Dead Space 2


Written by Chris Price
31 Monday 31st January 2011

The likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill have gained serious followings off their characters and storylines – that I’d argue aren’t totally deserved.They’ve evolved an uneven legacy over years - as milestones of the gaming horror genre, perhaps due to their stubborn inability to ‘give it up’ (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil Survivor 1 & 2). But then Dead Space arrived to dig its squishy tendrils into the horror genre. And it’s already gathering the admiration of some of the genre's biggest hitters – and deservedly so based on the evidence of Dead Space 2.

The story's penned by some serious comic talent, including cult comic author turned socio-cultural commentator Warren Ellis, Rick Remender (The Punisher) and Antony Johnston (Wasteland). It’s bred of quality stock, it’s already spawned several novels, an animated film and now a second game. Shit, it’s even got its own Wiki.

The comprehensive story is based around a ‘planet-cracking’ and the discovery of  an alien totem known as The Marker. Dead Space 2 cleverly gives any n00bs a little introduction trailer before dumping you into the body of Isaac Clarke. Part engineer, part  fruitcake, all action.

After initially volunteering to answer a distress call on the USG Ishimura, to rescue his loved one, he’s now captive on an isolated mining installation known as 'The Sprawl'. And it quickly becomes apparent that the alien menace of Necromorphs (poultry-esque aliens and crispy reanimated corpses) that he escaped in the first episode have followed him. And he’s also suddenly rather in demand with The Sprawl’s remaining inhabitants – dead or alive.

Dead Space 2 is a third-person action sci-fi, very much adopting the blueprint of classic action-horror Resident Evil 4. It also happily splashes away in a puddle of gore, tongue firmly jammed in its cheek. Imagine Event Horizon remade by John Carpenter and you’re halfway there. It’s comic book horror hokum - stylish, uneasy and loaded with detail and effective flourishes. Then add a sprinkle of base human instinct. Humans, eh? Always trying to ice skate uphill.

Isaac’s engineering background befits him with an arsenal of construction lasers and explosive charges, each with two modes of fire. Handy, considering the best way to deal with a Necromorph is a spot of DIY amputation, with different ones reacting differently to what’s liberated from their body.

But the games greatest asset is Isaac’s Resource Integration Gear (RIG) Suit. A handy bit of jumpsuit tech that apparently we’ll all be wearing in the future. The basic Engineering RIG variant grants you two abilities key to the best bits of DS2. Stasis slows down time for targeted amputation from quicker enemies as well as puzzle solving (crawling through shutting doors, closing burst airlocks). Kinesis also allows both picking up distant items, wrenching open doors but also picking up enemy limbs and flinging them back at their owners – sometimes proving the most effective way of dispatch, and an increasingly important skill as ammo is limited and resources regularly run dry.

Dead Space 2 might pull its tricks from a spectacularly well-worn box, but it does so effectively that the result is a game saturated in atmosphere. Isaac is isolated, running low on equipment and slowly going nuts. You learn as he learns. The game constructs the narrative via each section of the complex, lending visual clues to the chaos The Marker has wrought – creating a rich visual language befitting the images incepted by any quality horror page-turner.

The environment is a matrix of anxiety - bloodstained apartment complexes, frosted cryostasis chambers, ceremonial cathedrals. All bathed in darkness, illuminated by flickering incidental luminescence, projecting twisted shadows and highlighting glimpses of threat scuttling back into the shadows. The soundtrack of echoed cries for help, crackling radio broadcasts and the squelch of human organs underfoot provides a worthy accompaniment to the visuals.

All in game menus, updates and storyline nudges are either learnt from incidental videos and radio broadcasts, or via a hologram display from the RIG - eschewing a traditional fixed HUD to ensure the illusion remains unbroken throughout. The equilibrium between quiet and loud, dark and light is perfectly balanced – from blind, claustrophobic torch-lit battles and floating blistered hangars, to the silence of a zero gravity vacuum and some stark visual imagery lent by Isaac’s slow maddening.

Dead Space 2 also sees fit to bring a multiplayer mode to the series. The Sprawl’s security forces aim to complete an objective while being hunted by a team of Necromorphs. Five maps are playable currently, each providing ample arenas for heavy duty gunplay from the humans, versus team dissection by the aliens. The latter excels – whereas the humans can lend aid to each other, the alien threat requires teamwork for maximum effectiveness – but worth it for the money shot that the execution moves each class can deliver. It’s a worthy value addition - but Dead Space 2 is best savoured alone. This is a solitary mission.

Dead Space 2 delivers all its shocks with such conviction and panache, it’s not hard to get immersed without having to subscribe to some huge sci-fi back story. It’s a darn good action game, liberally wrapped in layers of intrigue and horror shocks. Having ignited the passions of sci-fi writers, the story looks set to expand further – and on inspection Dead Space deserves to be straddle both the greatest action and horror game series charts.

Dead Space 2 is out now on PS3, 360 and PC

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