Video game review: Dead Space 2


Dead Space 2
Electronic Arts
XBox 360/PS3

There’s a moment early on in Dead Space 2 where you watch from a doorway as a man drags a woman towards another door, offscreen, while the woman screams, “I won’t leave my mother in there!” Soon, your character, Isaac Clarke, is standing in the same spot she was, faced with a choice to either push forward or turn around and investigate the ominously open doorway of the room she was screaming at.

There’s another moment where Isaac, needing to get through a zero-gravity trash compactor, launches himself into a tunnel through which compressed garbage is hurtling. He does this without once firing his pistol – sorry, “plasma cutter” – and yet he manages to feel extraordinarily badass.

This is the balance of Dead Space 2, a game that is basically Aliens to its predecessor’s Alien. While that game had you exploring a dank industrial mining ship and focused almost entirely on making you completely paranoid and alone, its sequel – well, you’re still paranoid and alone, but you’re exploring a space station, and so you run into its living residents a little more often. They’re not always friendly but they’re a more interesting and varied bunch than in the first game.

It’s also still totally nerve-wracking. The sound and lighting are remarkable, able to convey exactly the right amount of dread. You can never tell if that clanking noise above your head is just part of the environment, or if it’s a horrifying Necromorph, a reanimated dead body with seriously gross anatomical problems and a penchant for bursting through roof, wall, and floor panels.

While you’re a little better equipped to deal with the Necromorphs this time, and while the pacing has improved, and while Isaac has been given a bog-standard gruff space hero voice, the game still wants to freak you out. It’s too bad that the plot is occasionally incomprehensible – something about space Scientologists and a weird alien artifact that simultaneously seems to cause and stop the Necromorph outbreak – because the atmosphere of the game is absolutely spot-on.

Also spot-on, surprisingly, is the multiplayer. It’s tense in the way Left 4 Dead is, asking teams of humans and teams of Necromorphs to duke it out over various objectives. Playing it reveals that the developers, Visceral Games, cribbed a lot from Valve to make this game, but that’s good; like the first Dead Space, the sequel’s influences are on its sleeve, and it wears them well.

John Cameron

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