Dead Space 2 picks up from where Dead Space reluctantly closed, picking up that same legacy on the way. A renewed slew of ghoulish aliens are back and lining up for frantic disembowelment and frenetic limb-chopping, but not before they make you mess yourself with some of the most chilling survival horror since Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
After the lacklustre boss battle of the original game, part two kicks off in similar monumental stead to the first game’s intro. The engineer-turned-space marine, Isaac Clarke, is strapped away in a straightjacket after a bit of backstory that gives our character a voice (literally) and sets us up for the haunting psychosis sub-plot that follows. Jerked out of slumber by a space station in chaos, Isaac is stuck fixed to the ground as a crew member attempts to pry him free, telling of the all-too-familiar alien hellstorm that’s taken over the ship. As he attempts to cut you loose, a shadow-lurking set of hook-hands shoot out over his shoulder, followed by the jaws of a disfigured humanoid alien esting your rescuer. Your only choice is to run, weaponless with your arms strapped to your chest. The choreographed beauty of the horror kicks in from here as monsters smash into your path from exploding windows, gnashing and slicing at your heels.
Dead Space plays on your expectations but never falls into them. At any given point, a pincer-clad, wall climbing monster can drop from a vent in the ceiling to gnaw at your throat. Cavernous, dimly-lit corridors could instantly flood with a horde of space zombies, or be completely bare when you’re expecting the worst. You’re constantly on your toes in this unrelenting survival horror revival.
Though once you hit mid-game and beyond, you’ll begin to expect this unexpected and there is the slight descent into formula – even if that formula mixes itself up. Corridor, switch to press to unlock that door, aliens. Bigger corridor, big room, lots more aliens. But there’s enough differentiation inbetween to keep it fresh, and it never really stops being scary. In fact, it’s one of the few games that do provide genuine chills.
Tapping the vein of Resident Evil 4, Dead Space 2 takes you into the game from an over-the-shoulder perspective, though makes the experience more involving that the CapCom-petition. The typical heads up display is completely eliminated for an ammo indicator and health bar cleverly attached to the player’s body. Eliminating the layer between yourself and the action is just one more step into the immersion. The graphics are brilliant, but it’s the lighting that really sells it. The colour palette may not be rich, but fluorescent lighting on decaying steel casts gut-wretching shadows that could make a children’s nursery scary – oh wait, it actually does that.
Much of this game is the same as the original, and with good reason – Dead Space was amazing. Though the devs have injected the second installation with a barrage of new, horrendous enemies and new tools for slicing them up. Defenestration is one of the best ways to clear a room – shoot out a precariously set window as suck everything into space – including yourself if your reflexes aren’t up the scratch.
Dead Space 2 ramps up on characterisation to have a more involving experience with the main character and the environment around him. The dingy corridors are still star locales, but larger set pieces are littered throughout that tell a story of the real people who were stuck between a bunch of aliens, space and a hard place. Most haunting here are the daycares and playgrounds, accessorised with toys and painted with blood. The children from here have transformed into the newest and one of the freakiest alien characters (spoiler alert: the aliens were once people, but that’s no surprise if you’ve played the original) that run at you in hordes like a pack of wild Golems from Lord of the Rings. There’s something unsettling about sawing the legs off little aliens that you know were once kids, even if it is a game. But that just adds to the brilliant dystopia of Dead Space.
The game pays homage to the original by taking players back to the Ishimura without just recycling maps from the first game. But there are certain areas you’ll recognise with a likeness to post traumatic stress when you come to them, expecting the frights you were first delivered all those years ago. Old features have been updated, like the space-walking sections that will have you hovering in space controlled by boosters in your suit rather than jumping from wall to wall in a giant virtual puzzle. The enemy-freezing stasis is here to stay though, as is the physics wonder of telekinetically throwing limbs at enemies.
Dead Space 2 hasn’t done much to adapt or improve the original, so don’t expect to be surprised by the title. There’s nothing groundbreaking, nothing extraordinarily special. The main new detail is the number ‘2’. But that’s all you need for this game to be great. There are enough new enemies (more intelligent this time around too – aliens that peek out at you from around corners before charging, are you serious?!), weapons and locales with a boatload of upgrades to keep it fresh, and otherwise the franchise is only getting better. If you loved the first Dead Space, you’re guaranteed to love this one too. If you’re new to it all, grab them both.