For years, survival horror games have been a consistently problematic genre. Although titles in the Resident Evil, Silent Hill and even Alone in the Dark franchises have provided players with an unshakable sense of uneasiness, most have also ratcheted up the tension with a cumbersome control scheme. In 2008, Dead Space defied convention by offering a responsive input method while maintaining a nerve-racking feeling of escalating dread. Thanks to Visceral Game’s proficiency, players spent more energy struggling against the escalating tide of nefarious necromorphs than fighting with the game’s controls, creating a wonderfully intense experience then helped reinvigorate the horror title.
For recent sequel Dead Space 2, the studio has enhanced the agility of protagonist Isaac Clarke even further. Stasis and kinesis abilities, which were rarely compulsory in the original game, are now an indispensable part of our hero’s repertoire. Freezing an encroaching antagonist, blasting a leg off, and hurtling the appendage back at the still-frozen foe feels exhilarating thanks to the title’s zippy aiming and increased overall speed. With a nimble retreat speed and the ability to reload while on the run, Clarke now displays the agility shown by the nimblest game characters. Even the protagonist’s zero-G flights have been retrofitted to allow players to adjust their mid-flight trajectories.
Beyond a boost in athletic prowess, Clarke’s also been given the ability of verbalization. The once-mute engineer now converses with the rare survivor, allowing gamers to peer into his tortured psyche. Although it might seem like a trivial change, the addition allows for satisfying character development, and gives us a protagonist who feels remarkably less robotic. Regrettably, Clarke’s character can veer dangerously close to the “Oorah” space marine stereotype that gamers are well acquainted with, especially when he stomps incapacitated creatures into piles of pulpy goo. Ideally, his mental state should have been closer to the perilous precipice of breakdown, relentlessly blurring the distinction between real and imagined.
While Dead Space‘s rendering of the doomed USG Ishimura cultivated anxiety along its shadowy, steel corridors, the sequel wisely opts for venue change. Set three years after the cataclysmic events on the mining vessel, Clarke awakens up in a mental ward with a notable gap in his memory. Within moments the necromorph contagion starts anew, sending the straight-jacketed engineer sprinting for safety. While this tour is essentially linear, it’s elevated by a journey that alternates between claustrophobic ducts and expansive spaces ideal for a heated skirmish. Nicknamed “The Sprawl”, Dead Space 2‘s remote colony accommodates a visual variety absent from its predecessor, as the players trek though science labs, schools, and residential dwellings. Smartly, most of back-and-forth errands of the first title have been dropped, allowing the developer to position every jack-in-the-box jump with pinpoint accuracy. See that pile of credits glowing in the corner? Chances are your gluttonous goal will be met with some type nerve rattling. As with most horror games, Dead Space 2 begs for a darkened play environment with the surround sound receiver set loud enough to spook the neighbors.
After completing the title’s fifteen chapter, ten-hour campaign, players have the option of continuing anew with their current loadout, giving Clarke the proper tools to hunt for trophies and achievements confined to the game’s higher difficultly levels. There’s also a four-on-four multiplayer mode that forsakes the games scares for a dependence on co-operation. Here, teams of human are tasked with collecting pieces before they are eviscerated by a band of necromoprhs. Although the game only has a handful of maps, there’s a persistent leveling system which rewards perseverance with a steady steam of new weapons and perks. For a limited time, the PS3 version of the game ships with Dead Space: Extraction, a port of the Wii light-gun shooter. While it’s a nice bonus, especially for Move owners, the title’s origins are unmistakable- the game lacks the immaculate textures and fluid framerate of the main game.
With a handful of new weapons, enemies, and a marvelously taut control scheme, Dead Space 2 thoroughly improves on its predecessor, forging a consummate title for horror fans. While the single-player campaign is probably hearty enough to warrant a full-priced purchase, additional content causes the game to be the first must-play title of the inaugural year. Takeuchi, we eagerly await your response.