Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dead Space 2

After my journey aboard the USG Ishimura, I began to wonder what the adventure would be like aboard the Sprawl. I got my copy of this game in the mail recently and spent as much time as I could playing it. Having just completed the game, I can say that my memories of this game will be there for a good while, as it does not let you forget what you have seen.

This game picks up after the first, with Isaac on the Sprawl for questioning about the events on the Ishimura. Thinks quickly turn sour as a Necromorph outbreak occurs on the station, leaving Isaac as one of the few remaining survivors. At this point, it is Isaac's goal to find a way off the Sprawl with the aid of other survivors. What he experiences while trying to complete this goal is a series of twists that come out of nowhere and are genuinely unexpected. The characters know what they want, and the story is written well enough that you know how far they are all willing to go to obtain it. Whether they want to help Isaac or recover him for their own purposes, everyone wants him for a reason, whether or not it seems right. It is also rather fascinating to learn more about the Church of Unitology and just what kind of people make it up, as well as their crazed obsession with the Marker.

Isaac Clarke has always been known as the silent hero of the first game, save for the occasional grunt or heavy breath, but it seems that he has finally found his voice. As soon as I heard him speak for the first time, I fell in love with it. Not only does he sound good with this new voice, but developer Visceral Games really knew how to use it. Letting him speak allows the interactions between him and other survivors to be more dynamic and dramatic, giving us an inside look at his own sense of morality.

The gameplay remains the same. You still need to dismember your enemies if you want them them to die faster, but there are a few minor tweaks. For one thing, killing your enemies does not automatically guarantee you an item. Instead, they occupy a physical location within their body. Dismembering them in the right spot will automatically kill the enemy and then eject the item, but for most instances you may need to get right up to the corpse and stomp them in the right place to get it. While this makes you think better about where to dismember specific enemy types, it can be slightly problematic since corpses will disappear after a while and hitting a pregnant necromorph in the stomach is still a bad idea. That doesn't mean I didn't like this feature though, as I was able to figure out where the items were on particular enemies and then use that knowledge to line up a much quicker kill.

On top of this, there are a few new enemy types on the Sprawl, as expected of a sequel. One type that has been covered in previews is called the Puker. The Puker is able to hurl a ball of, well, puke onto Isaac. If the ball hits him, he is temporarily slowed down, which can be disasterous if he is surrounded by multiple enemies. A particluar type I believe I need to bring up are the Stalkers. Stalkers will hide behind any obstacle in the environment, occasionally poking their heads out. When they are ready to strike, they will suddenly rush and tackle you out of nowhere, then go back into hiding. Needless to say, this makes them difficult to take them down, but a perfectly timed reaction to their movements will allow you to dismember with ease. Children are also a hassle. They attack in groups and can overrun you if you're not careful, so lining up shots with the Line Gun seemed to be the best way to disable a group.

While there are new enemy types to worry about, the biggest enemy in the game might be Isaac's own mind. After the events of the first game, Isaac became mentally unstable and continues to hallucinate visions of his girlfriend Nicole, thanks to his connection with the Marker. These hallucinations range from environmental changes to almost an entire enemy encounter. As these visions continue, it allows the player to explore exactly what kind of a person Isaac is, which adds a lot more depth to his character.

I must say that the Sprawl is much bigger than the Ishimura. The environments are no longer as cramped as before, but that doesn't make it any less creepy. As this is a station with entire families living their lives, it becomes very unsettling when you go through a darkly lit room and you can imagine how innocent and colorful it used to be. It is especially creepy when you see a once innocent image turn into a violent bloodbath, in the case of the children's area of the station, which I consider the creepiest area in the entire game. Housing corridors are filled with the screams of the innocent and an auditorium, complete with decoration for a children's play, becomes the setting for a rather jumpy surprise. Even the Ishimura makes a return in the game, complete with all of the cramped corridors from before. In fact, it might be easier to get through this section of the game, as most of the areas are lifted right from the original game. It was nice at this point to have some familiarity with the environment, even if it was dark.

But even the environment can still have its own tricks up its sleeve. It is now possible to trigger unstable pressure if you shoot in the right spots, setting up a sequence where you must quickly shoot down the airlock door to prevent from dying in the vacuum of space, which was an experience all on its own. Those moments really test your reactive abilities, which can actually become annoying if you are too close when the window opens up. Even in the sections where you don't immediately die, your air supply is still limited, but you no longer have to worry about carrying a few air cans around, which frees up some much needed inventory space. Zero-G segments make a return from the first game, but you can now move around freely in space, rather than jump between surfaces. This felt a lot more natural and fluid, and really made the segments easier to like.

While the environments are dark and gloomy, there is at least more color than aboard the Ishimura, which makes for a lot more level variety. The environment does contain foreboding architecture, but it can actually lead to many false alarms. While you can still try to predict where a Necromorph will show up, you will only be right a fraction of the time. Where you think they will appear, they won't, and vice-versa, and this aspect of enemy encounters makes the setting appropriately frightening and can really get your blood pumping, especially on higher difficulties. The rooms and corridors are all impressively detailed, and you may catch yourself looking around to see the work that went into it. Even the silence of space is accurate, both in sound and beauty. Once I saw Saturn for the first time, I found myself trying to look at it again and again.

My time with Dead Space 2 was a very interesting one, filled with uneasyness and moments of accomplishment. Storywise, I was able to really get into it, with a lot of twists and moments that I honestly didn't expect to happen, including an ending that sets up the possibility of a Dead Space 3. I can honestly say that this was one of the scariest things I have ever laid my eyes on, if only by the fact that it was creepy enough that it turned into fright and provided a lot of nightmare fuel. Whether I remember it for its scares or its twists, I will remember this game for a good while. Despite this, I can reccomend it to those who are prepared for an actually exciting journey. It is not an experience to miss, and one that will see comparison for a long time.

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