It was interesting to see the fan reaction to the pre-launch marketing for Dead Space 2. Whether PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or PC, the response to the trailers and screenshots was the same: "It doesn't look as scary as the first one," and that apparently was just about the worst thing that could possibly happen. I shared that mindset: Dead Space did a masterful job of creating an atmosphere thick with dread and foreboding, two elements that most games disregard.
But as I began to delve into Dead Space 2 I realised I wasn't really scared at all; if anything, I was walking around the space station like I owned the place, stomping Necromorphs the way a seasoned exterminator steps on any roaches who happen to scurry underfoot. But rather than be disappointed by the lack of scares, I accepted it as a logical evolution of the storyline, and really, so should you.
It's easy to excuse Visceral Games for dropping the "Tin Man" role Issac Clarke played to such critical acclaim in the first Dead Space, because it doesn't make sense for him to lumber around in a metal suit in search of a heart a second time. Having survived the first nightmare, he's now better equipped to deal with the Necromorph outbreak in the same way Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was better able to handle the Xenomorphs after their first encounter.
The first Dead Space succeeded in scaring us because we were dealing with the unknown. Issac, and by extension the player, was fighting an unfamiliar enemy, which made every corner, every dimly lit hallway, and every seemingly innocuous air vent seem like a viable threat. When every shadow hides a potential death, you learn to fear the darkness. But if you walk through the valley of death and defeat the monsters that call it home, the shadows stop being so menacing. In Dead Space 2, Issac Clarke stops running from the Necromorphs and faces them head on.
That said, the gameplay hasn't changed much. Indeed, outside of a few small improvements and tweaks the gameplay hasn't changed at all. There are a handful of new weapons; the Locator System has been upgraded to not only point out your next objective, but the nearest shop, save point, and work bench; and some inventive new enemies offer excellent opportunities to play the amateur surgeon. True, the changes are mostly cosmetic, but together they make Dead Space 2 much more fun to play.
The new multiplayer component also adds value, and although I was only able to play it for two hours it was enjoyable enough that I'll definitely log a few matches when the game launches. The matches I played all featured the human faction trying to achieve objectives while the necromorph army did everything they could to stop them. The human faction relies on superior firepower and item drops to compensate for the Necromorphs' overwhelming speed and sheer strength of numbers, and while Dead Space's lumbering, methodical nature isn't ideally suited to the chaotic pace of multiplayer, it's a fun feature that complements the single-player component nicely.
As a gaming experience, Dead Space 2 is hugely impressive, and genuine complaints are few and far between. The two biggest issues I had were the meagre number of show-stopping moments, and the thin plot, which recycles a lot of the tropes found in the first game. Issac once again spends the entire game cluelessly following the orders of one NPC after another, and finds himself falling for the same old tricks.
The game doesn't do nearly enough to delve into the mystery of the Marker and the origins of the Necromorph menace, either, and while there are some allusions made to the nature of the Marker's signal, anyone hoping for meaningful answers will have to wait for the inevitable third installment.
But Dead Space 2 isn't necessarily about understanding the Necromorph threat so much as it is about finally giving Issac a chance to stomp -- literally and figuratively -- those who have wronged him in the past. He's been pushed around by the disgusting, mutated Necromorph army, the sinister bureaucrats of EarthGov, and the dogmatic zealots of the Church of Unitology long enough, and he's been given the opportunity to give them all a taste of the underside of his heavily armoured boot.
The fact that Visceral boldly ignored the fan fervour and pulled the franchise forward in a logical and thrilling direction is commendable. Dead Space 2 will get its fair share of complaints that the game fails to live up to the gory heights of the original, but in truth it just excels in a different way.
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