Developer: Visceral Games
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: Available now
Two years ago, I charted my review through Dead Space by calling out the various gaming archetypes that the developers pulled from in building a better deathtrap. That game borrowed from the best, drawing inspiration from genre giants like Resident Evil 4 and BioShock. Then, like a great musician steeped in the movements of those who came before him, they churned out a killer symphony that immediately made Visceral Games a developer to watch. As I slowly made my trek through that game’s nightmare, I stopped taking stock of its influences and found myself swept up in the ride. Dead Space was a big, brawny adventure that made its mark on my psyche and left me wanting to know where fate would fling Isaac Clarke next. In Dead Space 2, we catch up with our intrepid engineer and find that his journey through the doomed Ishimura was merely one ring in a rapidly spiraling Hell.
If the first Dead Space drew from scare fare like Event Horizon, Dead Space 2 borrows from the granddaddy of sci-fi spectacle, Aliens; placing Isaac Clarke in the Ripley role. Picking up sometime after the first game (to avoid spoilers, I’ll just leave it at that), Clarke is haunted by the horrors he faced. Picked at by government psychologists, they quiz him on his experiences as he regains his strength while resting aboard the Sprawl space station. Soon, someone unleashes Hell and Clarke is sent scurrying as he’s chased by an army of nasty Necromorphs and phantasms from his past adventure that make him question whether this madness is all in his mind.
As in the first game, players are tasked with relearning the best way to take down zombie hordes. No longer will simple head shots cut it; as these critters need their appendages severed to slow them down. This lends to a measured, methodical approach as players crawl through the diverse, interconnected regions of the Sprawl looking for passage off the imperiled station. The scope of the sequel expands with the Sprawl featuring such diverse areas as a once-bustling shopping district, an eye-opening Church of Unitology and one killer Kindergarten set. Scouring the environments and stomping cadavers reveal credits that can be used to purchase and upgrade your armaments. While ammunition is plentiful in the lower difficulties, you’ll want to run through the game several times in the New Game+ mode to completely augment your gear if you stand a chance of surviving the “3 Saves and You’re Out” Hardcore Mode. The price is steep but success promises some cool bonus prizes.
In the first game, I remarked that while Visceral leaned heavily on games such as Resident Evil 4 and BioShock, they took those elements and built something exciting of their own. With that foundation set, Visceral is free to craft a large, lengthy action-adventure that builds on their mythology (centered around the creepy Unitology cult and those alien monoliths they covet so highly), while layering in some showstopping action set pieces that are sure to make many Best Of lists at the end of the year. A couple of them are on par with those jaw-droppers in Uncharted 2. A compliment I don’t toss around blindly. The New Game+ mode also rewards players with the ability to maximize your weapons; making a charge through the higher difficulties a little bit easier to stomach. I typically shy away from those hardcore Veteran runs (out of fear I’ll revert to my former NES controller-shattering ways), so I commend Visceral for allowing players to carry heavy firepower into these heavy engagements.
Dead Space 2 also offers an online multiplayer component which plays like a cross between Left 4 Dead and Gears of War. Players will find themselves as either humans charged with taking down the rampaging Necromorph hordes or in the husk of a Necromorph looking to skin those vile humans. It’s fun for a while and includes the prerequisite series of experience gains and level unlocks that modern shooters have made into Must-Have feature sets but I don’t see this as permanently drawing people away from the dueling behemoths: Call of Duty and Halo. That said, it’s a nice cap to a polished package that offers up one of the more exciting adventures I’ve followed in quite some time.
Dead Space 2 expands the universe of this property and has me excited to see where Visceral will bring us next. The first game established them as expert game developers and with this sequel, they tighten their grasp on the narrative by offering up a solid chase and escape yarn that throws players a couple of curveballs. Story aside, they’ve done what all games should do. They give players unique experiences and challenges that will stay with them for a very long time. Space is an awfully big place and I’m dying to see where Visceral sends us next.