a new space station called the Sprawl and it takes all of about 30 seconds for him to see - up close and very personal - that all hell is breaking loose and he needs to get somewhere safe.

After a thrilling opening sequence that sees Isaac traverse several monster-filled rooms while stuck in a straitjacket, the game moves toward the dark and moody atmosphere that will present itself for the majority of the remainder of the campaign.

Dead Space 2Now, every horror fan knows that for the most part, it's the things you can't see that tend to be scariest. It's the reason why 'Alien' is known as one of the creepiest movies ever made while 'Alien Resurrection' is barely a footnote in the series. Dead Space 2 makes excellent use of its lighting system to mess with the player's mind in this way. You'll glance at a corner of a room and aim your weapon, thinking something is nearby when in reality, it's merely a shadow of a harmless inanimate object. Mixed with the bumps and clatters of nearby objects, it makes for some very tense moments.

Even the in-your-face moments initially are pretty cool. You've barely recovered up your Plasma Cutter and loaded it up with some ammo before some blade-limbed necromorphs are running at you at full speed in a small, dark room.

Unfortunately, the game endlessly devolves into this plot device to elicit some cheap scares. A typical horror movie runs from an-hour-and-a-half to two hours, so the good ones can use these tropes a few times without becoming overused. The Dead Space 2 campaign is fairly meaty, and it doesn't take long before the whole 'enter room, wait for monsters, kill monsters' thing becomes eye-rollingly repetitive.

It's also cheap. Countless rooms were clearly set up to have Isaac ambushed, with enemies spawning from behind, and oddly enough, it's these ones that choose not to scream as they hurtle toward you, unlike every other creature in the game. It's like they're in front of a camera that's being controlled by Eli Roth or Wes Craven, and the enemies are waiting for their big chance to appear in the latest, greatest horror flick.

Dead Space 2Oh, and for all the talk about how Dead Space 2 is what the Resident Evil series should be (and it definitely borrows a lot from that Capcom game), it manages to not borrow something from Resident Evil that it so desperately needs - the ability to do a 180-degree turn. And the whole 'being able to move while shooting' thing? Absolutely useless in this game.

Speaking of borrowing, this is another area where Dead Space 2 falters. It practically plagiarizes key plot points from the 1997 movie 'Event Horizon'. From the setting itself (an empty space station), to the haunted main character whose wife committed suicide, to individual scenes where characters enter rooms in zero gravity and see body parts floating around, it all reeks of being unoriginal.

All of this said, the game has its moments. There's no doubt that the folks at Visceral Games put a ton of love into the titles they make. The original 'Dead Space' as well as 'Dante's Inferno' clearly show this, and 'Dead Space 2' is no exception.

The game has amazing production values, and the setpieces early on are something to behold. Hurtling through an abandoned subway train full of necromorphs or fighting off a massive beast while hanging upside down are truly thrilling. Again though, there simply aren't enough of these moments to break the game up into something less repetitive.

Dead Space 2The minor RPG elements are just as frustrating. Players can upgrade Isaac's engineering suit and weapons using 'nodes', but nodes are so few and far between, it becomes a lesson in frustration trying to figure out what to upgrade.

Another gameplay feature that is borrowed - to much lesser success - from more recent Resident Evil games is the upgradeable carrying capacity. Isaac starts off with a very limited number of slots in which to carry ammo, health packs, treasures, etc. Like the weapon/suit upgrade system, though, it's hugely frustrating to clear out a room full of enemies, only to be forced to leave all the goodies you rightfully earned on the ground because your pack is full and there isn't a safe nearby to store them. Watch how quickly that feeling of accomplishment flies into the cold, empty void of space.

With publisher EA currently obsessed with online play, Dead Space 2 comes with a multiplayer component as well. Just like the campaign, it can be quite fun for a little while, but it quickly loses its lustre.

There is only one game mode available, with two teams of four being split up between groups of Humans and Necromorphs. Humans have a limited time to finish objectives such as recovering data discs or activating computers (or something like that), while the Necromorphs' only task is to kill as many humans as possible in order to stop them from finishing all their objectives.

Dead Space 2It's a neat idea, especially with putting players into the roles of enemies such as the Pack (creepy babies that love to chew human flesh) or the Puker (c'mon - it's pretty self-explanatory!). There's a basic level upgrade system available as well, but none of this can keep the multiplayer mode from staying interesting for any lengthy period of time.

It's a good try, and it certainly keeps with the game's atmosphere, but with dozens upon dozens of fully-fleshed out multiplayer offerings available, the one found in Dead Space 2 is barely a blip on the radar.

Video game sequels typically do a good job of fixing the problems found in their predecessors, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. The original 'Dead Space' showed a lot of promise, but the same adjective can be used for 'Dead Space 2' - promising.

It has some genuinely creepy and gruesome moments, but it's almost as if it's trying too hard to scare the player. Taken as a whole, Dead Space 2 misses the mark in too many ways, and it's clear why the games and movies that influenced it are far superior.

 

Dead Space 2
Format: Playstation 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site: http://deadspace.ea.com/

Rating: 6 / 10

 
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