The challenge of staying true to a franchise while improving and adding to it is one that has brought many established IPs to new lows. Game Developers, ones that actually care about their fans and their product, will want to improve issues from a previous game in its sequel. They will want to add things that they either couldn’t get in the predecessor, or things that critics and fans have asked or chastised them for. The issue arises when these additions or improvements clash with elements from the original game. Fans of franchises usually aren’t keen on the idea of huge changes being made to game play. Hell, some fans will go as far as to complain about trivial things like a character’s hair colour or face design…yeah, lame, but it happened. This leaves developers in a tough situation. What are they to do? Do they choose to simply appease the vocal fans even though they tend to not be the majority? Do they make changes in an attempt to attract new customers even at the cost of their current fans? Do they ignore everything and simply focus on their visions for the franchise?
Enter Visceral Games and their latest entry to the Dead Space franchise, Dead Space 2. The initial Dead Space game was fantastic. The Horror game genre had grown stale. It saw its most acclaimed franchises either stuck in limbo via mediocrity or go in a new direction that put horror on an equal footing of focus as intensity and adrenaline rushes. Dead Space was a needed breath of fresh air. It was intense, but horror was the sole primary focus. Even with all the critical acclaim, the game flew relatively low under the radar. This, of course, was caused mainly by the feeble state of gaming now that sees only established games with ‘hype’ get focus, but I digress. Dead Space 2 was released with an exponential increase in ‘hype’ and it has been reflected in the attention this game is now getting. It is enough to make me wonder where all this attention was for the first game. Even more pressing is initial issue I mentioned in relation to this franchise. How does Dead Space 2 fare when held next to Dead Space? On its own is Dead Space 2 a game worthy of praise?
The Dead Space franchise is known for its campaign, which is a single player experience. Dead Space 2 adds a multiplayer experience. In it, players play as either human military team tasked with map specific objectives to complete or as swarms of necromorphs attempting to kill them (as necromorphs usually do). Think Aliens vs. Predators or Left 4 Dead. I had my doubts going into the multiplayer mode. Actually, I planned originally on not even giving it a try. For games that were once single player focused, adding multiplayer usually doesn’t fare well. It is either a mediocre experience or completely irrelevant. Besides, when you get these games, you aren’t getting them for a multiplayer experience. Luckily I hate watching people cast praise or slander on a game (or game dynamic) before it comes out. There is no way you can accurately or factually speak on a game without playing it. How would I look reviewing a game and not playing it completely? Visceral Games did Dead Space fans a favor including the multiplayer. It is very well implemented. I had a blast playing it and became hooked after playing on the human team and witnessing the team work and communication required to win. There is a lot of potential here and I hope that Visceral Games keeps the multiplayer in the series and continues to build upon the foundation they created in Dead Space 2.
Obviously, the main event of this pay-per-view is the campaign. Dead Space 2 is a gorgeous game. Not in the simple minded view of pixel counting, but in terms of what you see when you play the game. Cut scenes and game play look exactly the same. QTE (quick-time events) are peppered into logical cut scenes in a fashion that keeps players attention at all times. In fact, there was never a time where I was caught off guard by one. Based on what I witnessed Mr. Clarke enduring I could sense when I would have to act. Dead Space is up there with Resident Evil in terms of perfect QTE. Other games should take notes. There is a graphical improvement from the original Dead Space. That speaks volumes in itself because the original Dead Space is gorgeous even today. Dead Space 2 benefits from its locale. The original game took place on the USG Ishimura, a mining spaceship in a feeble state due to an unknown outbreak caused by the mysterious marker. This created a situation where players were almost always in dark cramped rooms or corridors that did differ greatly from each other. Also, the population of people in Dead Space that were not already necromorphs was limited to the few story impacting characters you encountered. Dead Space 2 takes place mainly on the Sprawl, a heavily populated space station built on one of Saturn’s moons. This created new dynamics for gamers to encounter. Not all rooms are poorly lit. However, the presence of light does not equate to safety. Players are in environments that have a lot more room. While this allows for more movement from the player, it also allows the enemy to surround players and even enter rooms from behind the player’s focus. The environments differ greatly from each other. Players will encounter other human beings this time that are victims of a plot that I can not reveal. You will see things in this game that will haunt you. Due to Isaac’s mental condition, you will see many hallucinations and this will cause you to doubt what you are seeing yourself. It is an interesting dynamic. In a horror game where you do not have the luxury of being lax on your aggressiveness, Visceral Games is making players do just that. If you simply shoot every time you see something you will feel like a fool and waste valuable ammo.
There were a handful of just jaw dropping moments. Two came from simply looking at environments around you. There is a segment where I was riding an elevator and noticed I could see Saturn out of the windows. The perspective you have is fantastic. Being on one of Saturn’s moons, you get an awe inspiring view. Of course, this meant I was not paying attention to my surroundings. It is as if the developers knew this would be the case. The other three moments all came from cut scenes. Visceral Games did a great job of creating this polarity in Isaac. On one hand, you see his weaknesses as he struggles to hold on to sanity. Being an engineer and not a soldier, he is not the best when it comes to warfare and combat. On the other hand, he is intelligent and has the ability with Stasis and Kinesis to make up for his lack of combat training. Also, his experiences on the USG Ishimura have hardened and molded him. There are moments where Isaac pulls off some simply bad ass moments. His drive to get resolution, live, and keep those around him alive is unparalleled and is witnessed in some of the cut scenes. Trust me; you have to witness them with your own eyes.
The game play itself does a great job sticking to the original. If you played the original, you will not need to learn much in terms of controls. The list of weapons in this game has increased. I did find that some weapons were completely useless until you spent power nodes to power them up. One change that was made is the objective locater. Players can not cycle throw what they want to locate. Finding the closest store, bench, and/or save station is as just as easy as staying on track toward the main story objective. Another is how Stasis and Kinesis are handled. Now, players have unlimited Kinesis. Stasis has a meter and refills on its own, but an extremely slow pace even after upgrades. Players can use stasis stations or loot/buy stasis packs to refill it. You will have to use Kinesis a lot more in this game than in the original. Necromorphs attack players in packs and players will have to conserve ammo, especially on normal or higher difficulties. Speaking of necromorphs, players can expect to see enemies spawn behind them a lot. Luckily, the sound in this game is fantastic and aids in this. Even so, there will be times where players will die simply because an enemy spawned behind them and they were too busy fighting all the enemies in front of them. This is very true during the second half of the game. Expect necromorphs to take a lot of ammo to put down even with accurate limb shots. Some of the combinations and numbers of necromorphs sent at you are unfair, but this isn’t something new to the series. Dead Space 2 is a challenging game but it’s not as challenging as the original. You will find more resources this time around. There are just segments towards the end of the game where things begin to get slim. There is one thing that really angered me about this game. Towards the end of the game, you encounter an unbeatable foe. All players can do is run. Here is the thing, you have to solve puzzles and partake in combat with hordes of other foes that are in their strongest form as well while running from this unbeatable foe. It prevents players from having the time to pick up dropped items. It removed the player’s ability to go off track and find needed resources or treasures. It just didn’t make sense to me in terms of the plot of the game and series as a whole. Also, players never get to resolve things with this foe.
Dead Space 2 is a great game. It would seem that people out there giving this game ‘hype’ were right, then again even a broken clock is right twice a day. Visceral Games took a mixed approach to handling their sequel. They didn’t stray far from the game play gamers enjoyed in the original. They added multiplayer. The few changes made to the game play were minuscule and I actually don’t have any complaints about them. They literally took what made Dead Space great and applied it to a new, varying environment. This new environment just happened to be what was needed to lure in new gamers. Perhaps the original Dead Space was too scary to be as popular as Dead Space 2 now is. Isaac Clark in the original Dead Space was a quiet hero. This is due mainly to the lack of people for him to talk to and the fact that he is still taking in the horrors and circumstances he has been thrust into. In Dead Space 2, Isaac is way more vocal. Ironically, he is losing his sanity and does most of his speaking to himself.
Even though the story for the contagion and the marker got completely mixed up (this is due, in part, to the film Dead Space: Aftermath that takes place right before Dead Space 2 and after the last game), I am curious to see where the story is going. Be sure to pay attention after the credits as you will find out some interesting information in terms of the story. At the time of this review, the first DLC has been released and follows another person fighting the necromorphs. Gamers who played Dead Space: Extraction will recognize this hero. From the looks of the trailer, his fight is no easier than Isaac’s. In fact, he has full knowledge of Isaac’s efforts. This actually made me wonder, could Dead Space 3 have a co-op campaign? They have the characters for it. In terms of the story, it would actually make more sense. They could have a solo and co-op campaign that feature different experiences. With what the Dead Space series has shown me so far from all three of its games, I wouldn’t be shocked if it came to pass. Here is to hoping.