Dead Space 2
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Visceral Games/Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore,
intense violence, strong language)
By Billy O'Keefe
Everyone makes third-person shooters now. But nobody has made anything like 2008's "Dead Space," which took a suddenly oversaturated genre, doused it in ingredients normally reserved for horror games, and turned that combination into a brutally claustrophobic shooter with a fiction that puts most contemporary science fiction to shame.
"Dead Space 2" expands its playing field from a solitary spaceship under siege to an enclosed space city that's been left in ruin by the invading mutant Necromorphs (who, depending on your interpretations of the first game's events, are either evil incarnate or victims of fanaticism gone obscenely wrong). But while the environment is larger and more diverse — a point driven home by portions of the game that take place in wide-open, zero-gravity space — the storytelling is considerably more personal.
Engineer-turned-army of one Isaac Clarke was a silent protagonist in the first game, but "DS2" gives him both human companionship and a voice, and without spoiling anything behind the necessity of those additions, both are for the better. Isaac's odyssey hits the ground blazing as soon as "DS2" cedes control to you, and the 15 chapters that follow are a clinic on how to give a formerly silent character a voice and a starring role without ever allowing him to overstay his welcome or trivialize the significance of the larger story around him.
Most importantly — and in the spirit of its predecessor — the storytelling sets the table for an exhilarating wave of showdowns against a more powerful Necromorph force on turf that often favors them over you.
All of the first game's hallmarks — inventive weapons, great controls, a painfully good ability to illustrate the might of attacking Necromorphs who break through Isaac's defenses — are hallmarks in "DS2" as well. But "DS2" upgrades the shooting controls from great to immaculate, and it provides more opportunities to put the secondary weapons' unique specialties to invaluable use. Even Isaac's telekinesis device, previously good for solving puzzles but little else, is a formidable combat tool this time.
Chiefly, though, "DS2" just sets better tables than its predecessor did. A vicious enemy from the first game returns at the worst time imaginable here, and the two-chapter chase that follows should rattle the nerves of even the most stoic players. Elsewhere, a new, exponentially savvier strain of Necromorph engages Isaac in a game of hide-and-seek that turns ordinary corridor crawls into dangerous instances of walking on tiptoes and constantly stopping to look over your shoulder whenever you hear a clank or the lighting plays tricks on you.
These and other moments provide "DS2" with its highlights, but it bears mentioning that, outside of one chapter that goes slightly overboard with cheap scares, there really aren't any lowlights. The fundamental formula that steered the first game drives this one as well, but every chapter changes the rules just enough to keep the action from ever losing its edge. As story-driven experiences go, this is — by any metric — as good as it gets.
Though it wasn't really necessary, Visceral decided to incorporate multiplayer (eight players, online only) into "DS2" anyway. What results is pretty much what you'd expect: Familiar shooter conventions and map designs apply, and the more you play (and kill), the more weapons and perks you can unlock.
Compared to the single-player stuff, "DS2's" multiplayer is pretty pedestrian. But all that gameplay polish carries over, so it plays well. It also provides players their first opportunity to play as four species of Necromorph, whose unique movement and attack methods make a surprisingly smooth migration over to the multiplayer arena.
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.