Dead Space 2 Review

By Bryan Stratton - Posted Jan 25, 2011

Three years after battling the Necromorph invasion on board the U.S.S. Ishimura, Isaac Clarke again finds himself consumed by the horror he narrowly survived. New gear and gameplay refinements, plus an all-new multiplayer mode, help make Dead Space 2 an absolute nightmare—in all the best ways.

The Pros
  • An immersive blend of creepiness and outright horror, paced perfectly
  • Refined controls make it a less frustrating experience Lots of reasons to continue playing after beating the game once
The Cons
  • Plot occasionally feels repetitive
  • Last chapter is outrageously difficult

Just over two years ago, EA unleashed the original Dead Space, a sci-fi survival horror story that earned rave reviews and used a rabid fanbase to incubate a multimedia infestation. With that kind of success, it was inevitable that protagonist Isaac Clarke would be forced to relive the terror of the Necromorphs: grotesque, reanimated human corpses with an unquenchable thirst for blood. Fortunately for fans—and unfortunately for Isaac—Dead Space 2 is everything that its predecessor was, and more.

At the start of the game, Isaac is in a bad way, reduced to a shell of his former self by aggressive chemical therapy intended to rescue him from the horrors of the Necromorph infestation aboard the USS Ishimura, which his doctors insist is a delusion brought on by a psychotic break. But Isaac’s memories are validated in the worst way when the Necromorphs reappear, leaving him to fumble desperately for a safe haven with arms bound in a straightjacket. 

When Hell Is Full, The Dead Will Walk The Earth…

… Or, rather, the Saturnine moon of Titan. In Dead Space mythos, Titan was the target of the first “planetcrack” hundreds of years ago by a human race on the verge of extinction, fleeing an Earth whose natural resources are utterly depleted. After cracking Titan and harvesting its resources, humanity settled the small remaining chunk of the moon and used it as a base of operations for its planetcracking missions. Dubbed “The Sprawl,” the base is home to thousands of human soldiers, engineers, researchers and families, all of whom are quickly and brutally being transformed into Necromorphs.

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Isaac learns that the reason for the Necromorphs’ return has something to do with the presence of a Marker on the Sprawl, an object of almost religious significance to the Necromorphs. Isaac encountered one in the original Dead Space. To make matters worse, Isaac experiences ghastly hallucinations of his late girlfriend, Nicole, a casualty of the Necromorph outbreak on the Ishimura, and one of his few surviving human allies is a clearly insane man named Stross, who makes Isaac’s delusions seem like idle daydreams.

The Right Tool For the Job

Fortunately, this time around, Isaac has access to a few additional weapons and abilities that might improve his odds for survival. In addition to the original seven Dead Space weapons, three more have been added. The Seeker Rifle is Dead Space 2’s sniper rifle, which fires single rounds with tremendous precision and includes an optional scope. The Detonator allows Isaac to lay down proximity mines and set traps for Necromorphs; he can also recover unused mines to preserve ammo. Finally, The Javelin Gun fires electrified pneumatic spears that impale and fry enemies to a crisp.

As in the original Dead Space, Isaac can purchase new items at store kiosks for credits he collects in the game and use Power Nodes to upgrade his weapons and suit. This time around, instead of having multiple versions of an engineering suit, Isaac can purchase a variety of suits with unique abilities, including a Security Suit that boosts the offensive power of his Assault Rifle and an Advanced Suit that increases the recharge rate of his Stasis energy.

And yes, you read that right. Not only does Isaac retain his Stasis power from the first Dead Space, which lets him freeze enemies for a short time, Stasis now regenerates very slowly over time. 

Additionally, Isaac can still use Kinesis to telekinetically manipulate objects, and spear-like environmental objects are scattered liberally around the environments, perfect for grabbing with Kinesis and impaling a charging foe.

Best of all, the controls have been tightened up from the previous game. Isaac might still be more engineer than soldier, but he’s more agile this time around. His movements are quicker and more responsive, and his crushing stomping attack (which is now used to squish rewards from fallen foes) is much more useful than it was before.

Oh, The Humanity!

The most striking difference between Dead Space and Dead Space 2 isn’t Isaac’s weapons or abilities: it’s the environment that you use them in. Dead Space was spent almost entirely on the USS Ishimura, a huge mining vessel that felt like it was composed almost entirely of narrow submarine-like corridors.

But the Sprawl is a fully functioning colony, which gives it a much greater diversity of locales. A fair amount of the game is still spent mucking about in futuristic boiler rooms (Isaac is, after all, an engineer), but the monotony is broken up with chapters set in a recruiting center for the Marker-worshipping Unitologists, a subterranean mining operation and—most disturbingly—an elementary school.

Ironically though, despite being constantly surrounded by reminders of the human presence on the Sprawl, Isaac doesn’t interact with many actual humans. That made sense in the previous game, since Isaac’s arrival on the Ishimura came long after the Necromorphs infested it. But it feels awkward and empty in Dead Space 2, especially when most of Isaac’s non-Necromorphic interactions take place at arm’s length, over his RIG’s video channel or by discovering text and audio logs left behind by deceased colonists.

The supporting characters also feel a bit one-dimensional, which is a shame considering that the franchise’s biggest strength is its storytelling. To avoid getting into spoiler territory, suffice it to say that there are twists where characters’ true motivations are revealed, but few feel truly important. In a game where shocks and surprises are the bread and butter, it would have been nice to have been shocked and surprised by the characters’ development.

Another minor quibble is that, although the pacing of the game is much improved from the original, it has the same problem with its plot that the first one suffers from: namely, some of Isaac’s goals start feeling repetitive once you’re past the halfway point. Much of the game has Isaac trying various methods to escape the Sprawl, each of which fails predictably.

After a certain point, you start feeling like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, knowing before you begin that Lucy is just going to yank it away from you again when you reach it. Still, making that run at the football is an awful lot of fun. And when Lucy snatches it away, there’s a part of you that’s excited, because it means that you get to keep playing. 

Friends and Fiends

One complaint about Dead Space was that it lacked multiplayer. Dead Space 2 resolves that problem with an “Outbreak” mode that pits a team of four humans against four Necromorphs. The four controllable Necromorphs (Spitter, Puker, Lurker and the cringe-inducing Pack Baby Necromorph) spawn from vents and can see all human players on the map at all times. The human team has a mission to complete within a time limit that varies depending on the map.

If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. It’s so similar to Left 4 Dead’s versus mode that you can imagine Valve’s lawyers sitting around deciding whether or not to draft a cease and desist letter. But just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done well in DS2. Multiplayer is a literal hell of a lot of fun, and having the ability to unlock new weapons and suits will keep players shredding each other long after the single-player experience has lost its shine.

No Pay, No Play

Dead Space 2’s derivative multiplayer is a separate piece of content from the main game, so if you purchase the game new,  it includes a code to unlock multiplayer for free. However, each code can only be used once, so if you purchase it used,  you have to pay an additional ten bucks to play online, although the game allows you a free limited multiplayer trial so you can see if it’s worth the investment. 



The Horror… The Horror…

So the question is: even without multiplayer, is Dead Space 2 worth the price of admission? Absolutely. With variable difficulty options and the ability to replay the game from the beginning with all upgrades, the 10-12 hour story is worth at least a couple of playthroughs—even though the final chapter will have you tearing your hair out both times.

Only Alan Wake stands a chance of rivaling Dead Space 2 for best survival horror game since Resident Evil 4. It absolutely deserves a place in any true gore gamer’s collection, and it’s a nightmare you won’t want to wake up from.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?