In space, no-one can hear you accidentally walk into an exploding Necromorph that is stuck to the wall. Thankfully.
In Dead Space 2, the third-person horror, space, survival shooter from EA, players once again step into the engineering boots of Isaac Clarke, the hero of the fist game, and are once more thrust into all sorts of danger as they again have to deal with an outbreak of Necromorphs, strange mutated creatures straight from the most twisted nightmares. This time around, the action takes place on The Sprawl, a massive space station of sorts on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and sees Isaac, who thankfully has found his voice since Dead Space, waking up in a medical ward and having to deal with not only the Necromorph outbreak, but also the apparent loss of his own sanity. Players will be treated throughout the game to regular creepy visions as Isaac struggles to keep a grip on reality.
I remember when playing the first Dead Space game that I was initially put off by the off-centre placement of the main character. Although this had absolutely no bearing of the targeting reticule, which remained solidly in the centre of the screen, it did have an affect on the way that the character moved. I found myself constantly walking into things and bouncing off door frames. Over time, and through the fact that the game compelled the player to keep going, I became much more used to this slightly lop-sided control method.
Because of this, when Dead Space 2 arrived I was quite happy to leap straight into the action and enjoy the game for what it is, rather than going through a lengthy orientation of the controls and the way that Isaac moves. It is not especially natural and if Dead Space 2 is your first outing with Isaac, then it may take a little getting used to.
The rest of the controls are an absolute dream, easily picked up and introduced gradually through the early part of the game. Most gamers out there should be comfortable with the left trigger to aim, right trigger to fire method. Whilst the left trigger is held, the player can also slap the B button to use Kinesis, allowing the player to pick up items and launch them at targets with the right trigger. This opens up some interesting possibilities for projectile weapons and the levels are littered with handy metal rods that can quite easily pin a Necromorph to the wall. Failing that, dismembered Necromorph limbs make quite a handy projectile in a pinch. However, using Kinesis to launch missiles at the enemy can be quite difficult, as most Necromorphs tend to move quite quickly or appear suddenly. This is where the Stasis power comes in. Again the player holds the left trigger to aim and then presses the Y button to use stasis on an incoming enemy, who will be instantly slowed down for a couple of seconds, making targeting easier. This power has limited uses though and will require charges through either charging stations or stasis packs.
Beyond the initial Plasma Cutter, the player has access to quite a variety of interesting weapons, which will be unlocked as the player progresses through the game. The weapons all have a heavily mechanical feel to them and include the likes of a Javelin launcher, for those special moments when you just have to pin something to the wall, and the mighty flamethrower. All of the weapons have an alternative fire mode which is activated using the right buffer. This can be anything from the simple orientation of the Plasma Cutter, especially useful for severing limbs, to the slightly more involving electrical charge of a Javelin that can damage any other nearby enemies.
And what a selection of enemies there is in Dead Space 2. The Necromorphs come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, each as menacing as the last and all equally as disgustingly scary. From the incredibly fast moving yet weak, to the huge and slow, the different creatures will require the player to adopt different strategies and use different weapons. The developers have certainly reached deep into their nightmarish imaginations to visualise such an array of horrific enemies for the player to deal with, my favorites being the screaming demon-like children that come running at you in large numbers, desiring only to rip off Isaac’s face.
The player will also come across some larger beasties that can only be seen as the bosses of the game. These instances will generally involve an awful lot of tension and the careful targeting of infected flesh, identified by it’s putrid orange glow. These sequences come along every so often and provide a welcome break from the slow, creeping terror to be found throughout the rest of the game.
The atmosphere of terror is enhanced throughout through the wonderful use of shadows, environment and sound. The developers have done a great job of making the game look not only stunning, but downright scary, taking generally innocent settings and turning up the creepy. A simple thing like a child’s play area, with the addition of a few bloodstains and a few missing bulbs, becomes decidedly unsettling. The player is constantly aware that they can be attacked at any point, making the progress slow and cautious, training their weapon on every corpse just in case they spring to life. Almost every door that was opened found me pointing my weapon in preparation. The one time that I didn’t, was the time I got attacked on opening the door. Maybe they knew?
The incredible soundtrack and sound effects amplify this atmosphere of terror by generally setting the player’s nerves on edge. Sounds of childish laughter, the occasional screams and scuttling noises from an unknown direction will all see the player sitting on the edge of their seat.
But it is not all about the terror. There is a good, solid structure underneath the cries of shock that has the player visiting stores to purchase new weapons, ammo or medipacks, using cash found either through the levels or on the corpses of Necromorphs. This hidden cash can be liberated by a satisfyingly squelchy stomp to the corpse, using the right buffer. The player will find nodes throughout the game that can be used to access supply stores or, through the use of special workstations, upgrade any of the players current equipment.
Although the original game was not too difficult, the limited amount of ammunition available to the player meant that every shot had to count. This aspect has been made slightly easier in Dead Space 2 with more ammo for the player to find. However, the less precise gamers out there will still find themselves under constant threat of running out, which certainly adds to the tension and a particularly hairy moment for me in a Gym/hall. Fortunately, save points are plentiful and the game autosaves before any major occurrences.
Perhaps the most interesting addition to this sequel is the multiplayer mode. Like most games in this day and age, the addition of a token multiplayer mode was something that the developers felt was required. In this mode, players take it in turns to play as either Sprawl security or Necromorphs. There is a certain amount of novelty value to playing as the various different Necromorphs on offer. But, as is often the case, this multiplayer mode offers nothing more than a distraction from the immense enjoyment found during the single player mode.
But the time wasting multiplayer mode can be ignored, simply because the single player game is so satisfying. Dead Space 2 offers an involving story, easy to pick up gameplay and a constant feeling of “edge of your seat” tension. The year may have only just begun, but we have already been treated to what could well be the game of the year. Excellent.