Isaac's Alive and Kicking
The first Dead Space should, by rights have been a miserable failure. Designed by a studio known principally for licensed action games, yearly sports updates and uninspired sequels to workmanlike franchises, even the synopsis sounded tired.
Wearing its influences not so much on its sleeve as slap bang in the middle of its forehead, here was a space horror game that owed its premise and ambiance to movies such as Alien and Event Horizon, and its mechanics to games such as Doom 3 and Resident Evil 4.
And yet somehow the developer, in selecting the finest ingredients from its influences and introducing a clutch of fine ideas of its own, happened upon a space survival horror game that was both mesmerising and terrifying.
Dead Space 2 picks up where the first game left off, following the tortured journey of Isaac Clark, a space engineer hero. In the first game Clark answered the distress call of a stranded spaceship, the USG Ishimura, to find its belly overrun by Necromorphs, reanimated human corpses with flailing limbs and dislocated, snapping jaws.
Three years on from the events of Dead Space, and Isaac wakes in a psychiatric ward on a space station known only as The Sprawl. Now, instead of chasing after the promise of his lost girlfriend as in the first game, he is haunted by her, his decaying mind invaded by hellish visions.
But not all of the hellish visions are of Isaac's imagination. The Sprawl has also been overrun by Necromorphs and as soon as you break from the leather straps of your strait jacket, you're right back into the action, working your way through dark corridors and eerie rooms as you search for a way out of both the situation and your own madness.
Much of the emphasis is placed on combat. Isaac has access to various weapons, up to four of which can be equipped at any one time. In contrast to most shooting games, the weak spot on all Necromorphs is their limbs, and the quickest way to kill an enemy is to incapacitate them by shooting off their arms and legs and stomping on their head with a heavy boot.
Additionally, Isaac can use telekinesis powers to lift objects in the environment up and fire them into enemies. Finally, a 'statis' shot, when accurately fired at an enemy, will stop them dead in their tracks for a few seconds, especially useful for taking down the Stalkers, mangy wolf-like creatures that sprint for your neck the moment you let your guard down.
It's not all tense shooting on The Sprawl, however, as numerous puzzles block your progress through the game. At times you'll need to use your 'Statis' shots to, for example, slow the shuttering of a malfunctioning door while, at others, you'll need to replace broken batteries with your telekinesis powers.
The combination of combat, puzzles and, of course, those set pieces battles the first game executed so successfully make for a fresh, intriguing mix of play.
Sounds of Silence
Nevertheless, it's developer Visceral's unrivalled ability to deliver an audio-visual treat wherein the game's greatest appeal lies. The sound design is exemplary, rendering the muffled silence of floating through zero gravity space with just as much effectiveness as the stifled groans of unseen enemies.
Likewise, Dead Space 2's environment artists deliver a smorgasbord of interesting environments within The Sprawl, from tall ceilinged churches with intricate strained glass windows, to horror clichés such a nurseries.
Best played at its hardest difficulty level with the lights turned off, Dead Space 2 is a ghost train ride of a experience, a tense horror game that plays games with your mind through sights and sounds, before trying to eat it out with a Necromorph bursting through a wall. Survival horror rarely epitomized its terms so well.
- Unrivalled atmosphere.
- Lots of game modes to keep you busy.
- Exemplary sound design.
- Linear design.
- Relies heavily on horror clichés.
- Story is of mixed quality.