Thursday, 21 March 2013

Now Playing: Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2 throws you right back into the action. Action - I’ll be using that word a lot so get ready for it. Three years have passed since the events of DS1, and Isaac awakes to find himself confined in a straitjacket in some sort of hospital as necromorphs start tearing their way inside. There’s no slow paced opening this time - you’ve got to be on your toes and move fast to guide the helpless Isaac to safety.

Very quickly, you’re armed once again with a makeshift plasma cutter. And once again, you find yourself guided by a voice you’re not sure you can trust, although the inevitable betrayal hits you sooner than you might expect.

It quickly becomes apparent that Dead Space 2 is a sleeker, more polished game than its predecessor. It’s also much more action orientated than before. This time around, Isaac has a voice and some semblance of a personality, which is nice. There’s a larger supporting cast this time too which are all fine, but as a result you tend to lose that ‘one man alone’ vibe which created so much of the tension in DS1.

One character in particular pops up regularly to cause trouble but doesn’t seem to exist other than to make the player’s life more difficult. I never really understood why he was there or why he was acting like such a dick and trying to screw you over. Another character who initially seems important just dies at one point leaving you scratching your head as to why he was even there at all.

The story this time around doesn’t feel quite so focused, as Isaac largely stumbles from one disaster to another with no clear goal. There’s not such a sense of progression, and it’s only towards the end that Isaac seems to take charge and be pro-active, rather than reactive to what’s going on around him.

This time the game takes place on a space station orbiting Saturn, where another mysterious artefact is transforming the population into necromorphs. Seriously, who keeps thinking playing with these things is a good idea? The story is decent enough, and it keeps you engaged, and thanks to Isaac’s new found personality, you can’t help but root for the poor guy. There are a few twists and turns along the way and I was glad to see more of the Dead Space universe expanded upon.

Many of the original creatures return, along with several new types. Once again, dismemberment is the only way to deal with them. Old weapons return with a few new ones mixed in and a slightly improved upgrade system.

Playing on Normal once again, I found the default difficulty a lot easier than in the first game. I blasted through it in about 8 hours, which makes it shorter than the original too. Like DS1, it’s also a very linear affair. If you’re looking for more of a challenge I suggest knocking it up to the setting above Normal. I never had to worry about a lack of ammo or supplies.

As I’ve said, DS2 is more action packed than its predecessor. There are several set-pieces, which are undeniably entertaining, but they often devolve into ‘hammer the A button’ moments. Truly ‘edge of your seat’ moments are few and far between here compared to the original. The game also throws a lot more necromorphs at you than DS1, and although the game looks a lot more slick, it doesn’t make as effective use of light, sound or smoke. As a result, it’s not quite so tense or atmospheric, and the creatures become far less menacing and threatening and more ‘cannon fodder’ like. ‘Boss’ segments are once again signposted too easily.

The space station environments are nicely varied, and there is something creepy about seeing these creatures emerging from residential areas. The nursery section in particular is rather disturbing. Puzzles return and are good, as do much improved zero-gravity sections. So the game may lack a little in terms of tension compared to DS1, but it still has a good few jump-scares up its sleeve and there are several sections which go some way to capturing the feel of the original - it’s the quiet moments that are the most effective, with a sense of building dread at the inevitable explosion of violence to come.

Dead Space 2 may be a step towards a more action orientated approach for the series, but it’s certainly not a bad one. It’s slick, engaging, sometimes tense and honestly downright creepy at times. It’s a worthy sequel, but one that I think just falls short of the original.


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